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Food of the future? Bug “snacks” offer new perspective

Alex Quesnel © Canadian Museum of Nature.

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A family gets the lowdown on insect nutrition from volunteer Sylvain Cleroux.

Whether they gross you out or spark your imagination, insects have always had a unique place in the human psyche.

But there’s one purpose that isn’t typically associated with bugs: food.

Over the March Break, visitors to the Canadian Museum of Nature were served cricket cookies and roasted mealworms as part of the “Snacks Outside the Box” activity, which taught both children and adults how bugs are an important source of protein.

“The kids have a riot,” said Tara Conroy, senior science interpreter with the museum. “They may be grossed out at first and scared to come into the lab, but their minds quickly open up.”

The basis for the cookies is cricket flour, which, with its “earthy” aroma comparable to fish-food flakes, can initially be off-putting.

“You wouldn’t expect it to make good cookies,” explained Sylvain Clairoux, a museum volunteer.

But once other ingredients are added – ginger, salt, baking soda, sugar, vanilla, eggs, etc. – the finished product tastes like any other baked good.

What’s more, Clairoux said people are already farming crickets specifically to make them smell and taste better.

Visitors were also served oven-roasted mealworms, which are flour beetles in the larva stage.

Although they were served with a side of apples in case anyone needed to get the taste out of their mouth, the reactions were surprisingly positive from those who were brave enough to try.

"They taste just like Hickory Sticks,” Clairoux explained to the kids as they ate them up.

While this insect-themed activity ended March 20, visitors can still get their bug fix through the Bugs outside the Box exhibition, which remains open until March 28.

The central philosophy behind the food activity is that bugs are a more sustainable and environment-friendly approach to nutrition.

“The world population is getting too big, and the food we consume is not sustainable,” explained Clairoux. “So it’s very much an environmental issue. I think this is the future.”

The reality is that at least one third of the world’s population already eats insects on a regular basis.

However this is mostly restricted to places like Asia and Africa, while North America and Europe plays catch up.

“For now our reaction is still ‘Ew, gross’,” said Clairoux. “But hopefully we can educate the kids so that subsequent generations will have a more open mind to bugs as a source of protein.”

- by Alex Quesnel