>> Hey there and welcome back to your nature boost podcast. I'm Jill Pritchard with the Missouri Department of Conservation bringing you a live episode! Well, it's not live, it's recorded obviously. But I'm on the road right now! On the road to Windsor, Missouri. I'm going to Farrington Park in Windsor to meet up and have a little lunch date with MDC's conservation educator, Ginger Miller.
It is a bit of a mystery lunch picnic you could call it. And I am excited. Well, I think intrigued is more of a better term to express how I feel about the recording today. And this may be a very polarizing episode. But I think you will learn something. I know I will learn something. That is something I think I can always say about working on this podcast is that I have learned so much and I hope that you have, too as you have come along with me and listened to these episodes.
We will be at Farrington Park right about lunch time so here in about an hour and a half. I haven't eaten breakfast yet. So I hope Ginger can feed me some good stuff. Stay tuned!
Alright, Ginger, I made it. I made it to Windsor. Thank you for having me here today.
So, we are going to have a little lunch today.
>> Yeah, I thought we could be a little more adventurous with this lunch and look at what is on the landscape out there. Because there is food all around us all throughout the year.
>> All throughout the year. So I always record these episodes in advance. It is early August right now. I think the recorder is actually picking up the cicadas and all that. Speaking of the insects that we hear, that is what we are trying today!
>> Yes, yes! Those you can hear right now are highly edible. They are crunchy, tasty and full of protein. There are grasshoppers if we walk along the grass you see them popping along. The grasshoppers here around central Missouri are all edible, and those katydids, and those crickets you can hear.
>> You think of them as little pieces of meat out there on the landscape.
>> We harvest game of all different sizes. These are just tiny little pieces of meat out there.
>> That is a great way to look at it. I wanted to interview you because a few weeks ago you hosted a wild edible program for the public. It was on edible insects. As soon as that program came out, it generated a lot of engagement from people online. As soon as I saw it, I thought I should contact Ginger. I thought this should be an interesting episode for our listeners. Something a little different as far as wild edibles.
What was the general response you got from the people who came to your event?
>> They seemed to think it was pretty interesting. Some of our staff members came from other areas. Then immediately put Japanese beetle traps so they could start harvesting some Japanese beetles to eat.
>> And Japanese beetles are not native to Missouri, correct?
>> They are a tremendous garden pest, and no, they are not native.
>> If you would encourage anything to eat, it would be a Japanese beetle. You would be doing some good for the environment.
>> Absolutely. The insects that will come in and attack our garden are edible. It is a great way to consume our garden pests. If you can't beat 'em, eat 'em.
>> I love that. If you can't beat 'em, eat 'em. Is there a certain term used for eating insects? Entomophagy is what we call it.
-entomo meaning "insect" and -phagy meaning "to eat." That is the practice of eating insects. Insect eating has been a common thing since prehistoric times. It is still practiced around the world today.
>> This is not a new thing, people have been eating bugs for awhile. If you are out in nature is there a process you would do to catch them and freeze them? Tell us more about that.
>> There are a lot of insects out there that are edible, but I try to focus on one at a time. Just like with my other wild edibles, I start with one at a time and learn different ways to prepare that and different ways I like it.
With something like a garden pest, because they each have their own flavor you can harvest a whole bunch all at once. I think that is a great way to get started. See what is devouring your garden and look it up and see if it is edible. From there, you can use nets. Like with Japanese beetles, as long as you have not sprayed your roses you can just shake them right off your roses. Or you can use a cup and your hand to go out and stalk down grasshoppers and stuff like that
>> If you are brave enough to try this on your own and interested enough to try some edible insects on your own . . . you freeze them afterwards?
>> Yeah, one part right before that that I want to say is that when you go out to collect edible insects. Say you had Japanese beetle traps out and it was just pheromone based and it didn't have other chemicals. You have to read your labels very carefully. You wouldn't go out and eat beetles that had expired and rotted away in the bottom of it. You want them fresh. Just like you wouldn't find a dead squirrel on the road and eat it. You wouldn't just eat dead insects that you find, right?
You would collect them live, and then the easiest way to prepare them is to freeze them for a while.
>> Do you put them in a grocery bag or a Tupperware container and then put it in the freezer?
>> Tupperware, ziploc, brown paper bag. As long as it is something that it won't chew through.
>> So then they are dead in a couple hours or maybe you want to give it a day or so just to make sure?
>> I will collect them for several days. Most will end up there for several days. When I am ready to use them, I will pull them out and boil them for 5-10 minutes. Just more of a gentle simmer than a boil. From there, you can just go wild on how you want to season them.
