Is crawly cuisine the future of food?
Witiji grubs, large wood-eating moth larvae found in the Australian outback, are said to have a crispy skin with a yellow “eggy” centre when roasted. (Tobias Titz/Getty)
The UN is encouraging everyone in the world to eat insects for the good of our health and the future of the planet. But are the arguments compelling enough to make you munch on a bag of crunchy scorpions or sprinkle your cereal with squidgy larvae?
According to the UN report, "consumer disgust" remains a large barrier in many Western countries – but for some two billion people across the world, eating insects is really no big deal.
Take Barichara, in Colombia's Santander region. Not only known for its impossibly perfect colonial architecture and stunning mountainous setting, the town is also a centre of production for “fat-bottomed” culona ants. The insects are revered in the region for their nutritional value and reputedly aphrodisiac qualities, and have for centuries been roasted as a snack or accompaniment to a meal.
At the town's Color de Hormiga (Colour of Ants) restaurant, I put squeamishness to one side and ordered their signature dish: filet mignon in an ant salsa. I figured that the tiny ants would be indistinguishable once cooked in a sauce. But the clue was in the name – these fat-bottomed ladies (for it is only the queens that are harvested) had backsides the size of a garden pea and heads not much smaller. It was disconcerting, but they were tasty and crunchy – like a salty crispy bacon topping for the steak.
Want to try some crawly cuisine for yourself?
For an eye-opening feast of edible insects, it's hard to beat the Donghuamen night market in Beijing, China. Browse the steaming stalls for your pick of centipedes, silk worms, scorpions, beetles, crickets and more – deep fried and usually served on a skewer.
Travel to Mexico for fried grasshoppers – particularly popular in the southern state of Oaxaca, where they are called chapulines. They're usually fried or toasted with chilli, lime and garlic and sold in markets or restaurants.
If you want to experience something of the Aboriginal diet in Australia, companies such as Bushtucker Tour offer the chance to get your jaws around a witiji grub (also spelled witchetty) – a large wood-eating moth larvae found in the Australian outback. The grub, when roasted, is said to have a crispy skin with a yellow “eggy” centre.
And it's perfectly normal to snack on fried insects in Thailand, where fried giant water bugs, crickets, bamboo worms and grasshoppers are ubiquitous and served in scoops for snacking whole. If you can't decide, don't despair, insect-vendors will usually offer you a mixed bag from their cart.
Should insect snacks be seen as a prize, not a punishment? Join the discussion on our Facebook page.