#66 | On Eating Insects
CBTB Season 2 Finale
On Eating Insects
Essays, Stories, And Recipes
By Joshua Evans, Michael Bom Frost, and Roberto Flore
Seek Food Founder
Suzy Chase: Welcome to the Cookery by the Book Podcast with me, Suzy Chase.
Josh Evans: My name is Josh Evans, and I'm one of the authors of On Eating Insects: Essays, Stories and Recipes.
Suzy Chase: Give us a little bit of background on the Nordic Food Lab's involvement in the Insect Project.
Josh Evans: Sure. Nordic Food Lab is a non-profit organization that was founded by Rene Redzepi who's the chef and owner of restaurant Noma in Copenhagen and also by Claus Meyer who is this sort of Danish gastronomic entrepreneur who was the other co-founder of the restaurant. They founded the lab in 2008 as space where chefs and scientists and farmers and different kinds of researchers and practitioners in food could come together to try and investigate the edible potential of the Nordic region. From the beginning, it was really looking into all these different sources of possible flavor, Whether in wild plants or different shell fish or through different fermentation techniques or with insects to try and sort of either resuscitate some of the flavors from foods that used to be eaten in the Nordic region but may be had been forgotten about, like certain wild plants for example. Or in some cases, investigating flavors in the Nordic kitchen in things that have eaten in other parts of the world but don't really have history of being eaten very much in the Nordic region like certain seaweeds for example.
And so, the Insects Project was sort of part of that larger context of trying to investigate, trying to look with this sort of fresh eyes and fresh tongues and palettes at all of these different possible flavors and foods that we're overlooking all the time, and we don't necessarily realize it. And so the sort of impulse to work with insects was part of that more general impulse to look at the landscape in a new, more diversely edible may.
Suzy Chase: And how did you come to entomophagy, the fancy term for eating insects?
Josh Evans: That's right. I kind of fell into it really. I came to Nordic Food Lab shortly after finishing my bachelor's degree. I'm from Canada originally, but I took it in America. One of the first things that I started working on when I came to the lab, which was in the summer of 2012, was to help put together the application for the grant that we ended up getting. Which gave us funding to do this three year in depth research project into the gastronomic potential of insects. I wouldn't say that I have a particularly strong passion for insects. If I had to choose a group of organisms that I'm particularly excited about it would probably be microbes, but that's another story.
With the insects, it became really fascinating to me because it raises a lot of these much more general questions about food and eating. Like, how different human cultures decide what's food and what's not food and how these processes of food preference are hugely diverse across the world. Particularly, I think, for me how this line that all of us draw between the edible world and the inedible world is something that we're doing all the time. In every meal that we cook and eat every day we're constantly drawing and redrawing this line. Especially through this insects research, I really came to see how that line between the edible and the inedible is shaping global food systems in really profound ways. I think the insects research, whether or not you want to eat them is, at least in my opinion, kind of secondary. The primary point of interest here, I think, is getting eaters to think more deeply about what we think is edible and what we think is not edible and why.
Suzy Chase: Speaking of edible and inedible, eating insects has long been taboo in the West. Let's kick things off with the nutritional benefits of insects.
Josh Evans: There's kind of a simple story out there, which is the dominant narrative right now and is also largely how we began the project. Which is based on a handful of laboratory studies trying to quantify nutritional value of protein and fats and Lycra nutrients, like vitamins and minerals for example. Also, some that are looking at feed to food conversion ratio, and the efficiency with which insects can turn feed into food, which seems by some metrics to be very much better than more traditional livestock. I guess the story there is those are the main arguments that many people are using to say, "Well, because by these metrics insects seem to be this sort of silver bullet, we should all just start eating way more of them." But actually right now, now that the field is growing a bit more and more people are getting into it, some of these findings are starting to be complicated a bit more, which I think is a really good thing.
