Monday, July 23, 2007

A matter of taste

Something not addressed thus far in these posts: how do the insects taste?
One kind of answer deals with the details – dry-toasted cricket tastes like sunflower seeds; katydid like toasted avocado; palm grub like bacon soup with a chewy, sweet finish. Weaver ant pupae have practically no flavor, while the meat of the giant water bug is, astonishingly, like a salty, fruity, flowery Jolly Rancher. People are usually amazed by it.

The other kind of answer is more theoretical and conceptual: often, insects taste the way that people expect them to. After all, they’re absolutely outside the norm for us and it’s considered freakish to eat them. If insects were delicious then we’d all know it and we’d eat them, since we like delicious food. Whereas if insects are perceived [however incorrectly] as dirty, disgusting, disease-bearing vermin, the chances that they’ll be deemed delicious are pretty low.

Last March David Letterman had an exotic foods expert on the show; the occasion was a banquet at The Explorers Club. There was a long table set up with a slew of weird foods – giant hissing cockroaches were visible, but the short segment did not include that tasting. Letterman tried boiled ostrich egg, eyeballs, rattlesnake, and a bunch of other stuff. Both along the way and at the end he proclaimed them all horrible. Given that these foods were part of a lavish banquet given every year at a prestigious institution, the culinary preparations would not be in doubt. Rather, it’s likelier that Letterman (and, by extension, a lot of people) tried the food expecting it to be awful and this created its own outcome.

This is part of the challenge that I face. In my experience it’s not very often that those people who are willing to try an insect find it delicious. Three possible reasons for that occur to me: 1, that the insects are simply not good-tasting; 2, my cooking skills are not very good; or 3, the afore-mentioned culturally-based predilection toward the rejection of bugs as food.

On the other hand, the most frequent response I get from a taster at one of my events is, “Gee, that’s really not so bad.” This is actually encouraging, and part of me thinks that I should be quite satisfied with that reaction. I’m not. The goal must be to have people amazed at how truly tasty the insects are. I fault my cooking skills, or lack thereof, and I’ve resolved to partner with chefs so that I can bring my abilities to the next level, and do the insect ingredients justice, at last.


Don said...

I am interested in finding a low fat substitute for sumflower seeds. Are the crickets you ate the black 1/2 inch long common variety of Illinois? How did you prepare them? Thanks

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