Imagine: it’s 1960. You enter a quaint restaurant and order its chef’s special. The plate clatters in front of you and atop it is a modest portion of food. It’s unique, unlike anything that you’ve seen in traditional American cuisine. You of course recognize the white rice, but the green paper that constricts it and forces it to embrace this odd, unusual looking meat puzzles you. You’re conflicted: what is this?
When sushi appeared in the American culinary scene, it was not as widely adored as it is today. Americans were not initially receptive to the idea of raw fish, cold rice, and dried seaweed being rolled together and eaten. Today, there are Michelin starred sushi establishments, mall sushi stores, grocery store sushi, poke shops, sushirito trucks and sushi pizza bodegas. So, how did sushi, a once undesirable food in America, become the global commodity it is today?
Sushi has been a staple in Japanese cuisine since the 15th century. It managed to cross the Pacific after World War II when Japanese cuisine gained popularity in the United States. The first sushi establishments appeared in Los Angeles in the 1960s and soon became favorites among trendsetters, including actors, actresses, musicians, directors, anybody who was anybody, and lifestyle magazines. It was a lighter alternative to many American foods and was very aesthetically appealing making it an ideal choice for business lunches and social outings. In the span of a few decades, sushi became a global culinary staple in every major city across the world. To not have a restaurant that served sushi in your neighborhood became sacrilege.
Similar to sushi in the 1960s, insect based foods are facing difficulties in America. Just as sushi made its way from being a rejected concept to an internationally admired cuisine, insect based foods have the same potential. Eating insects has been a tradition in numerous cultures, notably in Thailand and Mexico. It has slowly made its way into American culture. A novel product in fitness circles, cricket protein powder sales are burgeoning due to it being adopted as an alternative protein source among young, healthy, fit, trendy Americans.
The powder form has found use in pizza and pasta doughs, baked goods such as cookies and cakes, and protein shakes. Whole insects, while less visually appealing, can also be added as toppings, similar to nutritional yeast, wheat germ, or sprinkles on ice cream. Aside from crickets, there are numerous possibilities for insects in cuisine. Grasshoppers, mealworms, and others can be easily integrated into all sorts of our daily food.
As the world’s population continues to grow and our natural resources become more depleted, insects will provide a sustainable and nutritious source of food. Insect farms use less water and resources and emit fewer greenhouse gasses than livestock farms. Insects also contain high quantities of B vitamins which are important for memory and energy, Vitamin A which is important for eye and immune health, and Vitamin E which is a vital antioxidant, omega fatty acids including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs and PUFAs), essential minerals such as potassium, iron, calcium, and magnesium, micronutrients, and fiber.
While slowly crawling its way into the public eye, it is clear that insect cuisine has great potential to not only become a trendy and healthy source of food, but become an essential part of our daily diets.