People are starting to be a bit more precise about what kinds of methods they're using to quantify nutritional value, for example. There's a recent study that came out that's trying to analyze, not just taking protein as a really crude category, but saying, "Okay, there's different kinds of protein, and some of them are digestible by humans, and some of them aren't." So, when we analyze the protein composition of an insect, we have to be sensitive to those differences.
Similarly, there are more and more studies coming out that are really trying to go deeper and trying to analyze more precisely exactly what we mean by the degree of improved efficiency that certain insect species are supposed to have. I guess I tell this story because while it would be more satisfying to paint this very simple picture of how they're this silver bullet and they're just going to save the world, I think that increasingly the science and the research is painting a more complex picture. Which I think is a very good thing. It forces us to a bit more critical and to take a step back and maybe move a bit more slowly on these things.
Suzy Chase: Why do you think Westerners have had such a hard time looking at insects as nutrition?
Josh Evans: I don't know if that's exactly true. At least right now, the difficulty seems not for western eaters to see insects as nutrition. Increasingly people are actually quite okay with seeing them as a sort of abstracted source of protein or minerals. The much greater challenge seems to be to get people to think about them as food. As something that they would actually want to eat, rather than feeling like they have to either abstract it away into a flour or a powder and then hide it in another form.
Also, this historical angle it should be said that even as recently as the early twentieth century there are multiple recipes within Europe even certain insects being used for food. Like in Germany and France, for example, there are records of recipes from cookbooks in the nineteenth century detailing method for preparing a soup using, in German they're called Maikäfer. I guess that would be literally translated as May beetle. May beetles, June beetles, cockchafers. A particular recipe that turns it into a soup served with veal liver on toast, it actually sounds really tasty. Then, that's not even talking about some of the existing, ongoing traditions in Southern Europe like with the Casu Marzu, the cheese that's ripened with fly larva in Sardinia.
Suzy Chase: That sounds awful.
Josh Evans: It sounds really awful, and it's actually really tasty.
Suzy Chase: Really?
Josh Evans: Yeah, and I think one way that we might think about it that makes it a bit more easy to think about it, for those of us who haven't tasted it or seen it, is kind of think about it as comparable to a blue cheese. In a blue cheese, the blue mold is injected into the middle of the cheese, and then it ripens the inside of the cheese. The fungus produces enzymes that break down the proteins and the fats in the cheese, and they turn the paste really creamy, and that's where all the spicy tastes come from as these enzymes are breaking fats down into smaller fatty acid chains and producing lots of different aroma molecules. Essentially, in the Casu Marzu, really similar kinds of metabolic processes are happening it's just that they're not happening with a mold, they're happening with a larva.
Suzy Chase: Isn't the larva alive?
Josh Evans: Yeah, they're alive. The fly lays its eggs, and then they hatch. Then the larva eat through the paste of the cheese. They're only eating the cheese, so they're digesting this hard ... Usually, they start as kind of hard Pecorino-style cheese and then as they digest the cheese, they're digestive tract, all of the enzymes in that, are breaking it down into this creamy, spicy, delicious paste. It's really remarkable actually.
Suzy Chase: I'm going to have to try that.
Josh Evans: You ought to. You should book a vacation to Sardinia just in pursuit of the Casu Marzu.
Suzy Chase: When you're pushed to compare insects to cows, chicken, or pig the insect will win out every time in terms of greenhouse gases, land usage, water, and feed input.
Josh Evans: Right, so this goes a bit back to what we were talking about a bit earlier around different ways of trying to measure the sort of sustainability potential of insects, we could say. A lot of the existing data does seem to show vast advantages with resource use like water and feed, and also fewer outputs like greenhouse gas emissions. That's very well established. That's not work that we did, that's work that was existing and done by other scientists. We review that a little bit in this book, We're sort of in the phase of the research where it's early days, and there's just been lots of hype and everyone's very excited about these very preliminary statistics and these preliminary sets of data.
