Edible Insects: Hornets taste like sausage

“Hey, this looks like a good spot to rustle up some grubs!”

Eww whats that?!”

“A grub, what does it look like?”

Eww gross” 

“Tastes like chicken…” “Slimey yet satisfying”

“These are rare delicacies; piquant with a very nice crunch”

Ah well…Hakuna Matata…. *gulps bug down*… slimey, yet satisfying” 

Yes, I am quoting the Lion King – I have no shame. Not only is it one of the most tear-jerking Disney films, but it has educational value when it comes to entomophagy. Timone and Pumba’s diet relies on the consumption of ‘slimey get satisfying’ grubs. Simba is disgusted by this, but after the exceptional marketing of insects as piquant – appealingly provocative – he gulps one down whole. After that taste sensation, he not only shifts his mindset towards one that embraces insect eating but he also morphs into a full-grown lion in a matter of seconds. They’re not called high protein for nothing…

Who would refuse that creamy, plump grub?
Source: lionking.org

The scenes in Hakuna Matata resonate strongly with the initial reaction to eating insects in the West: Revulsion, disgust, the ‘ick factor’.  However, as I suggested in my previous blog, there is a growing shift of consciousness – bugs are well and truly on the menu. Like Simba, I wanted to explore this culinary trend myself: I went to an insect dinner party.

Okay, so actually I went and ate the leftovers of an insect dinner party. And it wasn’t really a ‘party’ as there were only two of us. BUT, it was bloody good fun all the same.

My dinner party partner was Charlotte; a good friend who is specialised in entomophagy and biological anthropology. Currently researching entomophagy in Japan, Charlotte was back in Oxford for the Christmas break and had brought back a multitude of wonderful insects and fermented foods to enjoy.

The foods were as follows:

Salty and sweet wasps

Edible wasps
Wasp nibbles
Charlotte brought these wasps back from a Japanese wasp festival in Kushihara. The festival celebrates the wasp harvest, collecting the nests from the wasp hives and cooking with the larvae and wasps.
Both are seasonal delicacies in Japan, and while I only tried the latter, I can tell why. The wasps were small, soft and black: perfect for taking pinches of three or four in your hands and washing them down with some homemade wine. Some were savoury, others were sweet – it was almost like salty-sweet popcorn. The reason for this difference is that many will have contained nectar to feed to the wasp larvae. Rather than this liquid being fed back to the wasps, Charlotte and I were the lucky recipients.

Homemade wines

Black garlic, wasps
Plum wine, garlic and wasps
The first wine Charlotte brought out was a fermented plum wine made from plums, wild strawberries, honey and Shochu wine. Shochu is distilled wine made from rice, barley or sweet potato. The addition of fruits and honey made it a deliciously earthy-sweet and very drinkable concoction. Charlotte forgot to mention that it is much stronger than normal wine, on a par with vodka and other distilled spirits… it just made my salty-sweet wasp culinary adventure that much more enjoyable.

‘Fermented’ garlic

In December I had the pleasure of meeting Shoji, another local foodie to Oxford. One of the delicacies he had brought to the dinner party the night before was ‘fermented’ garlic from Taiwan. In fact it’s not actually fermented – a process involving microbial digestion and release of gases – but slowly heated over weeks until it turns black and is caramelised. Because of its colour, high levels of antioxidants and rich flavour, fermented garlic is also known as ‘black gold’ in Asian cuisine.
Thankfully, there was some of this ‘black gold’ left over for me to try.
Black garlic
The black garlic: licorice heaven
Oh. My. God. Black garlic is like a chewy, slightly balsamicy licorice sweet. You don’t need more than one; the flavours are very robust and linger in your mouth for a while. In the same way people smell coffee beans in between bouts of spraying and sniffing different perfumes, fermented garlic is a perfect interlude between bouts of eating different insects.

Hornets, larvae and juices

Edible hornets
Hornets and plum wine
Perhaps the highlight of the evening was trying hornet in various different forms. Not only had Charlotte fermented her very own black hornet wine (sadly I didn’t get to try it), but she had whole hornets, larvae and secreted hornet juice on offer.
You know when you scramble an egg and it goes from a glutinous liquid to a solid? That’s exactly what happens when you heat liquids secreted from hornet larvae. A Guardian article described insects as ‘subtle and yeasty’, like Marmite, but I can only describe hornets as meaty. They taste so much like sausage it’s unreal. And, as someone who rarely eats pork or any other meat, this is a dream come true. Finally, I can get my sausage fix in the form of sustainable, edible insects.
I was so blown away by how good hornets tasted (particularly the plump, white larvae) that I took some along to give to my friends at a local Oxford-based ethical organisation. The reactions varied between absolute disgust and refusal to relatively positive or intrigued reactions. What I learned from this is that even people with ethical/environmental values will still have an inherent ‘ick’ response to eating insects, suggesting that marketing insects must really focus on this social taboo and consumer attitude shift before people start seeing chunky hornets as a sustainable, seasonal delicacy.
As part of this shift, I will continue to post any news on entomophagy either as a blog or in my ‘Inspiration’ section… Please feel free to comment on your own culinary experiences, comments and ideas on eating insects. Together, we can be the Timone and Pumba’s of the Western shift towards entomophagy. Hakuna Matata. 
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