Why not love gourmet insect snacks?

They taste great and are good for us and the environment. And now, the Montreal Insectarium invites you to try them for free at Central.

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The slight kick in the toasted almonds came from the chili powder. Salt, lime and linden honey flavour. And the grasshoppers gave the snack a subtle, yet unmistakable crunch.

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Almonds were among several gourmet bites incorporating edible insects created by charismatic Quebec chef Daniel Vézina and available for tasting Wednesday at an event hosted by the Central Insectarium, the downtown food hall.

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Think shortbread made with pecans, candy mushrooms and crickets. Dried tomato tapenade with mealworms and sea bacon spread on chips made with dulse seaweed and mealworms. Energy truffles made with ingredients like puffed wild rice, dried blueberries, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, dark chocolate and mealworms, then dusted with gold leaf. That sort of thing.

I couldn’t identify mealworms or crickets – and although most of us were brought up to think of insects as creatures to be trampled on, not ingested, I didn’t mind eating them.

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The Insectarium, one of Space for Life’s five museums, reopened its doors in April after three years of renovation and, as part of a series of events marking its first year, free tastings of these Gourmet snacks, open to everyone, are available every day until Saturday at Central.

“We have this new museum that aims to change people’s relationship to insects,” said Insectarium director Maxim Larrivee. “It’s about generating a spark of entomophilia.”

A hypothesis known as biophilia, advanced by the late American biologist and naturalist Edward Osborne Wilson, posits that humans inherently love the natural world, said Larrivee, who holds a doctorate in entomology. “We designed the entire Insectarium on this principle,” he says.

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A container of mealworms used by chef Daniel Vézina among the ingredients of his energy truffles.
A container of mealworms used by chef Daniel Vézina among the ingredients of his energy truffles. Photo by John Mahoney /Montreal Gazette

By transforming the relationship between humans and insects, the museum’s mission is to transform our society into an “entomophile” society, in which insects are appreciated and valued.

“In the current context of climate change and collapsing biodiversity, we need museums for people to become agents of change,” Larrivee said.

Minimizing consumption of conventional animal protein is crucial for a sustainable ecological transition, he said. The World Health Organization warned nearly a decade ago that one of the keys to global security lies in using insects as protein.

Insects are among the most ecologically sustainable food sources, Larrivee said. Raising mealworms, for example, generates 1% of the greenhouse gases produced by raising beef cattle.

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Over 2 billion people worldwide already eat insects, which are rich in protein and essential amino acids and a source of multiple vitamins and minerals. A 100 gram steak contains 22% protein; 100 grams of ants contain 45% protein. Replacing some of the conventional flour in a muffin with cricket flour, for example, makes it much more nutritious, Vézina said.

“The reality is that it’s the healthiest protein; it’s a superfood and we want people to experience it,” Larrivee said.

But for the practice to be embraced by the remaining 6 billion people on the planet, we need ways to incorporate insects into our cultural and gastronomic credentials, Larrivee said.

Vézina, said Larrivee, has an exceptional ability to develop foods that taste great and incorporate the flavors of regional terroirs that draw on the cultural references of Quebecers “so they can associate with what they eat and s ‘make sure it’s really good’.

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“For me, insect protein is the key to food security and a sustainable eco-transition,” he said. “And Daniel said, ‘Max: it’s got to taste good, or forget it. “”

While there are 15 or 20 varieties of animal protein, “with insects, there are thousands,” says chef Daniel Vézina.  “Every day, I discover new varieties and all kinds of flavors.
While there are 15 or 20 varieties of animal protein, “with insects, there are thousands,” says chef Daniel Vézina. “Every day, I discover new varieties and all kinds of flavors. Photo by John Mahoney /Montreal Gazette

For four months, Vézina worked with artisans from different regions of Quebec, including Abitibi, Gaspésie and the Laurentians, and “I could see in his eyes everything he had discovered about insects,” said said Larrivee.

“We saw his entomophilia explode” as the insects “opened a door for him to innovate,” Larrivee said. “So Daniel himself has become an agent of change, which is what we are looking for – people who will amplify our message outside our walls.”

Says Vézina: “When I started working with Maxim, we were working with grasshoppers, ants, crickets — and I started to understand the complexity of tastes.

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While there are 15 or 20 varieties of animal protein, “with insects there are thousands of varieties,” he says. “Every day, I discover new varieties and all kinds of flavors.

Vézina admitted that he was initially skeptical. “But as you learn about the parallel world of insects, you develop a respect for them.”

Still, Larrivee said, “we’re going to have to take it easy.” Even a decade from now, people are unlikely to be ready to eat foods in which insects are clearly visible, he said.

“But that doesn’t mean entomophilous gastronomy can’t be incorporated into culinary practices,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we can’t generate these unique and amazing flavors – and hopefully that will encourage other chefs.”

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Free tastings of gourmet bites incorporating insects, created by starred Quebec chef Daniel Vézina in collaboration with local producers for the Insectarium, are open to everyone at the Entomomiam kiosk, Le Central, 30 Ste-Catherine Street West to Saturday. The hours are Nov. 3, noon to 8 p.m.; Nov. 4, 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.; Nov. 5, 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. Insect-based products may not be suitable for people with intolerances or allergies to shellfish.

At the beginning of December, a beautiful “discovery box” of five insect-based gourmet products, in sufficient quantity for four people to taste, will be available for $50 at the Insectarium and at the gift shops of the Botanical Garden and the Biodôme. .

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