I think what's needed now is a bit more of a critical eye and research that really tries to replicate these studies and to suss out the extent to which they're true and maybe some of the variables that might changes them. For example, few studies had actually gone as deeply into the energy requirements for raising insects in certain parts of the world. Many of these insects, like crickets, for example, they actually need pretty warm conditions to be raised in. In the tropics, you don't really need to worry about that because the climates often pretty warm, but in more northern climes, like in Northern Europe for example, that's not true. So, to raise crickets, you need to actually have quite a bit of energy input in the form of heating. There's not nearly as much research on that.
If we want to gain an overall picture of the complexity of the sustainability potential of insects, that kind of research is really crucial to get right. It's not enough to just say, "Oh, well, insects use a lot less water and a lot fewer greenhouse gasses we should just raise lots of crickets.", especially if we're in a part of the world where energy is really expensive for example.
Suzy Chase: Name a couple of societies where insects are an everyday cuisine.
Josh Evans: Oh, there's loads. I think that's maybe one of my favorite parts of the book is the middle section that's all of these different stories from our fieldwork in cultures where insects aren't just eaten, but where they're really a delicacy. Where they're really valued for their flavor and for their nutritional composition. Some of the places that we went to, and it was only a fraction of the total number of cultures we could've visited, we went to East Africa, we were in Kenya and Uganda, we went to Mexico, Australia, Peru, Thailand, Japan, and even to some places in Europe. We went to Sardinia and investigated this Casu Marzu, this cheese. Also, to some insect farms in the Netherlands. So, there's quite a big range, yeah.
Suzy Chase: What really caught my eye in this book was the insect mega market in Thailand called Talat Rong Kluea. Is that how you pronounce it?
Josh Evans: I don't know. My Thai is pretty horrible.
Suzy Chase: Okay, well we'll go with that.
Josh Evans: Okay, sounds good.
Suzy Chase: So, the profit margin seems so high, but there is dark side with the seasonal day laborers. I read that women and children were processing locusts manually by pulling off their wings, and they were paid only $.14-$.17 per locust.
Josh Evans: Yup.
Suzy Chase: In your book, many species of insects reach remarkably high prices that exceed pork or beef.
Josh Evans: Yeah, the giant water bug is a pretty fascinating case. That is one of the delicacies of many parts of Thailand. Not just as an insect, but just as a food. It's mainly because the male giant water bug produces this insane aroma. It's described in so many different ways. Some people describe it as tropical fruit, one of my friends thinks it smells like overripe pear, I think it is really reminiscent of artificial candy flavor. Kind of like watermelon candy aroma. Really fragrant. It's insane. It's used in different ways. One of my favorite ways is it's turned into a chili paste called nam prik mang da. Mang da is the Thai word for the giant water bug. It's pounded into this paste with chilies and garlic and ginger and galangal sometimes, and it's really tasty.
It's really valued for this aroma. Because it has such a potent aroma that it's reached a point where it's actually vastly overharvested in the wild and people are trying to respond to it in different ways. Some people are trying to raise it in farms, which has varying degrees of success. I don't know if it's quite been nailed yet. One of the essays in our book, the essay that you're quoting that's taking the Thai insect industry as a case study for how things might evolve, profiles a man who actually seems to be doing quite well at raising the giant water bug. Another route that people have taken is to try and synthesize that aroma artificially. Then just sell the aroma itself and bypass the insect entirely.
Of course, like with many things like this, it's sort of like the difference between real vanilla bean and vanillin. They're reminiscent of each other, of course, but the thing that makes vanilla so beguiling is that it's vanillin, but it's also lots of trace amounts of other things that give it that distinct complexity of aroma. People who really like their giant water bug, they don't see the synthesized stuff as equal at all.
In answer to your question, yeah, it's really because it's this gastronomic delicacy that's becoming increasingly rare. So, those two factors together means that the price has just become insanely high.
Suzy Chase: So let's go over some tasting notes of some recognizable insects. Let's start with crickets.
