What’s a meal without the mealworms?

Insecta Fiesta event demonstrates how insects can add flavor, nutrition to recipes

Paul Schattenberg, 210-859-5752, paschattenberg@ag.tamu.edu

Contact: Molly Keck, 210-631-0400, mekeck@ag.tamu.edu

SAN ANTONIO – Attendees at the recent Insecta Fiesta event at the San Antonio Garden Center were treated to a unique culinary experience in the form of a four-course Indian/Latin fusion meal made with insects and insect-based ingredients.

More than 70 people attended the Insecta Fiesta event at the San Antonio Garden Center. (Texas A&M AgriLife Communications photo by Paul Schattenberg)

“About 80 percent of all cultures in the world use insects in their diet, so it’s not that unusual,” said Molly Keck, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service entomologist, Bexar County. “But  we’re not comfortable as yet with having insects as part of the American diet, so it’s going to take some getting used to.”

Keck said entomophagy, or the eating of insects, is likely to become even more acceptable globally as the world population grows and there is less food security.

Experts from AgriLife Extension and the agency’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, with direction and input from local chefs, planned, prepared and served the evening meal to more than 70 attendees. About 20 members of 4-H clubs from Bexar County, including the 4-H entomology special interest club, assisted with food preparation and service.

“The purpose of Insecta Fiesta is to provide an educational event in which the participants can learn how insects can be incorporated into food to add protein and flavor, and also to introduce people to the idea of eating insects,” Keck said. “We got the 4-H youth involved so they could get some practical experience that will count toward their scholarships and record books.”

Keck said the event was also made possible thanks to the support of several sponsors, including Ace Mart Restaurant Supply, Vanguard Veterinary Associates, Bombay Salsa Company, San Antonio Botanical Garden, Azar Family Brands and Little Herds.

The evening’s menu began with roasted tomatillo chickpea salsa spiced with local fire ants, along with an Indian-style hummus garnished with toasted mealworms and served with Chirps Chips – tortilla chips made with cricket flour. The second course was a tomato waxworm bisque garnished with cricket croutons.

The evening’s entrée was tandoori chicken topped with roasted crickets. (Texas A&M AgriLife Communications photo by Paul Schattenberg)

The main course was chicken tandoori topped with curry-spiced crickets, served with a locally grown micro-greens, tomato and cucumber salad, sprinkled with roasted mealworms and topped with a cucumber yogurt dressing.

Dessert was a tuile tart with sweet potato mousse and Mexican-style chocolate ganache, sweetened with honey sourced from AgriLife Extension-supported beekeeping programs and served on a crepe-like pastry shell made with cricket flour.

The meal also offered optional drink pairings, including Texican Lager from Blue Star Brewing Company, which served as the venue for last year’s Insecta Fiesta, and specialty cocktails incorporating such insect-based ingredients as moth larvae tea and cricket flour.

“We tried to pair the innate flavor of the bug with the food it’s in,” explained Hitish Nathani of Bombay Salsa Company, one of the evening’s featured chefs. “For example, we used waxworms in the soup because they’re a fatty bug and give a rich taste like cream. We also used roasted mealworms in both the salad and hummus because they have a nutty taste that can balance out the flavors. We used cricket powder to make the chips, plus used whole crickets with curry flavor as an accompaniment to the tandoori chicken.”

Dave Terrazas, culinary and wellness program specialist at the San Antonio Botanical Garden, created the dessert. He noted this year’s Insecta Fiesta venue was on the grounds of the botanical garden, which features the Culinary Garden and CHEF — Culinary Health Education for Families — Teaching Kitchen to highlight health, wellness and environmental stewardship through hands-on gardening and cooking.

“We used a ratio of 20 percent cricket flour to 80 percent all-purpose flour and made crepes,” he said. “When we mixed it, on the nose it had a kind of cocoa-like quality and tasted more like whole-wheat flour. We enhanced that with an earthy pumpkin pie spice blend and topped that with a sweet potato mousse with pumpkin spices. That gave it an earthy flavor. Then we added whipped cream and a ganache we made in a Mexican style with cinnamon, chili, almond and vanilla to play up the earthiness of the cricket.”

During the meal, members of the Bexar County 4-H entomology club, a special interest club administered through AgriLife Extension, gave presentations to the attendees about the benefits of entomophagy and having insects as a supplemental protein source.

Molly Keck with youth presenters. (Texas A&M AgriLife Communications photo by Paul Schattenberg)

Nicolas Diarte, 14, was one of the 4-H entomology team members who spoke to the attendees.

“One of the most important things I had to tell them was that insects require a lot less water to produce than livestock and also take up a lot less space,” Diarte said. “I also told them insects may be the food of the future because of the growing world population and because we won’t be able to produce adequate food for the future using current farming practices.”

Judie Gustafson was one of the attendees at this year’s event.

“I really enjoyed the mealworm hummus and fire ant salsa,” Gustafson said. “I’ve been to countries where they use insects in their diet but never really tried them before. But once when I was young, my mother, who loved practical jokes, served me chocolate-covered ants on my oatmeal, so I guess you can say I’ve eaten insects before. Besides, eating insects is a lot better for you than eating potato chips.”

Juan Morlock was another of the evening’s participants.

“I’m an archaeologist and my coworker told me about the event and said I should go because I was an adventurous person and liked unusual things,” he said. “I was intrigued by the idea because I grew up watching the National Geographic programs where you could watch the people eat strange things and thought doing something like that would be interesting.”

Morlock said he enjoyed the meal, then added with a smile: “But the tandoori chicken could have used more crickets.”

Another first-time attendee, Sylvia Rendon, said she was anxious to participate in a new taste experience.

“I was invited by a very good friend,” Rendon said, “I hadn’t eaten insects before but was receptive to the idea, especially since I knew they had a lot of protein. I really enjoyed the hummus and Chirp Chips made from cricket flour, and the tomato bisque was smooth and creamy. The entrée was delicious, and I could have eaten four of the desserts. The chefs did a great job of incorporating the insects into the menu items for extra flavor and to make the foods healthier.”

Nathani said the event helped demonstrate how insects can be incorporated into almost any food.

“Depending on what type of food you are cooking, there’s an insect that will add protein, balance the flavor and make the dish healthier,” he said.

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