>> I want to know. What are your top five edible insects that you would recommend for people who are just starting? Say for me, if I want to go do this on my own If I want to go out and cook up some tasty insects, which I thought I would never say . . . what are your recommendations? What do you think I should be looking for?
>> Because they are distinctive, I know I have already said this but Japanese beetles are a really easy one to start with and they are such a menace on the landscape. Once you roast those up . . . so after I have frozen them and boil them, then I can dehydrate them or roast them in my oven until they are nice and toasty. They get a nice nutty flavor then. You can use oil and salt and pepper. You can get exotic with barbecue seasoning, any kind of seasoning you want. Flavor them up like a party mix. Japanese beetles are so crunchy that it is kind of like . . .
>> Like a crouton?
>> Yes, they are like eating a crouton. That would be one of my favorites.
Another one would be ants. It seems strange. They have that formic acid in them, so they have a balsamic vinegar sort of flavor. Like a real sour vinegar flavor. You want to try one?
>> Gosh, you already have them right here. So ants already have a balsamic vinegar flavor in them?
>> Yeah because of the formic acid in them.
>> Okay, alright. What types of ants? Are these just normal black ants?
>> Yes, they are just black ants. They will be sour. Hopefully you have a drink.
>> I've got like . . . give me a few more. Are they potent? Are they strong?
>> There's gonna be a little like a yeah, a pow, there.
>> These little ants pack a big punch.
>> Because they are strong.
>> Because they are strong. Alright, guys, you are hearing this. I have a dozen ants or so in the palm of my hand. Here we go.
It does have a balsamic taste. I can almost see using that as a seasoning.
>> Absolutely. Like a rich balsamic glaze on, you could sprinkle ants on and get that flavor.
>> You know what I like to use balsamic glaze on? Making a crostini with tomato and basil on top.
>> That would be really great.
>> Yeah just sprinkle some ants on it.
>> Or you have your Japanese beetle crouton for your salad, you could have your balsamic vinegar flavored ants.
>> Oh my gosh. I used to have a teacher in elementary school I will never forget. It is funny what memories stick with you. She always said her dad loved chocolate covered ants. Eating one now, I'm like you just want chocolate. Are you getting flavor from the ant? Have you had a chocolate covered ant? Is that still a thing?
>> Yeah, that is still a thing. There were some programs that we had at the Discovery Center. They will have a buggy bistro at an event sometimes. They will have almond bark with some ants in it. It adds a richness, you know. You can coat pretzels with it or whatever.
>> It almost brings a salty kind of too. It kind of reminds me how they do salted chocolate or salted caramel. Adding a little almost like sweet and sour thing.
Alright, so ants, awesome. You like the Japanese beetles and the ants. What else are in your top five?
>> Stinkbugs have a kind of unique flavor.
>> Do they?
They smell bad if you play with them in your hands. But when you cook that unique thing that gives them that smell has a fun flavor.
>> Some of our insects like the little larvae in the nest have a nutty flavor. Acorn weevils have a rich nutty flavor. Not only do they have a lot of protein, they have those fat calories too and almost be kind of oily sometimes.
>> Are some insects better for savory and others for sweet?
>> I think ants can go either way. That is a fun flavor in things. From there, it is really what you put on them. Not many have a strong flavor. They will get a roasted richness, but their flavors are fairly mild. You can dehydrate them and powder them and put them in things. One of our naturalists loves to make chocolate chirpee cookies. She replaces part of the flour in her chocolate chip cookies with cricket flour. It gives it more of a dense earthy flavor. The flavors are fairly similar to regular chocolate chips, but just a little different. It has that nutty richness along with that earthy flavor.
The weird thing about wild edibles is sometimes the first time I have something I am not sure how I feel about that. Then I will have it again, and it tastes pretty good. Then I will start craving some of those flavors.
So the more you have some of those things the more you are like I miss that nutty richness. Can we get some cricket flour in these cookies next time?
>> That's exactly how I felt about the first time I had sushi. It's kind of a polarizing thing. I wasn't sure if it was for me. I had it again a year or so later and it wasn't so bad. Now I want sushi all the time. Maybe I will want bugs all the time now.
>> It is certainly less expensive.
>> That's true. I can go out and grocery shop on my own.
What about crickets? What are those like?
>> Crickets, grasshoppers, katydids, to me taste pretty similar. This will seem a little strange. When you are eating those, they all have those big high jumping legs. I like to take those back legs off because they have this little pretarsal claw and it can catch when you are swallowing.
>> Their little legs can get stuck back there.