Josh Evans: Some crickets are really tasty. We had some in Uganda, some giant tobacco crickets, which are probably as big as my thumb. They were so big that the different parts had different tastes. The abdomen was really soft and mild and creamy. The legs were quite robust actually very reminiscent of a chicken leg in some ways. A kind of dark chicken meat. The head, the brains were very savory and very juicy. They really have this beautiful ... Yeah, you could suck out all the juices.
Suzy Chase: How is that prepared? How was that cricket prepared?
Josh Evans: That was really simple. We had it on this beautiful polycultural farm in Southern Uganda. They live in the garden, they dig these little wholes, and they only eat very soft leaves. You often find them in gardens where young plants are growing. Some people see them as a pest, but they're really tasty. So other people dig them up and cook them. We had them prepared very simply, roasted in a pan over a fire with a little bit of vegetable oil for about 5-7 minutes, with some green onions thrown in halfway through. We ate them with insanely ripe tomatoes and hot green peppers and some salt. Yum! I'm salivating thinking about it.
Suzy Chase: So basically all the flavor was coming from the cricket. It wasn't like you put it in broth or anything like that. The flavor was from the cricket.
Josh Evans: Yeah, yeah, right. That was a recurring theme in many places where we have them in more traditional preparations where they're really the star of the show. Often they may be supplemented with other things, or they're used as a kind of flavoring agent for vegetables and things like this. At least in that preparation, they were really the star and prepared very simply so that their flavors could really shine through rather than heaping lots of stuff on them and having them be this nondescript vehicle.
There's a species called gryllus bimaculatus. I can't remember the common name for it. It's sort of like a black cricket. I've tried them a few different places a few different times they're just not very tasty to me. A lot of our informants on fieldwork also had certain preferences even among the cricket category, which is very interesting.
Suzy Chase: What about termites?
Josh Evans: Oh, termites, they're so vastly diverse. We mainly encountered termites in our fieldwork in Kenya and Uganda. Some places in the landscape there you would go, and you would just look out at the landscape, and there would just be termite mounds every five meters stretching until the horizon. Really remarkable.
Within termites there's different tasks, right? They're a social insect. Most commonly they were the winged termites. They were the reproductive ones that come out of the mound during the rainy season that were eaten most. Although, sometimes people ate soldiers as well, which are the ones that protect the colony. They have these really big heads that are very crunchy.
They tend to have pretty similar tastes. Kind of nutty, fatty kinds of flavors. The termite queen though is something else. She is big. Her abdomen is maybe eight centimeters long and really thick, at least as thick as my thumb maybe thicker. Yeah, you can't see my thumb. It's like a thumb sized sort of thing. My former colleague Ben called it God's handmade sausage, so you can imagine what that is like. When she's alive, it's her egg sack, so it's just constantly this roiling, moving, fatty sack. Then you cook it very gently on a fire so that the proteins firm up and you slice into it, and it's sort of soft and yields to your touch, but it's still firm. It's totally remarkable. It tastes like sweet breads and foie gras.
Suzy Chase: Really?
Josh Evans: Yeah, totally. Not even joking. Not even just saying it's a good insect, but just as a general food, it was totally beautiful. Very rare, very difficult to get because you have to dig one out of a termite mound. It's often a strategy that's used to displace a termite colony. So, let's say a colony starts to build its mound in your wall, for example, because many buildings there have these earthen walls. You don't really want that, right? So some people use different pesticides or gasoline or things to try and kill the colony, but a slightly more labor intensive but more elegant way is to dig out the queen. Then the colony will move somewhere else and elect a new queen and build a colony somewhere else. They won't return to the place where they were. Then you also get this really tasty thing from it.
Suzy Chase: I like how you call it elegant.
Josh Evans: Yeah, I suppose in some ways.
Suzy Chase: I can see her in like her kaftan, "Come on, everyone let's go."
Josh Evans: Right. It is a kind of violence also, but in terms of pouring chemicals into the earth, it's slightly less invasive than that we could say maybe. Or maybe that's just me being optimistic.
Suzy Chase: Let's move on to ants.
