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Food and beverage stories

The insect rebellion

Edition 197_Insects

Fried crickets sprinkled on tostadas. Insect infused elderberry sauce. Snapper topped with mealworms. These are just some of the ‘Rebel Foods’ appearing on Tasmanian menus, as locally-farmed insects push the food frontiers.

Rebel Food Tasmania is challenging the way we eat.

They are Tasmania’s first and only insect farmers – a specialist breeder of locally-grown crickets, mealworms and wood roaches or ‘woodies’ – and are keen to get more and more of us munching on ‘bespoke bugs’.

Launched in June, Rebel Food Tasmania is promoting insects as part of our ‘new normal’, a standard cooking ingredient, and a number of adventurous local chefs are already taking up the challenge.

“Insects are part of the normal diet for 80 per cent of the world's population,” Rebel Food Tasmania creator, Louise Morris explains.

“And we are trying to get them incorporated into tasty beautiful dishes here, so that they are eventually seen as one of our standard foods as well. 

“Farmed within a local food system and from farm and food leftovers, insects can be a truly sustainable, high-value, food that fits in perfectly with Tasmania’s clean green brand. They also pack a real power punch: jam packed full of protein and nutrients.”

From her property at Dorset, in the state’s north-east, Louise sustainably farms about 5,000 insects which are fed farm food and brew waste. Pumpkins, apples and wine marc amongst their favourites.

“Neighbouring vineyards, including Sinapius, have provided wine marc, and the crickets and woodies love it, resulting in much plumper, sweeter insects,” Louis explains.

“Our 'Rebel Food’ insects are sold whole to restaurants, and they taste great, and are all very different.

“Crickets are the gateway insects and have quite a subtle cashew-nutty flavour. They are perfect in Mexican and Asian style cooking.

“Mealworms, which are the larvae of the Darkling beetle, have a natural subtle cheesy end note. I’d describe them as cheddar bites of awesomeness.

“While ‘woodies’ are the umami powerhouses and a little bit goes a long way. They are earthy, sweet and salty, and ideal in Asian dishes.”

A handful of Hobart’s more adventurous chefs have already taken up the insect challenge.

Diners were first exposed to Rebel Food's ‘bespoke bugs’ at Dark Mofo in June, when Mona head chef, Vince Trim, served up steamed snapper with a black mole (Mexican sauce) topped with crisp pan-fried mealworms and crickets.

“Everyone loved it,” Vince says.

“Will we be using insects again? Absolutely – no question.”

There were also Cricket Tostadas on the menu, courtesy of Pacha Mama Burritos and their Mexican inspired street food.

Lightly fried in salt and lime, up to 20 whole crickets were sprinkled over beans and slaw, topped with miso aioli and presented in a tortilla.

“We had a really good response and our cricket tostadas became more popular as the festival went on, but there is still a mental barrier and a fair bit of work to get the public on board,” Pacha Mama’s Christoph Farrell explains.

Insects are also making their way onto the menus of Hobart’s edgier restaurants.

Raw wallaby dusted with native pepperberry, and topped with an elderberry sauce infused with woodies and crickets, is now tempting diners at the New Sydney Hotel.

“The woodies and crickets are slow roasted for a couple of hours – which dries them out – and then they are ground-up which releases the most unique and beautiful earthy aroma,” New Sydney chef, Josh Retzer enthuses.

“It is almost like this super-strong vegemite type flavour.”  

The dish is served with a side of tapioca crackers made from cricket flour and wattle-seed.

“I was really surprised we sold ten serves when it first appeared on our menu about two weeks ago, and now it sells consistently well,” Josh says.

“As a chef, it is great to be able to break down the barriers and have a crack at producing something really delicious.”

Innovative Hobart bistro, Dier Makr is also experimenting with insects, and planning a cricket garam sauce for their degustation menu.

“Crickets are definitely the most user friendly of all the insects. They have lovely subtle floral and vegetable flavour and are ideal for seasoning and for adding green notes to dishes,” Dier Makr chef, Kobi Ruzicka, explains.

Entomophagy – or eating insects – is not new.

In fact, 2 billion people across the globe regularly eat them as part of their diet.

A popular Thai snack is wok-tossed grasshoppers and crickets; Mexicans enthusiastically consume 200 insects including the worm in its famous Mezcal drink; while Ghana turns to termites for protein when food is scarce.

And let’s not forget insects – especially witchetty grubs and honey ants – are part of Australia’s indigenous bush tucker heritage.

Meantime, as the world’s population explodes, and food and agricultural land becomes increasingly scarce, we need to turn to new ways of feeding the world.

Insects are seen as part of that solution: small-scale vertical farming that’s both environmentally friendly and sustainable.

And also perhaps soon part of Tasmania’s ‘new normal’.

“Once you get past the ick factor of eating insects, and experience the taste and texture, you actually love it,” Louise says.

Image Courtesy of Louise Morris

13 August 2018, Edition 197

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