>> If they have real long wings, or if they have big jumping legs I usually take those off before I consume them.
>> Yeah, the wings I would think would be a different texture.
>> Yeah, like cicadas I would take those wings off.
>> Speaking of cicadas, I can remember there was this ice cream shop, Sparky's in Columbia. Did you hear about that?
>> I was in Columbia for an International Insect Sound and Vibration Meeting because I studied insect communication. They had the ice cream there and then they weren't able to sell it anymore so they gave it to the entomology department and they gobbled it all down.
>> The cicada ice cream?
>> Oh my gosh. Yeah I remember they didn't sell it anymore.
>> When they emerge en masse, they just coat the trees, and the sides of the trees, and the sides of the building, and the sidewalk. They are everywhere.
>> They are big, too. I'm sure they are easy to collect at that stage whenever they come out.
>> Insects freeze really well and they keep in the freezer for a while. Once you have prepared them and dried them in some form, they keep really well then, too. Kind of like a beef jerky.
>> You were saying that garden pests are pretty much all edible. I have a bunch of carpenter bees. Ginger, they are really tearing up my little back deck. I'm sure they aren't edible. I know that bees have good benefits. Are carpenter bees pollinators?
>> Our shiny budded carpenter bees are good pollinators.
>> Okay, I need to learn to like them.
>> I would avoid chomping on them. Yes.
>> Must definitely. Well I just thought I would check. That is my biggest. Well, and the little chipmunk that lives under my AC unit. My dog likes to chase him around. He entertains him.
You have a few tasty things for me to try. What do you recommend?
>> Do you want to start with savory and move on towards sweet?
>> Yes, I do. I like a little dessert after my meal so you are right up my alley.
>> We will start with the least flavored ones. This is more the raw flavor before we add anything to them. This is a mixed bug.
>> What all do we have in it?
>> There are beetle grubs, crickets, and grasshoppers.
It is not just the beetle grubs but also the pupae.
>> All different stages here. Here we go.
>> They don't taste as good as the ants?
>> They are not homegrown. We really started you off with the . . .
>> What do I have in my hand here? What do you think that is?
>> You have a cricket here. It looks like two crickets.
>> Alright, I got two baby crickets.
>> The back legs are off. Nothing should get caught in your throat.
>> Very crunchy, yep.
>> Almost like a slight fishy taste? I don't know. That is what I am getting. Then it is just like a crunchy mild snack.
>> Insects have that exoskeleton. That is why we call them the squishies and the crunchies. Those crunchy shells are so much of what you crunch up.
>> Not too bad. Put that on a salad or something for a little texture.
>> From there, the flavors get better once you flavor them up.
>> That was unflavored. That's kind of the starting point. What do we have here?
>> Oh yeah, I love barbecue.
>> These are mealworms. I did grab these commercially. You can mix them into rice krspie treats, or popcorn, and season them up every which way.
>> You can find these in the dirt? Mealworms? Where do you find them?
>> They are tenebrio beetle larvae. We do have some tenebrio beetle larvae here. But these are the ones like you would find at the pet store. Here when we eat beetles, we eat them at all the different life stages. We primarily eat the Junebugs, which one of the naturalists here, one of Missouri's insect eating authorities always refers to the Japanese beetles as flying popcorn. Big and crunchy. Those giant beetles are bound and determined to fly but the landing is never pretty.
>> It is always just right in your face.
>> It is always a train wreck crash landing at the end
>> I get a lot of those June bugs on my back porch. They are attracted to the light I have back there. My dog is trying to bite them. He is as ungraceful as they are. He is never successful. Even if he caught one, I'm not sure what he would do. He would probably freak out. They are so close to my back door they will even come in accidentally in my house.
>> If you have a ziploc bag in your freezer you can just pop them in there when they come in or pelt you in the head.
>> Okay. He really says it is like popcorn?
>> Yeah because they are big crunchy shells. They just pop in your mouth. They are crunchy.
>> I think I might do that. I will start collecting those. So we have some mealworm barbecue. They feel really light.
>> Yes, very little weight. I have a few here. Here we go. Mmm. Oh my gosh, those are good. I like those. Yeah, those are good.
>> They are so light to throw into popcorn.
>> I could definitely see that as a little trail mix or something.
>> Yeah they would go really well in it.
>> Do you want to try other flavored mealworms or move on to crickets?
>> I am ready to move into crickets.
>> These are sour cream and onion roasted crickets. Roasting them brings out more of that nutty rich flavor.
>> I had the crickets in the mixed bugs that were just unflavored. Now I am trying them with a little flavor on them. Here we go. Got a few heads. Those are good. See guys, when you put seasoning on them. It is amazing. It is just like a little afternoon snack.