Josh Evans: Yeah, okay. Ants are really different. Ants are a really good example of how the developmental stage yields really different taste properties. Many of the ants that we worked with and found on our fieldwork, it was the adult that was eaten. In that case, it was often used as a seasoning because many ants produce formic acid as a defense mechanism, so they taste really sour. Even though they're very small. they can have a really potent acidic taste.
One of the insects that we used a lot in Denmark when we were doing recipe development in the lab, was an ant called formica rufa, also known as the red wood ant. It was sour and sort of tasted to me like a seared lemon rind. Like if you were to take a lemon rind and sear it on the grill.
Other ants, like ones that we had in Australia like the green tree ant, they as they sound are this bright green color. They are also sour, but they have a much more kafir lime kind of flavor. In addition to their sour taste from the formic acid, like many social insects do, they produce a lot of pheromones, which are aromatic molecules that they use to communicate with each other. It just so happens that a lot of these volatile molecules we perceive as aroma, which is pretty cool.
Then there's other ants, like the escamoles that we had in Mexico, in Hidalgo just north of Mexico City at the opening to the desert. It's not the adults that are eaten. It's the larva of the queen. It's specifically the larva that are destined to become future queens, so they're much bigger than the worker larva. They're maybe like the size of my pinky nail, I suppose, and they're very plump. They are also a huge delicacy. They're harvested in the springtime between March and May for about six weeks. They taste a little bit like avocado, a little bit like green almond. Also, sometimes they have this really pungent smell that comes from the hive, which reminded me of like a young blue goat's milk cheese. So very complex, very tasty. Often eaten in tacos.
Suzy Chase: Does their diet, for example, the ant's diet, does that kind of determine what they're going to taste like?
Josh Evans: Sometimes. I don't know if very much research has been done. In some cases, there's a lot of traditional knowledge associated with this kind of thing. So people who have lived in these landscapes for a long time and have accumulated a lot of knowledge over many generations about how the insects fit into the ecology and how they're flavors might be affected by the time of the season or what they're eating or the time you harvest them, etc. I know that the escamoles tend to build their nests underneath huge agave cacti. I don't know for sure, but I suspect the fact that they're building these nests underneath these huge agaves might have an impact on their flavor. That's pure speculation.
Suzy Chase: Okay, the bogong moth?
Josh Evans: Oh, the bogong moth. The bogong moth is an interesting case because we didn't actually end up tasting the bogong moth. It was one of the few insects that we did some research into, but we just missed the season for them. We were in Australia in March of 2014 and the season is in February. January, February, and sometimes extends into March, but we just caught the very end of it. I got a sample of one that was given to me by an aboriginal man who saved it for me, but it was a dead adult that had flown into his house through his window, and then he kept it. I never actually tasted any, but I hear that they taste really remarkable. They're very fatty, and traditionally they would throw lots of them onto the fire, the wings would singe off, and then you would just pluck them out and just gorge yourself on them. Really fatty, really nutty, maybe like almonds. Unfortunately, I can't speak from experience for that one.
Suzy Chase: Cockroach?
Josh Evans: Oh, cockroach is kind of challenging for me.
Suzy Chase: How come?
Josh Evans: Well, I've tried a few different species, and all of them have been all kind of tasting like different kinds of detergent. They have this very kind of like chemical sort of taste. I haven't tasted any where I'm like, "Yeah, that's really great!", but again maybe that's because I haven't tasted them in a culture where they're a delicacy and where they have the knowledge to prepare them in a way that really enhances their flavor. I think in certain parts of China they have methods for preparing them in a way that is tasty. Maybe one day if I taste them there I might change my mind about them.
Suzy Chase: Wasps?
