“In most cultures outside of North America and Western Europe, tiny many-legged creatures are a delicacy, and an important source of protein,” Jeff Gordinier writes in a report on a five-course Mexican feast featuring insect cuisine last Saturday in Brooklyn. “Here in the United States they represent the growing realm of gastronomic spelunking.” For omnivores who want to take it to the next level, Tom Turpin, a professor of entomology at Purdue University, offers information on three common bugs you can easily buy, prepare and cook.
Mealworms, which feed on grain meal, are the larvae of a beetle. They are about an inch or so long. Not to be confused with flour beetle larvae or grain moths which can infiltrate your pantry. They tend to absorb the flavors in which they are being cooked, so if you sautée them in butter, they will taste buttery. They also tend to taste like the food in which they have been raised; worms raised on wheat flour taste like bread. If you don’t want them to have the taste of what they’ve been eating, let them go without food for 24 hours and “then you have an empty-gutted meal worm,” Mr. Turpin said. “Perfect for soaking up flavors.” On a low flame with hot oil it takes about two to three minutes to cook them. And one last tip from Mr. Turpin: “Eat them head first or tail first, though I have found that the best way to eat them, especially those trying them for the first time, is with one hand over their eyes.”
Wax Moth Larvae
These larvae, which look like white caterpillars and are about an inch long, come from the bee moth. They have a soft body and make an excellent addition to trail mix, Mr. Turpin said. (Sautée, roast and mix with peanuts and pretzels.) They are a little more difficult to work with, as they are shipped in sawdust and need to be cleaned. An easy way to do this is to set the sawdust and larvae pile on a table and to shine a light onto it. The larvae will crawl away from the light source. Unlike mealworms, which have a hard exoskeleton, these worms tend to shrivel up when cooked. They taste sweet since they feed on the wax of honeybees.
Brown House Crickets
These insects are about an inch to an inch and a half long. They can be used in a variety of ways: dry roast them, shuck them (take off their wings and legs), or put them on a tooth pick and dip them in chocolate. (Mr. Turpin said one of his favorite recipes is to replace half the chocolate chips in a standard chocolate-chip cookie recipe with shucked crickets. He calls them Chocolate chirpy chip cookies.) Because of their exoskeleton, they don’t absorb much flavor, although they do have a distinctive taste of their own. “I can’t compare them to something someone would recognize,” Mr. Turpin said. “They taste like cricket. They are very much their own flavor.” The outside is crunchy and the inside is soft, like a jelly-filled doughnut, he added.
Where to Buy
126 East Spruce Street
Compton, Calif., 90220
1333 Plantation Ave
Port Allen, La., 70767
Basic Cooked Insects
Place ingredients in a medium-sized saucepan. Bring to a boil and allow to simmer for 30 minutes or until tender.
Dry Roasted Insects
Spread cleaned insects on paper towels on a cookie sheet. Bake at 200 degrees for 60 to 90 minutes until desired state of dryness is reached. To check state of dryness, try crushing insect with a spoon.
Source: Adapted from Entertaining With Insects by Ronald L. Taylor and Barbara J. Carter