Buzzing: Planting a seed
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This week in Buzzing:
Planting a seed
In Other News: Reports and a new knowledge hub
Test Corner: Orchestra Provisions’ Mayan Cocoa
I believe that insect protein is part of the answer to more sustainable food systems; this is why this newsletter is free to read. It is not free to produce however so if you’ve enjoyed reading it, you can support me on ko-fi.
Although this edition of Buzzing comes to you from a very spring-like London, I’d like to tell you about the student cook-off at the Bug Buffet. The event is exactly what it says on the tin: students take part in a cook-off, where they try and cook the best insect dish. The dishes are served to the public and judged; students get small prizes as well as extra credits for their class.
It was my favourite part of the event, for many reasons: firstly because hanging out with students is always fun; secondly because there’s nothing like a cook-off for a bit of banter and friendly rivalry; and thirdly, because the food was delicious.
As someone who’s been messing around the kitchen with insects for 18 months, it was really great to see students – most of them relative cooking novices – giving it a go. The students were briefed the evening before about what insects they’d have available to them (whole crickets, flavoured cricket powder/spices, chapulines, ants and mealworms) and the ingredients they would be able to use (the theme was Native American food). They were chaperoned by KayAnne Miller, a wonderful chef at MSU, who basically rain-checked plans to include non-Native staples (goodbye goat’s cheese, beef and lemons), ensured the students didn’t burn the kitchen down or poison the public and kept the show running on time.
Some of the dishes the teams came up with were classic but beautifully done: there was a chilli with chapulines and cricket powder, which tasted delicious and was completely different from the scorpion chilli of a few days before, and a three-sisters stew (corn, squash and beans) with cricket powder and crickets.
More unusual was the stir-fried rice, which featured a mixture of native wild rice, egg and someone’s grandma’s recipe for roast squash, all with a smattering of crickets and cricket seasoning. And properly out there – and out of this world – was the huckleberry, blueberry and ant coulis (it was meant to be a sorbet but it didn’t set – oops – so a coulis it was), served with the most fragrant fruit salad, and the yaca chips (a native tuber) with cricket seasoning and ant guacamole. This is when I cursed not being able to get ants in the UK: that zing.
The team that produced the coulis, chips and guacamole won. Lily Hewitt, one of the winning duo, works in a hip pizzeria in Bozeman; that afternoon, she went off to work with a jar of ants that she planned to use on a trial pizza for her colleagues in the hope they might put insects on the menu.
This is why the cook-off is so special: it is planting a seed. All these students will go on to think eating – and cooking – with insects is completely normal. They’ll tell their friends and educate their families accordingly. They’ll buy them in shops or restaurants.
Most students seemed surprised that I’d come all the way from the UK to attend the Bug Buffet. “Don’t all universities do that?” a couple of them asked. They really should.
In Other News
The FAO has published a report called Thinking about the future of food safety. A foresight report. It is based on the premise that documenting the challenges of new foods and food technologies early through systematic intelligence gathering means policymakers will be better prepared to tackle them. The report looks at various novel sources of food, including edible insects and considers things like allergenicity, heavy metal contamination and what changing to lower-grade substrates would mean for safety.
🌍 AgriFutures, Australia, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE, based in Kenya) have created the Emerging Insect Technology Hub (EIT-Hub). The aim of the platform is to enable collaboration and knowledge-sharing among research and industry partners, scientists and investors in Africa and Australia.
💩 Scientists from the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands have published a really important study showing that frass promoted both plant growth and health and could reduce the use of synthetic fertilisers. What did I tell you about 2022 being the year of frass?!
Test Corner: Orchestra Provisions Mayan Cocoa
I discovered Orchestra Provisions’ range of cricket powder products at the Bug Buffet. They do three main ranges of products: protein powders (which include cricket as well as pea protein), a seasoning range and a food as medicine range.
Unfortunately, I discovered them too late to be able to order some but I sampled a few of the seasonings at the buffet, which were all delicious (especially the pico grilo) and Florence Dunkel kindly gave me a tin to try at home: Mayan Cocoa.
The powder smells incredible: rich, deeply chocolatey with a hint of spice (it contains cinnamon and cayenne pepper). Florence uses it (and the chai protein powder) to make hot cocoa/chai in the morning. I try it too with soy milk (I don’t like dairy milk): the chili is actually quite hot. I love chili and chocolate combos but somehow the hot chocolate doesn’t quite work for me.
So I try it instead in porridge: bingo. I have never had porridge this good. With a generous helping of walnuts and pumpkin seeds and a glug of maple syrup, it feels like a decadent and very grown-up breakfast.
I think the powder would also make the most sumptuous cake. Watch this space!
Orchestra Provisions Maya Cocoa, from $17.99.