Insecta Fiesta provides ‘ant’eresting culinary experience for attendees

by Paul Schattenberg, Texas A&M AgriLife

Attendees of the recent Insecta Fiesta event at the Blue Star Brewing Company in San Antonio got the unique culinary experience of eating a three-course, fiesta-inspired gourmet meal made with insects or insect-based ingredients.

“Insects are commonly consumed in many countries of the world for their nutritional value and taste,” said Molly Keck, event coordinator and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service entomologist, Bexar County  “With a growing world population and the need to feed billions of people, entomophagy, or the eating of insects, is likely to become even more accepted and even necessary in the future.”

Experts from the agency’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program and other AgriLife Extension personnel prepared the bug banquet for about 60 people. Attendees were served by members of local 4-H clubs, including six members of the county’s entomology team.

The evening’s first course was a salsa and guacamole bar with fire ant queso, toasted mealworm salsa and waxworm guacamole paired with honey margaritas.

“The margaritas were made with honey from AgriLife Extension honey bees and many of the vegetables and other ingredients for the menu were grown at Texas A&M AgriLife farms,” Keck said.

The evening’s main course was poblano corn cream vegetable enchiladas made with cricket-flour tortillas and accompanied by locally grown squash and zucchini. The enchiladas were served with cilantro rice, a micro-greens salad with cilantro lime dressing and charro beans.

Dessert was a flan cake sweetened with honey and cinnamon-sugared crickets. The second and third courses were paired with craft beers selected by Blue Star owner Joey Villareal.

Prior to the meal, attendees heard from Robert Nathan Allen of Austin, founder and director of Little Herds, an organization dedicated to educating the public about insects as food and feed.

“We do educational presentations, cooking demonstrations and tastings at schools, children’s museums and family friendly festivals,” Allen said.

He told attendees he hopes to change the Western mindset about eating insects and help dispel the notion they should only be eaten as a last resort for survival.

“Insects are full of protein and in many countries they are more highly valued than meat because they are accepted and people are comfortable with eating them,” he said.

Keck also spoke to attendees, noting insects are not only a dietary staple in many countries but also a sustainable form of agriculture that requires fewer resources to yield a nutritious product.

“Insects require less water, grain and space to produce more protein when compared to chicken, beef and pork,” she said. “And insects are environmentally friendly in that they produce far less methane gas.”

However, she said, the real benefit of eating insects is they are “both nutritious and delicious” and can be used whole, as insect-based flour or in other forms “to make healthful meals the whole family can enjoy.”

Twelve-year-old Stayton Hagen of Mesquite 4-H was one of the entomology team member who participated in the event, helping serve.

“I’m involved in insect identification and collection and have been on the entomology team for four years,” Hagen said. “It’s interesting to see that so many people came to eat foods made with insects. I think bugs are good – and good to eat.”

Married couple Krystina Irvin and Josue Morales were among the attendees.

“We were looking for something different to do and found out about the Insecta Fiesta,” Morales said. “The food was well-prepared and tasted very good.”

Irvin said she enjoyed the fire ant queso and couldn’t tell the difference in taste between the enchiladas prepared with cricket flour and those made with traditional flour tortillas.

“I lived overseas for many years and saw lot of insects being sold as food in markets, so I was already familiar with the concept,” said attendee Wally Murdoch. “In fact, my wife and I recently received a package of fried crickets from some friends in Colombia. Once you get over the mental block about eating insects, it’s easy to enjoy the experience.”

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