| | Print
tons of bugs

Grasshoppers are a gateway bug.

Paired with a beautiful cabernet franc, the grasshoppers have a beautiful smoky spice. They taste a bit like chicken, but also with sour notes and a hint of peanut. It’s no wonder that grasshopper tacos, also known as chapulines, are very popular in Mexico, especially in Oaxaca.

Like the majority of insects, grasshoppers are taste-malleable in that they tend to adopt the flavor of what they have been fed. Then, when paired with wine, the taste can be enhanced even further.

How do I know? I recently dug into to a multi-course bug tasting pop-up dinner at V Wine Room in West Hollywood, California.

The dinner was hosted by Aly Moore, an entrepreneur with a master’s in public health from Yale, who is spearheading a movement of people promoting entomophagy–the eating of insects and arachnids–as a healthier, more sustainable alternative to traditional protein sources.

Introducing the public to the possibility of bugs as a food source is the goal of Moore’s company Bugible, through which she hosts bug cooking classes, and dinners and tastings, pairing each dehydrated or roasted bug with wine. She also runs a blog that educates and sells insects to the public.

This might be necessary for consumers living in a world where the population is expected to reach nine billion by 2050. For that reason, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations believes that insects are the way to feed the future.

‘The truth is you’ve been eating insects your entire life’ – @wowalymoore

Up until fairly recently, entomophagy was something seen as a dare or the last hurdle in a reality competition. But the truth is, humans have been eating insects since the beginning of time. It is estimated that 80 percent of countries, or more than two billion people, currently eat insects.

A restaurant in Japan recently sold out of their limited edition cricket-topped ramen, and JetBlue Airlines has even begun selling cricket protein bars as in-flight snacks on select flights.

North America, which has previously been slow to embrace the trend, now has new generations of farmers, chefs, and entrepreneurs that are pioneering insect-eating to the mainstream.  

As a leader in this sphere, Moore points out that even skeptics have probably eaten insects at some point.

bowl of bugs

“The truth is you’ve been eating insects your entire life,” she says. “They are in all of our processed food. It’s just something that most people don’t talk or think about.”

According to Moore, insects present an untapped oasis of flavors for adventurous foodies and chefs. They are much more nutritious than traditional livestock, and don’t have the problems of overuse of antibiotics and hormones. Insects are also high in protein and in essential fatty acids, particularly omega-3s, B12, calcium, iron, vitamin A, and zinc. They have less fat and require less water, land, to raise than traditional livestock.

80% of a restaurant’s food sales come from only 16% of menu items. How do you know which ones? The perfect menu is just a click away with Upserve's Menu Builder.

Design Your Menu

The food conversion efficiency of insects may be 20 times that of cattle, Moore says, which means insect farming could very well be one of the solutions to a sustainable global agricultural future.

But what about taste?

During my multi-course insect tasting, Moore introduced us to the many flavor profiles of insects while V Wine Room owner Michael Consbruck hand-selected the wine pairings.

We started off the meal with Lithic Nutrition protein bars and cricket chocolate bark, which are all the rage among fitness enthusiasts these days. Crickets taste like nutty shrimp on their own, but when topped with chocolate, they taste too good to be healthy. The protein bar and chocolate was paired with Four Brix Winery’s Baubles, a brut with hints of citrus, pear, and floral notes, lifting the oils from the tongue and cleansing the palate.  

Next up were the queen weaver ants and June bugs. The June bugs had the smell of wet dog, but tasted like mushroom or liver. The bugs were paired with a Kaena dry riesling, which has floral aromatics and some petrol flavor. Queen weaver ants, which are eaten as a delicacy in Thailand, have a slightly sour taste and are very crunchy whereas the June bugs tasted like crab or shrimp.

another bowl of bugs

The next tasting of crickets was one of my favorite dishes of the night. The Moroccan crickets literally tasted like pumpkin pie. It made no sense, but each bite was a taste of Thanksgiving. The termites had a wood aroma, almost that of old books. They would make for a great salad garnish or as trail mix. The insects were paired with a Tolosa Winery pinot noir, which brought out the spiciness of the crickets with its cherry, mint, and cinnamon notes.

Next up: silkworm pupae and mealworms. The silkworms tasted like spoiled fish. Texturally, it was hard to eat due to the surprise squirt of liquid in the middle. The mealworms, however were delightful. They tasted like smoky barbeque, and would make excellent chips. The bugs were paired with a bold glass of Vines on the Marycrest’s zinfandel, which had a strong berry flavor.

The aforementioned grasshoppers were next, along with sago worms that tasted like jerk and prosciutto. Both insects were paired with a glass of Vinemark Cellars cabernet franc, which had a savory, bell pepper flavor.

Once the main tasting was complete, the group was treated to a taste of three special additions: water bugs, scorpions and a rhino beetle.

The water bug was frightening. It was the size of a finger. The taste wasn’t great. It tasted like dried scallop and it was extremely crunchy.

The scorpions, which looked the most daunting of the bunch, actually tasted like crunchy potato chips with a fishy aftertaste. The rhino beetle was my least favorite of the meal. The head was super hard and tasted pretty bad. The body had pretty thick leathery wings that tasted like stale beef jerky.

But those crickets–they could make anyone a believer.

Where do you stand? Ready to belly up to the bug bar, or still sticking to burgers? Tell us here.

Written by   |  
Kristie Hang is a jet setting freelance food and travel journalist featured in LA Weekly, LAist, Gothamist, MSNBC etc. She has a Masters in Broadcast Journalism from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Journalism and a B.A. from UCLA. Find her online on Instagram @kristiehang.
Restaurant Insider