>> It really is whatever flavor you put on them.
>> I'm a fan. I'm a fan.
>> You mentioned chocolate. We do have chocolate coffee crickets for a little dessert here with our meal.
>> Alright. Here is my dessert for the day.
>> The back legs are off.
>> Those are good! But the sweetness I feel like wears off really soon in the beginning. I think if I were to prefer any of them, it might be the meal worms. I like those.
>> They are so light.
>> All of this is really versatile. When we are talking about insects and talking about live ones to pick on your own. When is the peak time? Does it matter what time of year? When is it later in the season?
>> Some are more throughout the season and others are more fall. Later in the fall we will be collecting acorns. You can have a bucket below your acorns to let the acorn grubs fall out into it if you are processing your acorns for flours and things.
In the wintertime you can harvest stink bugs if you kind of move around the leaf litter they will still be out there. They are not moving real quick then. You can pick out the bright green stink bugs when everything is brown out there. Then in May and June we have those June bugs up pelting you in the head. We are just winding down our Japanese beetle season.
Grasshoppers, crickets and katydids are on the landscape, some of them over the winter as subadults. They will be out there. But there will be more and larger ones as we move into September. Our cicadas are out now. But on special years, where we have the emergencies of the periodical cicadas then you can harvest a few gallons and have a feast of insects.
>> That is so funny that you say that because you really could. You could get a bunch of them.
>> Yeah, it does not take long to gather a number of those.
>> One thing I would like to quickly talk about is how a lot of what you have allowed me to try today is a lot of what our wildlife is eating too.
>> Absolutely. Now, I wouldn't want us to think . . . there used to be a saying that if you see a turtle eating it in the woods then it is safe for us. Don't make that assumption. Always be really careful. With wild edibles, I try to do one at a time. Our allergic responses are not common, but they are possible.
I have a good friend who is very allergic to carrots. It is not common, but it is possible. I try to try wild edibles one at a time, find ways to prepare it, look at where it will be on the landscape and easy to collect. I try to get one in my head at a time.
>> Stressing the importance of identification is good, too.
>> Absolutely. You don't want to eat something that you can't 100% identify. We have some apps that are really good and helpful. But I want to see it backed up in field guides and look at it more carefully than that. Apps can be wrong. You know? I try to be really careful to double and triple check things. There are a lot of insects and their kin where the insect themselves is not producing something toxic. But it may have come from an environment where things were sprayed recently. I would avoid those. Or it might be something like dung beetles that go around feces and consume those.
I wouldn't consume those. Cockroaches are safe to eat, but not off a dumpster. You have to think of the environment, too.
>> Have you ever had a cockroach?
>> I have. Our native cockroaches, wood roaches are not pests in our homes. If they get in our home, they don't want to be there and would rather be out. They hang out on wood piles and around trees and stuff. They don't hang out on piles of refuse and things like that.
>> What is that flavor like? Is it like another . . . crunchy and not really, unless you season them?
>> Yes. You can season them whatever you want to. It is wide open at that point. They are not really strong or powerful. There are several kinds of flies we can eat. Some flies leave their eggs on dead animals. I will not eat those. I will not eat things that consume animal or human blood. There are other steps there. It is for each person to decide what they will do. But for insects and their kin especially it is not just does it produce something toxic or nauseous. what is its environment, what does it eat, where does it live.
>> That is a good point to make, being mindful of where you find it and harvest it.
>> Eating insects sounds foreign to us. But if you have ever consumed anything with flour like bread, you know, you have already eaten insects. There are little beetles and moths common in those. If you have ever consumed canned peaches, you have eaten some maggots. We have consumed a number of insects.
>> The protein in chocolate is from the other bits that fall in there, not the chocolate.
>> What bits?
>> There are cockroaches and other insects that can end up in there. There a certain amount of rodent hairs allowed in our food. You have already had these things, it is a different form when it is right in front of you.
>> I think it is a mind over matter thing. You are freaked out because you don't think of them as food, just an annoyance. They are flying in your face or outside. They are so versatile. Once you get over the fact that it is a bug and that barrier that you have put in place. They really don't taste like much once you bake them or dehydrate them. They are not chewy or slimy. They are crunchy and light. I bet if you ate your friend's cookies and didn't even know that she had ground up crickets in there, you probably wouldn't have thought of it.
>> I might have been able to picked up that earthy flavor and wonder what she put in there. That's kind of neat.
>> Love and crickets.
