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Fine dining or bushtucker trial? I tried eating insects — with surprising results

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There’s even cricket tequila (Picture: Charlotte Bateman)

What’s your favourite meal? Perhaps you love a comforting bowl of Spaghetti Bolognese, a Sunday roast, or maybe nothing hits the spot for you like a jacket potato with beans.

Well, whatever you like eating now, the chances are, your plate is going to look rather different in the future.

With pressures from overpopulation (there’s set to be 9.7 billion of us by 2050), climate change and issues like geopolitical conflict affecting access to food, what we eat is going to have to be overhauled.

For some, the answer to this conundrum is simple: creepy crawlies.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Insects aren’t sustenance. At most, they’re an amuse bouche to kangaroo’s testicles on I’m a Celebrity.

Well, I thought that too, until I learnt that they’re actually one of the healthiest foods on the planet. Gram for gram, crickets contain more protein than beef, more iron than spinach, more calcium than milk, more fibre than brown rice, more vitamin B12 than red meat, more Omega-3 than salmon and more potassium than bananas.

Bon appetite (Picture: Getty Images/500px)

Meanwhile, a 2023 study in obese mice suggested that replacing traditional protein sources with mealworms in high fat diets could slow down weight gain, improve immune response, reduce inflammation, enhance energy metabolism, decrease bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol.

Insect also have eco superpowers. For starters, they fart a lot less than cows, and produce 100 times less greenhouse gas emissions. Bugs are also tiny, which means they require less land, less feed, less water, less transport fuel, and less human labour.

And to top it off, they like to eat organic waste such as discarded food, that often ends up in landfill. Research shows landfill sites contribute to 20% of global anthropogenic methane emissions and they are the second highest producers of greenhouse gas. Therefore, by diverting waste, insects continue to fight climate change.

So, why aren’t bugs already on supermarket shelves? According to data, over two billion people in 80% of the world regularly enjoy eating insects. Yet, here in the UK, we still think it’s weird.

In search of answers, I contacted Dr Nick Rousseau, founder of the UK Edible Insect Association. He explained to me that our backwardness is far more complex than Brits being squeamish.

‘Fifteen years ago, there were actually a number of companies supplying edible insects in the UK,’ he said. ‘These were originally sold off the back of shows like I’m a Celebrity and Bear Grylls. But when more research started to come out about the health benefits, it became clear that the market opportunity was a lot bigger.

‘Unfortunately, in 2018, The European Commission reclassified insects as “novel foods” which meant companies suddenly had to jump through hoops to make their products safe.

Mealworms are another potential food of the future (Picture: Getty Images)

Nick went on to note how companies suffered because of the ‘novel food’ classification, putting together expensive dossiers proving their products were okay to be consumed.

Brexit only added to the issues, so Dr Nick formed a trade association, and began lobbying for edible insect companies. Finally, in 2023, Parliament agreed to allow seven different insect species (including crickets, mealworms, locusts and the black soldier fly) to be legally traded while companies spent time preparing their ‘novel food’ applications.

Now, the sector is bouncing back, and demand is growing. A recent study by the FSA found a quarter of Brits were willing to try bugs as part of their diet. Nick has since calculated that there may be a demand for 980 million insect products in the UK annually. He added that within the next few years, we could be seeing them on our supermarket shelves.

So, with that in mind, I decided to get a head start. And I have to admit, I thought it would be easy: buy some unseasoned, dehydrated mealworms, put them in a blender, mix them up with some grated veg and breadcrumbs, and make them into burger patties.

It was, inevitably, a disaster. The patty ended up being so dry and tasteless that I nearly spat it out.

With my stomach gurgling, I went back to the drawing board, e.g. Google, and came across two young entrepreneurs called Aaron Thomas and Leo Taylor.

The pair from London started their revolutionary food brand Yum Bug in 2018. They’ve since developed a range of cricket meat products, from mince to burger patties, which have gained the thumbs up from top chefs and even Dragons’ Den’s Steven Bartlett.

As of February this year, they also made headlines with the opening of their flagship restaurant in North London. So naturally, I had to check it out for myself, and bring my highly squeamish mother with me.

‘It’s been a crazy few years,’ co-founder Leo said, after seating us in the cosy restaurant. ‘For some time, I had been curious about edible insects and one day I was just searching hashtags on Instagram and I came across Aaron, who is an entomologist. He was already cooking with bugs and posting about it, so I dropped him a message. Next thing we knew, we were cooking insects together in my mum’s garage on evenings and weekends.’

Cricket brisket was first on the menu (Picture: Charlotte Bateman)

Post lockdown, the pair managed to get investors on board and appeared on Aldi’s Next Big Thing.

‘Everything just snowballed from there,’ says Leo. ‘Two months ago, we opened a permanent joint in the heart of Finsbury Park, and we sold out our first week in under an hour!’

After learning about the brand story, it was time to dig into the five small plates my mum and I had ordered, starting with the taco – a soft tortilla filled with spicy mole and Yum Bug’s signature cricket brisket. We both took a tentative bite and chewed in stunned silence.

