Bugs for brekky? Hop in!

TASTY: Tentatively, our reporter gives it a go!
TASTY: Tentatively, our reporter gives it a go!

EVER thought about eating a grasshopper?

Me either. Until this week, when I tried one, lightly fried in a bit of rice bran oil.

Head, legs, the lot. I have to say, despite my worst fears, it wasn't bad. I mean, I'm not giving up lamb, figs or Italian food. But if I had to, I'm thinking I could down a hopper or two from time to time. And that may well be a good thing.

For as the world's population approaches a projected nine billion by 2050, more and more experts are asking whether insects might be what feeds us during the latter half of the 21st century.

Some even think bugs may be the next super food. My entree to bugs came courtesy of a Central Australian horticulturalist, former Yuendumu ranger co-ordinator and father-of-three Amiuus Lennie, 41.

Amiuus loves bugs. Especially fried and salted.

It all started more than a decade ago at an Alice Springs club over a couple of beers, when a grasshopper jumped on to Amiuus' table.

"I said: 'You know what, I reckon we can eat this. Look how good that looks.' And I just mashed it.”

The way Amiuus tells it, he's never looked back. Now he eats insects every day. Even his wife and three kids jump at the chance.

"The family are really exploring all angles of grasshopper consumption,” says Amiuus.

"We like to experiment with our cooking.”

A few candidates for the frypan from Amiuus' fridge.
A few candidates for the frypan from Amiuus' fridge.

Amiuus likes his grasshoppers 'au naturale', though he doesn't mean raw, rather lightly fried in oil.

"I did do some deep fried ones. But the kids like them flat pressed on a sandwich maker. Last night we had them on our pasta.”

Amiuus collects the bugs on fruit trees in his yard and elsewhere.

Now if you're thinking Amiuus and his family are a little unusual in their dietary habits, think again.

Entomophagy, or the eating of insects, is practised by more than two billion people worldwide.

A small artisanal pasta maker in France, for instance, is having trouble keeping up with demand for spaghetti and penne made from pulverised crickets and grasshoppers.

Chef René Redzepi, who runs a two-Michelin-star restaurant called Noma in Copenhagen Denmark, has critics on the hop over his grasshopper sauce.

Restaurants in Sydney and Melbourne are catching on as well, with a commercial kitchen in western Sydney turning the crickets they farm into protein balls or flour.

And of course, Aboriginal people have long eaten bush tucker such as honey ants, bogong moths and witchetty grubs. The fact is, our rising global population will generate a 60% increase in the demand for protein by 2050.

As reported by a 2013 UN report entitled Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security, insects produce protein more efficiently than meats. They are also low in saturated fats and rich in micronutrients.

Here's some I prepared earlier. A few candidates for the frypan from Amiuus' fridge.
Here's some I prepared earlier. A few candidates for the frypan from Amiuus' fridge.

Former Curator of Entomology with the Museum and Art Gallery of the NT Museum Dr Graham Brown says there is no reason not to eat insects, but suggests caution.

"I've eaten insects deliberately when I was president of the NSW Entomological Society.

"We had an annual dinner one year where we had insects on the menu, including wichetty grubs and bogong moths.

"I'd be a little bit more cautious than this fellow in Alice Springs, however.

"We don't know a lot about the eating of grasshoppers in Australia, simply because we don't generally eat them.”

Dr Brown advises keeping the grasshopper for 24 hours before eating so as their gut empties.

And there are other considerations, as Amiuus himself is quick to point out, such as the risk that grasshoppers have been sprayed with pesticides, and the potential for allergies.

"People can have grasshopper allergies,” Dr Brown says. "It turns up in people who breed grasshoppers for commercial purposes, like for scientific research.

"The experience people have had breeding these things makes me a bit cautious, but beyond that I don't see this is really a problem.”

A recent scientific paper on the eating of insects reminds us, in fact, that the Bible quotes the consumption of grasshoppers in the book of Leviticus (XI: 21-22), while "the religious literature of Islam grants permission to eat grasshoppers at Sahih Muslim”.

As for Amiuus, he just "exercises common sense”, and throws a handful of green grasshoppers from the fridge onto a heated sandwich press sprayed with oil.

When they are ready, we tuck in. Working from a photograph later, Dr Brown says at first he thought the grasshoppers I was eating had the common name Happarana, but then found these did not occur in Central Australia.

Chances are, he tells me, the green critter has no common name. He did say that species in this genus have been found on low shrubs including sida and solanaceous plants but not much is published.

And added: "I'd be a bit wary if they had been feeding on the latter, especially green fruit.”

The taste of my little green friend is slightly nutty, better than I imagined, if a little dry.

Amiuus suggests vigorous chewing, and becomes somewhat rodent-like in his mastication.

He asks me if I can taste lime from the tree where he caught the grasshoppers, but I can't.

It is almost as if Amiuus is waging a one-man (or perhaps one-family) campaign to put insects onto the Aussie menu.

"At the moment, I'm just encouraging people to get out and eat them,” he says.

"Some pastoralists have said to me 'that's going straight on my lunch'.”

Amiuus offers more fried grasshoppers, but two is my limit. Eventually I bid him farewell.

An hour or so later, I experience a king-sized bout of indigestion.

Maybe it's coincidence, but certainly nothing a little Gaviscon won't fix.

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