Josh Evans: Wasps, ooh, wasps are really great I think. Of course, again, it's like anything there's so many different species of wasps I've tasted a small, small fraction of that. I think I've only tasted maybe two or three species of wasp. Probably my favorite one would be these Japanese wasps from the mountains in Central Japan. The Latin name is vespula flaviceps, great name. The local name in that region where we were was hebo. There's a great chapter in the book all about the hebo. These wasps are really fascinating to me. Not just for their flavor and not just for their culinary tradition, but also for the particular way that humans in this mountainous region of Central Japan have developed this very sophisticated practice of caring for these wasps so that they can harvest them and increase their yield.
These wasps live in the forest in the mountains and like many other wasp species, and unlike honey bees, the colony doesn't last over winter. It's just the queen that hibernates over the winter and then in the springtime, will her first eggs and start a new colony for the new season. So, in the early spring these wasp collectors will go into the forest, and they'll attract a worker wasp to a piece of bait like raw squid often. They'll tie a tiny little feather, a tiny little string marker, to this wasp and they'll follow the wasp back through the forest until the wasp returns to its nest.
Suzy Chase: That's terrifying to me, by the way.
Josh Evans: As far as wasps go, they're actually quite benign.
Suzy Chase: Really?
Josh Evans: Yeah, they're not super aggressive wasps. The Japanese describe them with this word otonashii, which means mild in character or demure even. They use this word, which is very interesting from an anthropological point of view, also because it's a word that they use to describe the national character of Japanese people. There's this very strong identification with this particular species of Japanese wasp that doesn't just have to do with it being really tasty, but also this kind of symbolic attachment to it as a reflection of the ideal Japanese character.
Anyway, they follow these wasps through the forest, and they find their nests that are very young maybe no larger than the size of my fist. They did them up very carefully, they put them into this small wooden box, and they take them back to their home. At their home, they have these larger wooden boxes, which are purpose built for the wasp's nests. They put the young nest into the larger box and over the spring and the summer and the fall, they feed the nest rock sugar and raw meat, like chicken breast and chicken liver. Very rich meats. The nest grows, and it grows much larger than it would if it were just living in the forest, in the wild, because they have such easy access to this really rich sources of nutrition. Then in the fall, there's this big festival, and everyone in the region brings their different nests and they all weigh them and whoever has the biggest nest wins the festival.
Sometimes people will take them back, and they'll process them, and they'll give the wasp larva as gifts, and sometimes they'll auction them off to people at the festival. There's this whole social practice around giving this delicacy, this fall delicacy, as gifts. Partly because there's so much labor that goes into raising them, and harvesting them, and processing them. You have to pick out each larva individually from the comb. The foods that they make with these are delicious, and they really taste like the forest. They have this really beautiful kind of mossy taste. It really reminds me of a certain kind of lichen in the Nordic region called reindeer moss, which isn't a moss it's a lichen, but that's another story. It's a really distinctive flavor.
Suzy Chase: So what's up next for you and where can we find you on the web?
Josh Evans: To be honest, I've kind of moved onto other things now. I still do a little bit of insect stuff here and there, you know, around the book coming out. We also made a documentary film about the project that's called Bugs, which also follows our fieldwork around the world and processes doing the research. I'm doing a little bit of work still with some of the insects with a couple colleagues, but mainly I'm doing other things now. This past year, since finishing up this book, I've been doing a master's in history and philosophy of science here in England, at Cambridge. I just finished that, and I'm going to start a PhD in the fall, also in England, that will be looking into fermentation and looking at the kinds of human, microbe relationships that emerged in novel fermentation practices and how they can comment on larger debates within agricultural history around domestication for example. I'm really interested not only in how humans shape other organisms and the evolutionary history of other organisms, but also how other organisms shape our evolutionary history sometimes in unpredictable or unforeseen ways.
Suzy Chase: On Eating Insects definitely, makes us want to give eating insects a try. Thanks, Josh for coming on Cookery by the Book Podcast.
Josh Evans: Thanks for having me, Suzy.
Robyn Shapiro: Hi, I'm Robyn Shapiro co-founder of Seek a new line of snack food products made with crickets.
Suzy Chase: Tell me the story of Seek.
