At this month's Fine Food Australia Show held in Sydney, we overcame our squeamish stomachs to listen to Skye Blackburn convince us bugs are the way of the future.
It is fair to say that Skye is the face of edible insects in Australia. No, she doesn't have eight eyes and an antenna: she is a qualified entomologist turned food scientist, who is spearheading the movement of sustainable eating for the future.
Skye founded 'Butterfly' in 2007, adding edible insects to her butterfly farm after a visit to Thailand in 2008. Skye's talk opened with some pretty humbling facts. By 2050, the world's population will be pushing 9 billion people, a number we will be unable to feed if we continue on our current modes of production. The world will need to be producing 70% more meat, lose 30% arable land, and around 1 billion people will be left without clean drinking water. It's a predicament the world leaders have been grappling with for years: how can we feed more people, in a safer and more sustainable manner? The answer might be smaller than you think.
Creepy crawlies. Insects. Beetles. Mealworms. Whatever you want to call them, you should know that before long, they're going to be your dinner. And with good reason - it was shocking to hear about their exceptional nutritional capacity, for edible insects are made up of 68.5% protein, contain three times more iron than spinach, three times more potassium than bananas, and two times more calcium than milk.
Not only that, but farming these crunchy little super foods is infinitely easier than rearing livestock or farming crops, and is better for the environment, too. Whilst it takes 4,000 litres of water to end up with 200g of meat, it takes just 1ml of water for the same amount of cricket protein. Crickets have only a 6 week life cycle, and in that time will lay between 800 and 1,200 eggs. They can be farmed in stacked boxes, and feed off your veggie scraps for sustainable food cycle. Edible insects are a fast, easy, and cheap way to eat.
If you're still not yet convinced, then maybe you can be tempted by the culinary skills of Australia's top restaurants, who are lining up to add bugs to their menu. Why not try the chilli and garlic crickets at El Topo, or the ant tartare at Noma? In fact, you might be eating bugs already and not already know - one of Skye's best selling items is 'cricket protein powder' which is virtually tasteless and is added to everything from protein balls to seasoning mixes.
One of the biggest concerns Skye addressed was hygiene: what makes an insect 'edible', and how do we know they're free from germs? The answer was in the nature of her insect farm - which is really less of a farm, and more of a laboratory. The insects are fed a specific diet to bolster their protein capacity, and are bred in sterile environments far from any other, well, bugs. Her farms employ a closed circle of production, in which restaurants send her their organic food scraps in return for a new shipment of bugs. They are super clean, full of goodness, and are actively reducing food waste.
Midway through her talk, Skye reached the question we all were dying to know: what do bugs taste like? Surprisingly, not at all like chicken. Crickets, she assures us, have little to no taste, whilst ants have a sour zing to them, almost like a citrus flavour. Mealworms, on the other hand, have a strong nutty flavour to them (apparently not unlike walnuts) with an oily aftertaste - making them perfect for banana bread, we're told!
Note from author: I tried some of the chilli and garlic crickets that were on offer. They tasted like...well, they tasted like chilli and garlic. Promise.
As our planet continues to grow at an unprecedented rate, it's up to all of us to start making small changes in how we live to be become a more sustainable society. Introducing insects into your diet, or your restaurant's menu, is a great way to reduce your meat intake whilst bolstering your daily protein. As Skye reminds us, only 20 years ago the concept of sashimi was completely foreign to the average Australian, whilst 50 years ago pasta was far from the family dinner staple it is today. So clear some room in the pantry, people: bugs are taking over, and this time the exterminator WON'T be needed.