Cooking with insects

Friday 25th March 2016

Ever since I was a kid, people have touted insects as the future of food. In some parts of the world they already are - I lost count of the number of times we saw various insects in markets in SE Asia, including this delicious sight in Skoun, Cambodia, where fried spiders are the local delicacy. No, I didn't try them.

You're eating insects

Even westerners eat a surprising amount of insects every year. The FDA's Defect Levels Handbook details exactly how many insect fragments is too many:

  • chocolate - over 60 insect fragments per 100g
  • curry - over 100 insect fragments per 25g
  • macaroni - over 225 insect fragments per 225g
  • wheat flour - over 75 insect fragments per 50g

Yum.

Cricket flour

But from an environmental point of view, we should all be eating insects. It takes something like 4,000L of water to make a kilo of beef, but just 2L of water to make kilo of cricket flour as well as massively lower methane emissions.

So when a wonderful friend, Celia, was kind enough to give me a bag of cricket flour, I thought I'd give it a go. The 100g bag she gave me contains around a thousand milled crickets. By weight it has twice as much protein as beef, the same amount of calcium as milk, and as much vitamin B12 as salmon.

I tried some of the flour raw, it doesn't really taste of anything. I grew up with a lot of lizards that ate crickets, so I'm very familiar with the smell of them. Unsurprisingly the flour smells just like crickets, slightly nutty and not at all unpleasant.

Here's my recipe for cricket ginger nuts:

Ingredients

Makes 30

  • 170g plain wheat flour
  • 80g cricket flour
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tbsp ground ginger
  • ½ tsp mixed spice
  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 185g soft brown sugar
  • 60ml boiling water
  • 1 tbsp golden syrup

Here are the finished item - for comparison I made a batch on the left which use just wheat flour, and the cricket cookies on the right.

Method

Preheat the oven to 180ºC / 160ºC fan.

Sift the wheat flour, cricket flour, bicarbonate of soda, ginger and spice into a bowl.

You may want to sift the cricket flour last and keep an eye out for large fragments like this one, which is about 3mm across. Discard them if you're a bit squeamish.

Add the butter and sugar, and rub together with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.

Pour the boiling water into a small jug and add the golden syrup.

Stir until mixed, and then add to the flour mixture. Stir with a knife until the ingredients are all mixed.

The mixture will be very wet and sticky.

Form into small balls and place on a couple of greased baking trays.

Bake in the oven for about 15 mins. They'll be very dark, so don't rely on being able to tell visually when they're cooked or you might burn them.

Place on wire racks to cool, and them film your friends eating them.

 

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