Robyn Shapiro: I was inspired to create Seek after reading a report that was put out by the UN in 20013 that talked about insects as a really great solution to be able to solve issues related to feeding growing populations for both people as well as animals. It was actually supposed to part of a much larger project that I was working on. I wanted to do essentially a sort of pop-up food gallery where you'd have different rotating exhibits on the future of food and insects was supposed to be the first.
As I continued to dig into that article I just was so captivated, and there was just so much there to learn and to do, and I knew that I couldn't leave this topic. So, I decided to develop, rather than an initial pop-up, a whole brand around it. The way I saw it was a pop-up would be able to reach a select number of people who were in New York City, who have heard of it, and I really wanted to reach larger populations if I was going to try to really enact positive change in our food system. That was a starting point for Seek. Prior to then, I was working on a rooftop farm. I'd just recently left my position as deputy director for the Lowline, an effort to build the world's first underground park in New York. So, I really kind of had been circling around projects that were quite unique in terms of how they were providing solutions.
I've always loved food. It's such an amazing thing, it brings us together, it's tradition, it's pride, it's culture, it's spending time with your closest people, it's new, it's educational, but I didn't want to work on something that I think was already being done. I think there's a lot of talented people out there doing great stuff, as well as a lot of issues that are in our food system. So I really wanted to push myself to do something that was quite different with a big potential to solve problems.
Suzy Chase: What is Seek doing to change the perception of insects from pest to food?
Robyn Shapiro: Yeah, yeah, so that's definitely one of our biggest challenges. I think that education definitely needs to go hand in hand with the brand that I'm putting out there, so I've done a variety of things on the education front both with youth as well as with adults. With youth, there's a really big educational opportunity here to learn about science and sustainability all while having fun.
So, I've recorded educational videos that are being dispersed to schools nationwide. I've done in-school sessions as well as at different events. I think that when you can learn a little bit more about it, and of course with kids comes their parents, it seems less scary. Also, I've noticed, and the way that I'm approaching the Seek product is with a really delicious, familiar product that contains ingredients that you're really comfortable with and the crickets are well blended into it. I want to make a really positive cricket eating experience for people.
I've been many people's first cricket eating experience, which has been thrilling. People have said that they've really enjoyed the product. I asked why they were so comfortable eating it if they were doing this for the first time and they say that the brand resonates with them. They have me directly talking to them about it telling them it's going to be okay. After you get that first experience down the next one and the one after that will be lot more comfortable.
This is going to part of our daily food systems, not just food that we're consuming, but food that the animals in our lives are consuming too. It's a really smart solution to get all natural protein that comes from the earth. The way I see it is why are we so much more comfortable eating chemicals than we are eating crickets? I think that that switch will click in people's brains because it just does make a lot of sense. On all of my packaging, you'll see insect facts out there to just kind of remind us of all the ways that insects actually are really beneficial in our lives. One of the things I relate to the most when I say, "why aren't we comfortable eating insects, but we're really comfortable having honey?" Honey, after all, is only bee regurgitation. I think that with knowledge and education will come comfort.
Suzy Chase: Seek Snack Bites was my foray into eating crickets, thanks to you. I sampled the coconut cashew ones. Can you describe it?
Robyn Shapiro: Yeah, so coconut cashew is our most popular snack bite flavor. We blend cashews, coconut, a really nice spice blend that's cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger, together with cricket powder as well as dates that provides a lot the bulk there. Some seeds in the mix too and we blend it into this really kind of fun, bite size form. You might have seen similar products called energy bites or protein bites. The bite form makes it fun to just pop into your mouth. I say there's a reason we like eating candy. As well as the fact that it allows you to not have to make such a big commitment when trying this new type of food. You can just have one little snack bite.
I think they're just a great, all purpose snack. You can have it in the morning, in the afternoon for a little bit of an energy boost, and the dried fruit does make them sweet, so they're even a great kind of healthy dessert at the end of the night. There's no refined sugar. They're gluten-free, paleo friendly, no dairy, no soy, and they're just made with whole all natural ingredients that are really good for you.
