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Insects are worming their way into food all over the country. From cricket bars to “grasswhoppers” to tacos with worms inside, the latest trend in eating has worked its way onto the menus of some of New York City’s hottest tables.
But this isn’t fear factor for foodies. Insects are an environmentally sustainable way of eating, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said, calling edible insects “a high-quality protein” with “vitamins and amino acids for humans.”
Insects are already part of the daily diet in many parts of the world, including Thailand, Japan, Korea and Mexico. The Black Ant in New York’s East Village sends a chef every three to four weeks to a market in Oaxaca, Mexico, to purchase the ants, grass hoppers and worms that are served in the restaurant.
There’s ant guacamole, grasshopper tostadas and tacos filled with dried worms. Even the drinks incorporate the crawlers: the climbing ant, for example, uses crushed ants to make the salt that lines the rim of the glass.
“It’s been really good for business,” said Jorge Guzman, the restaurant’s owner. “We didn’t even know what we were getting into, but now this huge thing unfolding and I think we started the movement in New York, at least among the Mexican restaurants. It’s paid off big time.”
While grasshoppers are generally considered to be the chicken of the insect world, they actually taste mildly fishy and very salty. Ants are crunchy and a bit spicy; worms taste a little like a very salty shrimp.
The Black Ant isn’t the only restaurant serving up insect cuisine. Toloache, also in NYC, serves grasshopper tacos and the Typhoon restaurant in Santa Monica, California, has an insect section of the menu with offerings like scorpions, crickets and ants.
“There’s an element of shock value,” said Arthur Bovino, executive editor of The Daily Meal. “But it’s also us catching up with what’s going on around the world.”
But at least for the Black Ant, this isn’t about headlines. Mario Hernandez, the restaurant’s chef, recalled as a boy traveling to the market in Mexico City with is grandmother each Sunday to purchase the insects for the family’s meals. “We have insects on the table, it’s not unusual,” he said. “In Mexico, it’s an important part of the gastronomy.”
Editor Bovino said people likely eat insects every day without ever realizing it. “The FDA accounts for a certain amount of bugs to be in everything we buy already,” he said.
The key, he added, is to make insects more commonplace and therefore less taboo. “If we don’t have the surprise element, if we see the insects and decide to engage with it,” he said, “it makes it a little less crazy.”