Insects have long been a staple part of millions of diets across the world. In fact, a study in 2012 revealed that approximately 1,900 highly seasonal bugs exist and are eaten on a daily basis, especially across Asia and parts of Africa.
Not that that has affected how the West perceives eating them in any way, mind you. Entomophagy (consumption of insects) is seen as one of the final frontiers in terms of food, and while there have been isolated movements in the UK over the past few years attempting to try and change the national perception, edible creepy crawlies remain firmly in the dirt, regardless of their proven nutritional and environmental value.
But with Deliveroo having just a concluded a five-day trial with Eat Grub, a UK-based edible insect company, to serve up soy crickets and buffalo worms to people’s doors, could the tide finally be turning for nature’s much maligned mini-monsters?
Worming their way into the diet
Why would a delivery service be interested in a somewhat niche pop-up? According to Joe Groves, head of consumer communications at Deliveroo, because it’s what the people want. “We’ve seen growing interest around entomophagy, so we wanted to get ahead and explore this idea with our customers,” he told the Telegraph in a recent interview.
Eat Grub are one of a small number of edible insect companies to appear in the UK. Grub Kitchen in Pembrokeshire is another; in fact, it was one of the first UK restaurants to pioneer the alternative diet two years ago.
Andy Holcroft, the head chef and co-owner of the restaurant, continues to promote the burgeoning dietary option two years after the opening of Grub Kitchen in 2015. His vision found its way down to Hackney this month, with Clapton Girls’ Academy enjoying his collaboration menu with pest control company Rentokil’s insect kitchen, Pestaurant.
“We’ve done a few educational demos before in Cardiff and London, and what we’re trying to do is get the children to understand the benefits of what they’re eating,” Holcroft says.
“The insects are more obvious in some of the dishes than others, much like in our restaurant. Some have maybe a 5-10% insect ratio, while others, such as the burger, are almost 55% insect.”
For grasshoppers and ants to become a regular part of our eating habits, Holcroft believes it’s important to focus on flavours more than appearance. “The cricket crepes, for example, are made with cricket powder, which retains all the micronutrients but disguises the bug itself. This way the food will reveal subtle tastes without sensationalising.”
Novelty to normalcy
Ultra-seasonal, nutritious and sustainable – the benefits of edible insects are clear, and Holcroft believes that with the right attitude towards their introduction, the UK could soon incorporate bugs more readily.
“Eating bugs shouldn’t be a ‘Bushtucker Trial,’” continues Holcroft. “We actually have regulars who come once a week for our specials, which change daily.”
That’s not to say consumers should be expected to dramatically change their eating habits over night; it’s more about incorporating insects into the rota. “Grub Kitchen is about 50% insect driven, as we partner them with our incredible locally sourced seafood, high-grade beef and lamb, and sometimes as a garnish on our exciting vegetarian dishes,” says Holcroft.
“Insect farming is a sustainable agricultural movement – a partnership with nature,” he notes. “It’s an exciting time [for the edible insect concept], and we’ve more projects coming next year, including one with the Welsh government. It’s about changing the perception from novelty to normalcy, and we’ve found that more and more people are happy to try.”
This certainly seems to be the optimum phrase, with Eat Grub co-founder Shami Radia echoing those sentiments in a statement announcing the Deliveroo pop-up:
“Our aim is to normalise entomophagy. We explain the nutritional and environmental benefits of this food but focus on making sure it tastes amazing, so people want to hear what you have to say.”
Sparkie, how about one of Andy Holcroft’s creations at Grub Kitchen? Sweetcorn chowder with basil oil and a grasshopper crumb? Or perhaps zesty black ant and olive crusted goat cheese with a chicory, fennel and fig salad and warm honey mustard dressing?
Several companies have put a great deal of time, effort and money into the development of products that utilise insect protein – with limited return. From China to Canada to mainland Europe, stakeholders in previous edible insect projects have either melted away or gone bust.
That said, there is now a more concentrated approach, and I could see something germinating over the next year. I don't feel that the UK or EU is the most natural market though! More research is needed into overcoming psychological and sensory barriers related to eating insects.