>> I think learning about insects and edible insects is a great way of overcoming something that people have apprehensive about when they go outdoors. They are another edible thing in the landscape. Another cool resource out there.
>> Native insects all have a role in Missouri's ecosystem and on the landscape and a lot of what our wildlife is eating, too.
>> Absolutely. They are a crucial part of our ecosystem. Aquatic, terrestrial, you name it. All of our Missouri ecosystems have insects.
>> Today we learned, it can be a delicious part, too.
>> Catching insects is a lot trickier than I anticipated. Yeah, it turns out they don't like to be held. Who would have thought that? I was able to catch two house crickets on my own but I wanted some more because I wanted to make my own edible insects like a batch of them. Ginger let me try insects that she had just kind of commercially got. But I really wanted to try making some on my own. So I cheated, a little bit. I went to a bait shop and got some house crickets. It is so funny because obviously they thought I was going to go fishing with them and I didn't have the heart to tell them that I was going to eat them.
They have been in the oven at 200 degrees for about an hour now.
I will turn my oven off and I think they should be ready. I got them just on a cookie sheet here. They didn't stick together or anything. I read online that in order to get those hind legs off of them, I remember Ginger saying that if you eat crickets or grasshoppers that you should detach their hind legs because they can get stuck in your throat. I read online that you can just roll them in between your palms and they should detach. These babies are so crispy they are already falling off as I mess with them.
After I finished preparing the crickets, I thought about what my seasoning would be. In the past, I have made seasoned pretzels that I will take to parties or family gatherings and potlucks and things like that. I seasoned pretzels with a packet of ranch salad dressing seasoning mix. They are kind of spicy. They call for cayenne, garlic powder, and then onion powder. I thought, hmm, why not try those on the crickets. So after I finish getting these all prepared I will season them and then I am going to take them into work today and see if anybody would like to try my seasoned crickets.
I haven't tried them yet so I will try it with you. Before you go in, I am not sure about the amount of seasoning. There might be too much. This is basically seasoned crickets. Obviously you can tell there are not that many of them. I eyeballed.
>> Part of cooking is the experimentation of it. Alright. Are you ready?
Ready? Let's see. Cheers! 1, 2, 3. Oh! That's surprisingly good. That is well seasoned. That seasoning is good.
>> Is it over seasoned?
>> No, not at all. It could even use a little more salt.
>> I didn't put salt in there.
>> I want to eat more. They are very snackable. Without legs, they are actually delicious. It is almost like eating popcorn without the kernel.
>> It is exactly like that. It doesn't have very much of a taste unless you flavor it.
>> And full of nutrition for you, too.
>> For sure I know.
>> No fat, pure protein.
>> I want to look at the nutritional stats of crickets.
>> That is surprisingly good.
>> Hey, I made some crickets. Do you want to try?
>> What does it taste like?
>> They are seasoned with ranch dressing seasoning, garlic powder, onion powder, and a little bit of cayenne powder. You want to try?
>> Are they super crunchy?
>> Yes, I baked them for an hour this morning. I baked them. They were alive yesterday, and I froze them. They are very fresh.
>> All I taste is the seasoning you described.
>> Exactly! That's all you taste is the seasoning. Try one!
>> I can taste the seasoning.
>> That's pretty much it, right?
>> Yeah, but I've never eaten a bug until today.
>> It's a new day. You want to take some home for your kids?
>> Sure don't.
>> Would you like to try my crickets? They were in the oven for an hour.
>> How long does it take to make a cricket crispy?
>> For my first cricket match. Do you want to try the crickets I made?
>> No. Hard pass. I don't eat bugs.
>> It tastes like cricket. I had a cricket or a grasshopper at the state fair before.
>> Oh, like fried?
>> No, like that.
>> Kind of dehydrated. Well, I got some hard no's and some people that I almost had to force to eat them. But, yeah. I like them. They are not bad.
According to some info I found on the health line, crickets are the most common insect food source in the world. They are rich in portion, iron, calcium, and many other nutrients. What I find pretty cool about entomophagy is the versatility and how you can do so much with insects. You can fry them, grind them into a powder, add them to your baking, sprinkle them on salads. Besides the ants, insects don't really have that much flavor, at least the ones I have tried so far.
So, after listening to this episode, would you try eating insects/ have you tried them before? Do you have a recipe to share? Let me know at Missouriconservation.org/natureboost.
Thanks again to Missouri Department of Conservation conservation educator Ginger Miller for teaching me about entomophagy and thank you for tuning into another episode of Nature Boost.
I'm Jill Pritchard, with the Missouri Department of Conservation encouraging you to get your daily dose of the outdoors.