Snacking On Bugs: The Edible Insect Program Digs Into Entomophagy

CHATHAM – Sour Cream and Onion Crickets and Mexican Spicy Mealworms. These were the two items on the Community Center menu on August 16.

In “Edible Insects, An Introduction to Entomophagy,” Barnstable County entomologist for Larry Dapsis took attendees on an unusual journey, explaining everything there is to know about eating insects.

The presentation started off with a bang, as Dapsis informed everyone that they all ate insects (entomophagy is the technical term) in their meals, every day. One of the examples he used was the amount of insect parts in a packet of pasta. The bugs in your rigatoni may seem out of the ordinary, but the Food and Drug Administration allows 450 parts of bugs per pound of pasta.

This means that the average human has eaten bugs in one form or another, although many are afraid to try bugs as a snack. Dapsis attributes this to neophobia, “the reaction you get when you’re exposed to something new for the first time.”

Dapsis says that’s like a kid trying spinach and not liking the taste. Except with insects, it’s not taste, it’s texture and appearance.

After laying the groundwork, Dapsis went on to explore the different ways insects are used in the world today, feeding animals and even people.

“There’s an element of sustainability and helping the planet and I think that’s touched people,” Dapsis said. “We can take all the food waste generated and turn it into good things. Either animal feed, or food for people, or fertilizer, so I think people have been intrigued by the possibilities that this topic raises.

There are currently companies that exclusively sell insect repellents, from cricket flour to “chocolate cookies”, which guarantee 30 crickets per cookie. Another place where crickets are on the menu is at T-Mobile Park in Seattle. Dapsis says crickets became such a popular snack at Mariners games that fans were limited on how many bags they could buy.

Dapsis gave this presentation to many different groups, including middle and high school students in Monomoy, but this specific session attracted people of all ages.

After finishing his PowerPoint, Dapsis took out the bug snacks and shockingly everyone tried a bug, something Dapsis rarely sees.

“Usually when I do this program for an adult audience, including high school students, they say, ‘Larry, this is very interesting.’ Do they tackle this cricket? Largely not,” Dapsis said. “I was surprised how many people actually tried it. Maybe it’s because the kids were so into it. Maybe that played a part.”

The kids were definitely in it. Dapsis brought two snacks, but only the Mexican Spicy Mealworms made the rounds for everyone to try. One young participant enjoyed the sour cream and onion crickets so much that he finished the whole package.

One of the adults who attended the presentation was Marta Dutkewych from Chatham. She signed up for the program because when she was living in Harvard, Massachusetts, she saw people picking up insects to eat and found it intriguing.

“I used to walk through a big water project and in the summer a lot of Asian families would come and they would pick up the crickets and the grasshoppers, they would harvest them,” Dutkewych said. “I find that fascinating, but I just left it until I came here to hear that.”

Dutkewych, who was only able to try the mealworms, didn’t detect much flavor in the insect snack.

“They were very indistinct, the little worms, you really didn’t taste them,” Dutkewych said. “The crickets might have had a little taste of green onion and sour cream or something. But it’s interesting, it’s this neophobia thing.

Along with trying the bugs themselves, she also left the event thinking about the different ways the bugs could be used in everyday meals.

“This cricket flour company in Montreal, the stats are very impressive how much it’s grown and actually people are using it,” Dutkewych said. “It’s not so wacky with the population of the world I could see China, I could see Asia, India, all using them as a great source of protein.”

Although other countries incorporate insects into their daily meals, they are still a novelty in the United States. The cricket flour Dapsis showed off in the presentation fetches a pretty penny, so while it could be a good source of protein, Dapsis says all signs point to crickets still being a fun snack for now.

“It’s partly a scale issue, if you’ve seen the price of cricket flour from any of these companies, $49 a pound,” Dapsis said. “So yes, it’s the pasta of the day.”

This is the last story of the summer for intern Brendan Samson. We wish her the best of luck in pursuing her studies at Quinnipiac University.