For the first time ever, insects took the place of cheese at an upscale gastronomical event.
A noteworthy event took place last month in Tours, France. It was the first-ever International Bug & Wine Pairing, bringing together sommeliers and chefs to explore the unique flavors and textures provided by insects, and to learn about the tremendous potential of these high-protein, low-impact foods.
The tasting menu was described as similar to a wine and cheese pairing, except "minus the cheese, plus the bugs." A press release reads, "Much like a Sauv Blanc goes well with a lobster, a crisp white wine brings out the delicate flavors of a scorpion."If your mouth isn't watering yet, it may be soon. The menu included quiche with silkworm chrysalises; risotto à la provençale with trout and insects; pasta gratin with cricket, arugula cream and cashew nuts; and a chocolate pear crumble with cricket granola, all of which were paired with carefully selected wines.
The language used to describe the edible insects is enticing, more than enough to convince even the most reluctant of bug-eaters to take a sample, especially if it's washed down with a fine wine:
"Experience the flavor arc of a cricket: leading with a subtle, nutty umami, unfolding into delicate, earthy tone, and ending with a light, savory note. The cricket pairs wonderfully with a medium-bodied red wine, matching the nutty undertones and emphasizing the subtler umami qualities."
Why was this pairing important?
Because it's a step toward broader acceptance of insects as delicious and nutritious food. There are two billion people on our planet who currently enjoy eating insects, but this habit tends to be frowned upon by inhabitants of Western nations, who have been conditioned to view insects as disgusting. When culinary leaders gather to sample insects, however, it positions bugs as a food for everybody, giving them visibility and legitimacy.
"A big step along the way is to get chefs on board. Chefs are the 'Gate Keepers of Consumer Preference' and continue to expand our cuisines with innovative concepts and eclectic menus... The more we work to explore the flavors and uses of insects in cuisine, the more frequently we might see the occasional salad topped with black ants, margarita glass rimmed with grasshopper salt, or bread baked with cricket powder."
We should all be eating more insects, as they are so highly nutritious. Crickets, for example, contain 15 percent more iron than spinach and more omega-3s than salmon. They have plenty of insoluble fiber, fat, and protein, and their nutrients are more bio-available than muscle tissue (aka meat) or wheat. When it comes to environmental impact, insects can be raised on waste food and require a fraction of the land and water that's needed to produce meat. For example, it takes 1 gallon of water to produce a pound of crickets, compared to 1,799 gallons of water for a pound of beef.
There are fewer ethical concerns, as scientists who have studied insects' nervous systems believe they do not feel pain. They are harvested by lowering the temperature, which is painless. As Robert Allen, founder of non-profit group Little Herds, explained to NPR, "Because insects are exothermic, their metabolism slows until they go into a coma-like sleep without any pain."
While a great deal of attention and hype is being given to lab-grown meats and plant-based meat substitutes these days, this event in France is a reminder that we already have an excellent and environmentally-friendly food source around us, as long as we're willing to open our minds to it.