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Bug Out: Clever Cooks Integrate Insects Into Their Cuisines

Don Bugito’s spicy superworms (more commonly known as mealworms) are flavored with chile powder and lime juice—and are surprisingly addictive. Photo by Maren Caruso

Creepy crawlers are landing on our plates. (No, the photo is not a shot from the set of Fear Factor.) Late in 2013, the United Nations released a report tracking the consumption of insects around the world as climate change begins to lead to food shortages. Which means bugs might be our culinary saviors in a time of crisis. Thanks to some informed Bay Area upstarts, buggy snacks are at your fingertips.

Despite the health benefits (they are fiber- and protein-tastic), it takes some cojones to ingest a bug. But if you’re up to the task, the mealworm snacks by chef Monica Martinez of Don Bugito are actually quite addictive—chili powder and lime add spicy tartness, and slow roasting gives them a toothsome crunch. If you need a dulce camouflage to boost your bravery before you bite, her chocolate-covered worms or crickets should do the trick.

Meanwhile, adventurous drinkers can head to Divisadero’s La Urbana, where co-owner Joel Ocariz serves mezcal-filled glasses alongside a small pinch tray of sal de gusana, made from roasted and ground agave worms, chilies, and sea salt. Earthy and slightly spicy, the traditional Oaxacan snack is a pleasant complement to the smoky potable and juicy citrus slices.

In Berkeley, former journalist and trend forecaster Megan Miller manufactures cricket flour under the name Bitty Foods. Crickets are frozen, boiled, slow roasted, milled, and then blended with tapioca and cassava root flours to create a bakeable blend that’s both high in protein and gluten free. Baked goods made from the stuff, such as Miller’s chocolate chip and chocolate cardamom cookies ($7.50–$10 per bag), are dense and flavorful (recipe below).

Here’s Miller talking about insects as the future of food at a recent TedX talk: 

Chocolate Chip Cricket Flour Cookies

Ingredients        

2 cups Bitty cricket flour baking blend

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 cup coconut oil, melted

1/2 cup coconut sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 egg

1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

1.    Combine flour, salt, and baking soda in a mixing bowl and whisk to blend.
2.    In a stand mixer or separate bowl, beat together coconut oil and sugar.
3.    Add egg and vanilla and continue to mix.
4.    Gradually add dry mixture until thoroughly blended.
5.    Stir in chocolate chips.
6.    Refrigerate for 15 minutes so that mixture firms up slightly.
7.    Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
8.    On baking sheet covered with parchment paper, form cookie dough into 1/2-inch balls.
9.    Bake cookies for 15 minutes.

10. Enjoy!