Future Food Tasting: Cooking with Insects

10. July 2020

People who know me know I do love my snacks. I am also interested in the future of our planet. So I was happy to combine these interests into “future food snacks” when I recently bought the various insect snacks created by Zirp. Inspired by Space10’s “Future Food Today” cookbook, rather than just snacking them, I decided to try and use them as ingredients in a few dishes — here you find my favorite recipes.

Somehow, a great share of designers I know love talking about future food and I, of course, am no exception. After being curious for years and finally trying Beyond Meat’s non-meat burger recently (they only became available in Germany last year), I now got the chance to deep dive into Entomophagy, the practice of eating insects.

A few months ago my favorite taco place in Hamburg had a special offering, where you could have chapulines added to your taco. I was super curious to try and really impressed by the taste: The chapulines added a great crunch, but also a completely new depth of flavor to the taco.

I had been waiting to try them again since then and so when I found Zirp’s insect snacks at my local supermarket I couldn’t help myself. They were an absolute bargain — The price had obviously been lowered to the point of getting rid of them. Surprisingly, edible insects don’t sell that well in a German supermarket. Now the only thing left on my future food bucket list is algae.

The Recipes

Pizza Bianca with Potatoes, Rosemary and Smoked Crickets

One of my favorite pizzas to make at home is a pizza bianca, with a base of sour cream, topped with thinly-sliced potatoes and bacon and a bit of rosemary sprinkled on top … and some mozzarella cheese and a few basil leafs of course, because what’s a pizza without?. This seemed like the perfect dish to adapt and substitute the bacon for some smoked crickets.

Sour cream, potatoes, oregano, rosemary, mozzarella, basil leaves, black pepper, chilli-infused olive oil, smoked crickets.

And what can I say — it works like a charm! As a base I followed the 24 hour sourdough recipe from Ken Forkish’s “The Elements of Pizza” to get a nice and fluffy crust. I popped it in the oven with just herbs, sour cream and a layer of potatoes and put the mozzarella on top after about six minutes of baking, before giving it another three minutes to melt. I added the crickets with the basil leaves after baking, so they stay firm and in shape and add a great bit of crunchiness. Their taste is strong enough to be noticeable, but not overpowering: The smokey aroma adds a nice extra layer of flavor to the pizza. However I assume this dish only works so well because the sour cream and the potatoes aren’t exactly packing strong flavors. On a classic pizza with a tomato base the taste of the crickets would get lost.

Overall I’d say the smoked crickets could be a great substitute for bacon on many foods where the base taste isn’t too strong. I could imagine them going well on pasta with a cream sauce and peas, or maybe even Carbonara as well!

The Bug Burger

Non-meat burgers are all the rage and they are the one place were I actually understand why you may need to add additional proteins. So I decided to have a go at creating my version of Space10’s Bug Burger.

Sourdough bun; crème fraîche; baby spinach; beetroot, chick-pea and mealworm patty; goat cheese; quick-pickled cucumber and red onion; aji panca salsa.

Since sourdough baking is becoming so popular that it’s annoying to read about it, I won’t bore you with the details about my buns, just know that I followed this recipe and that they turned out quite nicely even though I had some trouble shaping them — that’s why my bun looks a bit bottom heavy My dough was slightly too hydrated, when using all purpose flour I’d recommend leaving out some of the liquid..

My patty was made of beetroot, which gives it an awesome color, a few chick-peas, an egg and about 20 grams of crushed mealworms. Plus some spices of course, and a few drops of sesame oil. I didn’t crush the mealworms all the way and left a few whole, because I thought it looks more interesting that way. Taste-wise the mealworms don’t add much to the patty, but it does get a very nice texture.

The biggest surprise of this dish for me wasn’t the patty though (sorry mealworms), but the quick-pickled cucumber and red onion. I have been experimenting with lacto-fermentation a bit before, but wasn’t particularly successful. Quick-pickled vegetables are much more forgiving: Just put your vegetables in a brine of thee parts water, one part vinegar (I used apple vinegar for some fruity notes), add some sugar, salt and a few spices and let them soak in the fridge. The biggest benefit to store-bought pickles is that you can use regular slicing cucumber rather than picklers I gather that’s what they are called from Wikipedia.. I prefer the texture and consistence by far. And they aren’t soggy at all: With one overnight soak (not longer, not shorter!) you get the perfect crunchiness.

Olive Oil Ice Cream with Caramelized Grasshoppers

Now for dessert — I have been meaning to make olive oil ice cream for a long time. It’s such a simple flavor but sounds just strange enough to be awesome. One of the recommendations on Zirp’s website is to caramelize the grasshoppers and use them as topping for a dessert, so I decided to give it a try.

Olive oil ice cream, orange sauce, caramelized grasshoppers, orange zest.

To make the olive oil ice cream I followed this recipe, which is originally from “Jeni’s Splenid Ice Creams at Home” — my go-to ice cream book. As usual I used only half the sugar prescribed in the recipe and left out the corn syrup completely It still came out a bit too sweet for my taste. American taste buds seem to be … special.. When making the ice cream I was surprised by the color the olive oil adds: the ice cream came out in a lovely shade of (very) pale green. Because of the extra fat added by the olive oil the consistency also ended up being even nicer than usual! I caramelized the grasshoppers in a 1:1 mix of sugar and water and, because I am a sucker for salted caramel, a large pinch of salt.

The olive oil ice cream has a surprisingly strong flavor. It’s very fruity and while definitely identifiable as olive oil, brings out a side of the olives which I didn’t expect. It’s sweet, yet slightly salty and super refreshing. I am not quite sure why, but it reminded me of a salt-rimmed Paloma — maybe because it is based on the same combination of fruity and salty notes for a refreshing taste. Because of this I imagine it would pair well with a scoop of grapefruit sorbet.

The caramelized grasshoppers are an impressive topping for sure. When caramelizing them carefully they stay more or less whole (I removed legs and wings). They are eye-catchers and are sure to surprise unsuspecting guests. Unfortunately, the taste isn’t really that interesting: They are super crunchy and the flavor reminds me of caramel popcorn. But somehow it has a bit of a stale taste to it — like caramel popcorn after a few days. I’m not a fan.

Generally speaking tough you could add them to pretty much any dessert or sweet bowl — there is nothing about the taste of the grasshoppers themselves that pops out specifically, it’s just crunchy caramel.

Résumé

Eating and cooking with Zirp’s insects snacks was a fun experience, and I sent them to a few friends as a provocative gift. But I am torn about their feasibility as snack. The thing that’s stopping these insect snacks from become a staple the most is, if we assume cultural stigma and prices will adjust And they have too, because they are damn expensive!, — and I’m not kidding here — their size. They are just really hard to eat: small and fiddly and crumbly. I’d rate their snackability a 3 out of 10.

Cooking with them turned out be a lot more interesting. They are a conversation starter and the smoked crickets were actually a great addition in terms of taste. Other than those however it’s hard for me to see myself as an end-user of insect-based protein  — it just doesn’t make enough of a difference in my food, if you ignore the novelty factor. On the other hand while I am not one to add extra protein powder to my food, looking at the boxes and boxes of that stuff on the shelves at the supermarket, there seems to be a very strong market for that?

Also, I probably shouldn’t become a food blogger. Sorry you had to read this.

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