Soft tortilla filled with spicy mole and Yum Bug’s signature cricket brisket (Picture: Charlotte Bateman)
Trofie pasta and cricket lardons (Picture: Charlotte Bateman)

If I hadn’t known, I would have thought the brisket was beef. It was so tender and full of flavour. And, as somebody who loves steak, I can honestly say it was just as good as my favourite meal: Tom Kerridge’s beef at his Michelin starred Marlow pub, Hand & Flowers, except at a fraction of the price, with most dishes on Yum Bug’s menu ranging from £12 to £15.

We then devoured cricket mince onion bhajis; pitta topped with smoky humus and crunchy crickets; trofie pasta and cricket lardons; and aubergine with cricket meatballs.

Every bite was utterly delicious and did not resemble bugs in the slightest. I even had a refreshing cocktail to wash it down, made from blood orange and cricket tequila aka crickuila. And, judging from all the empty plates, our fellow customers seemed to have had a great meal as well.

Pitta topped with smoky humus and crunchy crickets (Picture: Charlotte Bateman)
I even had a cocktail made with cricket tequila (Picture: Charlotte Bateman)

Leo informed us later: ‘We often get people going crazy at the door because their partner hasn’t told them they’re going to be eating insects. But what’s really cool for us is once they try the food, their perception instantly changes.’

He continued: ‘Our crickets are sourced from a farm in Cambridge. We receive them fresh and whole, and the chef will then make them into brisket or mince, using just two other ingredients: whole wheat flour and salt.’

At the moment, Yum Bug operates as both a restaurant and wholesaler, supplying their cricket meat to major chains like Wahaca. However, their ultimate goal is to break into retail.

Buoyed by my experience at Yum Bug, I was keen to try other brands. First up was Crunchy Critters. As well as dried whole insects (not very appealing after my homemade bush tucker trial), the brand sent me a load of snack mixes, made with mealworms, and I cannot stop eating them.

On the go insect snacks (Picture: Charlotte Bateman)

If you’ve ever tried Graze snacks, they’re a bit like that, but better. The savoury bean and critter mix comes in flavours such as salt and pepper; salt and vinegar; and paprika. Meanwhile, the sweet mixes feature dark chocolate chips, desiccated coconut and dried apricots. Although pricier than your usual snack (around £4 for two 30g bags), each serving contains a whopping 8.5g of protein.

Next up: Bugvita. These guys specialise in cricket powder products, and I tried out some of their baking mixes. Overall, my favourite was the cricket cookie mix, which for £7 made 16 protein rich cookies. They were super easy to prepare, and the cricket flour did not affect the flavour at all; they just tasted sweet, crisp on the outside and deliciously soft in the middle. I also found the cookies to be an ideal breakfast on the go, as they kept me energised until lunchtime.

The cookies made with cricket flour were a success (Picture: Charlotte Bateman)

Thirdly: Gymsect. If you care about building both muscle and a healthy planet, this is the brand for you. Gymsect is the UK market leader in cricket protein powders. Their scientifically researched formula produces significantly less greenhouse gas than traditional whey, which is derived from the byproducts of cheese production. Its nutritional value is also superior to whey. For example, per 40g serving, cricket protein has no sugar, more than double the fibre, six times more iron, 800% more vitamin B12, and a shed load of Omega-3 which are non-existent in whey.

Looking to bulk up? There’s an insect for that (Picture: Charlotte Bateman)

Admittedly, I do not fit Gymsect’s target consumer (I’m a sporadic gym goer at best). But I tried it, mixing the Vanilla Muscle and Strength blend into a berry smoothie, and I was very impressed. It was tasty, smooth and extremely filling. The one drawback is, you can only buy it through their site and at £44 per kg, it is more expensive than conventional brands like Impact Whey, which you can get much cheaper on sites like Amazon and Costco. Additionally, Impact Whey has 23g protein per serving, 5g more than Gymsect.

And last but not least, Bugbakes – a cricket-based dog food, committed to reducing your pet’s carbon pawprint. From a puppy, my three-year-old miniature schnauzer Margot has been fed raw meat. But she wolfed down Bugbakes’ treats and jumped at me for seconds. While the products are more costly (£36 for a 2.5 kg of kibble, £23 for 6 cans of wet food, and £9 for a 250g bag of treats), I feel they were worth it due to their high-quality ingredients. The treats, for example, contain 60% of protein, which is essential to your dog’s immunity, coat health and weight management.

The dog treats were Margot approved (Picture: Charlotte Bateman)

So, what is my verdict on the Bugatarian diet? Well, I love it. I’ll be returning to Yum Bug very soon, this time bringing my grandma (she doesn’t know yet).

As for giving up conventional meat… I would happily use cricket mince instead of beef in my Bolognese and chilli con carne, so let’s hope the supermarkets get Yum Bug on their shelves asap. For now, I’d struggle to eliminate the likes of bacon and seafood from my diet completely – but if the bug brands have more tricks up their sleeves, I’m ready to give them a try.

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