Suzy Chase: I talked with Josh Evans a little bit about farming crickets. Where do you source your crickets?
Robyn Shapiro: I source my crickets from Asia. I was over there in a December, January time frame on a research trip. I haven't taken research trips nearly as extensive as Josh, but what he did was just incredible, and I greatly envy. I have taken a select number of trips to learn more about insects. As you might have talked about with Josh, one of the statistics that's out there is 80% of the world is eating over 2000 forms of insects. So, the question is where are these places in the world and what are these insects? I have decided to try, and little by little go visit places that have a tradition of eating insects.
When I was in Asia over a December, January timeframe I met with a bunch of people in the industry. In a variety of ways many different parts of Asia have a tradition and industry around this, so I was able to meet and vet a great cricket supplier over there. Now, I, like many other brands on the market, am using a cricket powder or cricket flour. Those really can be used interchangeably. That's just 100% cricket, which is ground up into a powder form, so it makes it really easy and versatile to cook with.
Suzy Chase: Let's talk about packaging.
Robyn Shapiro: The packaging is really to remind us about a lot of the things I've been saying about the brand. That it's really inspired by the natural world. The different packaging have the raw ingredients that are included in that variety in their form when they're growing from the earth. A lot of the times it's sort of vintage botanical illustrations. It symbolizes a few things. First of all, looking to the natural world for solutions. This is what has sustained us for thousands of years of evolution, it is the tried and true thing. So, that's where I am looking to for this future of food kind of a solution and really not to a world of chemicals and labs. I think food should come from the earth. That's the food that I want to eat at least.
The sort of vintage nature of these botanical illustrations is to remind us that actually people have been eating insects all throughout time. As well as to surprise us. You might look at the ingredients on the back and the images on the front and not know what that is, a lot of people are surprised. The cashew one that you had, a lot of people might be surprised to know that cashews grow off of a fruit that looks almost like an apple on a tree. Like that seems crazy if you've seen any of the cashews growing in their whole form. All I'm trying to say and remind people is, "If you just kind of have an open mind about things, you might be surprised, and you might be sort of more comfortable with things than if you just judge it at face value."
Suzy Chase: Does cricket flour taste like anything?
Robyn Shapiro: Yeah, yeah crickets and cricket flour definitely have distinct flavor profiles. In general, they tend to have sort of a nutty, earthy flavor to them and that's why I pair them with nuts. It makes a really great combination. Different cricket flours definitely have a wide range of flavors. You're roasting the crickets essentially before you're grinding them up and, let's just say, like roasting coffee beans you can get quite a spectrum of different flavors. Let's just say, in my opinion, there's cricket flours where I really like how they taste and ones less so.
Suzy Chase: That's so cool. So, what is up next for you and where can we find Seek on the web?
Robyn Shapiro: We have a lot of great things coming up with Seek. We have a granola that we are going to be coming out with soon, a few other products in development. We are sold in select stores around the Northeast area as well as online. Products can be purchased really easily from our website, which is www.seek-food.com and we can also be found at @SeekFood on all the social channels. So, yeah, hopefully people will follow along with our story. This is just the beginning, and there's a lot of exciting things to come along. Also, I think we spoke about the cooking class that I'm going to be doing on the education front, which I mentioned. I'm doing education for kids, but also for adults. Sort of by request, I developed this cooking class, which I'm going to be teaching at Brooklyn Kitchen. I will continue to have a lot of events surrounding this because, per your question earlier, there just needs to be a lot more than just putting a product out there to get people to be comfortable with this.
Suzy Chase: Thank you, Robyn, for coming on Cookery by the Book Podcast.
Robyn Shapiro: Thank you.
Suzy Chase: Subscribe in iTunes and follow me on Instagram @cookerybythebook. On Twitter @iamsuzychase. Thank you so much for listening to Cookery by the Book Podcast.