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“What many may deem unimaginable is considered by others as a delicacy
In Switzerland, it used to only be owners of exotic pets who had to source crickets, locusts and mealworms as food for their beloved animals. These days, open-minded amateur cooks are also looking to edible insects to expand their cooking repertoire. And there are some good reasons for overcoming any aversion you may have.
It is difficult to make insects sound tasty. But it's not because these little creatures are unpalatable – quite the opposite in fact! Ants have a subtle lemony flavour, mealworms taste rather nutty, while locusts and crickets make a great alternative to chicken and popcorn. It has more to do with the fact that the sight of insects on a plate is a strange one for most of us.
However, two billion people can't be wrong, surely? This is the number of people who incorporate insects into their diet on a regular basis. Since May 2017, three species of insect have been permitted as a food source in Switzerland.
Crickets, European locusts and mealworms are now recognized as food, and that's saying something!
While insects already constitute a delicacy in many foreign cultures, here in Switzerland we take a little bit more convincing. Even the award-winning Noma restaurant in Copenhagen has insects on the menu – much to the delight of its broad-minded guests who eagerly anticipate Noma's steady stream of culinary innovations.
For these guests, however, it's not just about the exotic flair that comes from biting into a grilled locust and getting the chicken flavour. Named best restaurant in the world, Noma also tries to incorporate environmental aspects into its cuisine. In addition to the meat-free celeriac shawarma, there are also edible insects on the menu, sending out a clear environmental message.
Despite their appearance, these little creatures have many benefits. For example, mealworms produce far fewer greenhouse gases than other sources of animal protein. Water and food consumption is also significantly less than for other types of large-scale livestock farming, e.g. cattle.
Then there's also the intrinsic values. Most insects are high in unsaturated fatty acids and are even on a par with fish in this respect. Insects permitted for consumption in Switzerland have a high protein content and a high percentage of essential amino acids. A mealworm contains the same amount of protein as a pork fillet, per 100 g. What's more, insects in general contain a significant percentage of iron, magnesium, selenium and zinc. Crickets are also high in Vitamin B12.
It's not just in Africa, Asia, Mexico and South America that insects have been on the menu for some time. They were also once consumed in large quantities in Europe. In Sardinia, for example, you can still enjoy the delicacy that is casu marzu, a cheese containing live insect larvae. Up until the 20th century, cockchafer soup was a delicacy in Germany and France, and in 1884, Medical Health Officer Johann Schneider claimed that students would greatly appreciate candied beetles as a snack or dessert.
Long before our time, insects were a food source for upstanding citizens. An Assyrian illustration from 700 BC depicts a feast with locusts as a delicacy. The Greeks and Romans also ate insects and their larvae – mostly bees and cicadas, but butterfly grubs are also believed to have been consumed. To this day, only Jewish food laws prohibit the consumption of insects – with the exception of four specific types of locust, all insects are considered non-kosher.
These days, start-ups such as the Swiss company Essento are ensuring that insects continue to appear on tables across Europe in the 21st century. In addition to burgers, protein bars and insect balls comprising crushed insects, there are now also ready-to-eat snacks for on the go or as a topping for soups and salads. Essento has gone one step further in this regard, too. For the first time, we're seeing insects in all their glory. Packs of crispy mealworms and crickets with a delicious toasted aroma can now be found alongside nuts and spices. Without doubt an acquired taste, but a feast for the eyes nevertheless!
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