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Cooking with Insects

Curried grasshoppers

Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy, director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, stopped by the Foodways Test Kitchen of the Campus and Community program to share some of his knowledge regarding insects: specifically eating insects. Dr. Ramaswamy is an entomologist who has consumed a large variety of insects over the course of his career. At the Test Kitchen, he cooked up a delicious batch of curried grasshoppers and fielded questions from the audience about cooking with insects. Dr. Ramaswamy cooked the tiny grasshoppers with some onion, bell pepper, jalapeño, parsley, scallions, and curry-spices. Served over white rice, it made a simple meal, rich in protein and vitamins.

I was lucky enough to sample the dish— it was very tasty, with a little kick from the jalapeño and a nice crunchy texture due to the crickets.  The green curry tasted slightly spicy, but not especially slimy or buggy.  In fact, unless the sight of the little insects made you squeamish, the curry was very appetizing.  I only snagged a bite but could’ve eaten an entire bowl.

After demonstrating the preparation of the curry, Dr. Ramaswamy answered questions from the largest audience the Test Kitchen has seen this year.  The audience was very interested in which insects were edible, which tasted good, and which were not pleasing to the palette.  Dr. Ramaswamy has apparently eaten most insects, as he had an answer to every question.  When asked which insects taste the worst, he mentioned that he occasionally grabs a handful of midges out of the air and ingests them.  They taste slightly damp, he explained, because they spend their larval stage stewing in stagnant water.  One young audience member asked about the edibility of butterflies, and Dr. Ramaswamy answered that many caterpillars are delicious but that adult butterflies and moths are not edible.  At the end of the session, presenter Claudia Telliho, of the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, asked Dr. Ramaswamy how his family feels about eating insects. He answered with a laugh, “They are not interested at all.”

See images from the Cooking with Insects demonstration at the Foodways Test Kitchen. Click on images to enlarge.  All photos by James Mayer

James Mayer is an intern at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.  He recently graduated from Macalester College, where he studied History and Classics.

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