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Feeling peckish? Try a bug

INSECTS are being hailed as the ultimate food - low in fat, low in cholesterol and high in minerals, with twice the protein of meat and fish.

INSECTS are being hailed as the ultimate food - low in fat, low in cholesterol and high in minerals, with twice the protein of meat and fish.

The public may not yet be convinced, but that hasn't stopped producers in NSW farming crickets, snails, mealworms and silkworms for the dinner table. One Sydney producer is about to expand into scorpions and tarantulas imported from Thailand to cater for entomophagists - people who eat bugs.

The benefits of dining out on insects are being chewed over at high levels. The United Nations and the European Union say this micro-livestock could become a vital source of nutrition if more traditional food stocks start to run low.

Despite what some of them do to crops, insects are environmentally friendly: they require less feed and space and emit less greenhouse gas.

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation said the more than 1400 insect species eaten by more than 300 ethnic groups in 113 countries offered promising commercial and nutritional possibilities, especially for Third World countries.

The EU announced this month it was spending ?3 million ($4.9 million) to promote culinary insects and asked food standards watchdogs in its 27 member nations to investigate making edible insects mainstream.

While the Australian government has no plans to help develop an edible insect industry, according to a spokesman for the federal Agriculture Minister, Joe Ludwig, local restaurateurs and tourism operators are dabbling in boutique cuisine based on traditional Aboriginal "bush tucker", with bogong moths, witchetty grubs, bardi grubs and honeypot ants featured on menus.

But chocolate-covered crickets are another thing. That's what Skye Blackburn makes, along with lollipops from crickets and mealworms, and chocolate-chip cookies made of ground mealworm. She breeds brown crickets, mealworms and silkworms on her Greystanes farm for her businesses, The Green Scorpion and bugshop.com.au.

"The insects are becoming really popular," she said. "Some people really embrace it and incorporate the insects into their regular diet for some it's novelty value. I have a few customers who buy them frozen and use them as a substitute for meat."

This summer Ms Blackburn will start breeding scorpions and giant water bugs, popular foods in Thailand, and produce silkworm pupae. "It's funny that people won't think about eating insects, yet they'll happily eat a prawn with all its insect-like feelers, legs and eyes."

Helen Dyball, who owns Snails Bon Appetite in the Hunter Valley with her husband, Robert, said they could not grow enough to satisfy demand. They breed the snails on their Congewai property and have 15 contracted growers along the east coast who supply them. Customers include restaurants and people hosting dinner parties. "In the 30-week growing period we produce about 60,000 snails, but we could triple that and still not satisfy the market," she said.

An Australian Museum naturalist, Martyn Robinson, loves eating bogong moths - "they sip nectar from flowers so taste sweet" - and said people should turn their taste buds towards annual locust plagues. "In Africa a locust plague is, 'You beauty, let's start cooking them all.' It's literally food falling out of the sky."

Mr Robinson said all arthropods, including insects, spiders, lobsters and prawns, went pink when cooked. "You can pull off the wings and the legs. Snap off the head ... and you've got a nice tasty, protein meal."

Something to chew over

SOURCE: INSECTSAREFOOD.COM

Roasted crickets

Roasted tarantula (will be available from February)

Freeze-dried mole crickets with barbecue flavouring

Freeze-dried grasshoppers with pizza flavouring

Scorpion (will be available from February)

Mealworms

Chocolate chip mealworm cookies

Chocolate chirp cookies

INGREDIENTS (Makes about 12)

1/2 cup dry-roasted chopped crickets

2 1/4 cups cricket flour 1tsp baking soda 1 tsp salt

1 cup butter, softened 2 eggs

3/4 cup sugar 3/4 cup brown sugar 1 tsp vanilla

350g chocolate chips

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 250 degrees Celsius. In saucepan, heat chocolate chips until melted. Dip crickets into mixture and lay flat on drying pan or plate.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt set aside. In a large bowl, combine butter, sugar, brown sugar and vanilla beat until creamy.

Beat in eggs.

Gradually add cricket flour mixture and mix well. Stir in chocolate-covered crickets. Drop rounded teaspoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes.

SOURCE: INSECTSAREFOOD.COM


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