This week, I had the unique, albeit odd, opportunity to build upon my knowledge of and appreciation for two of my favorite things: wine and bugs. Kind of like a Wine and Cheese tasting but with bugs of various sizes, origins, and textures. The event, hosted by Bugible (the biggest cheerleader for entomophagy), consisted of 5 courses comprised of a wine paired with a few bugs. A brief discussion of the flavors experienced by our pallets followed each tasting.
Wine is considered by many to be one of the most complex items to taste. It comes in a wide range of flavors: full-bodied and creamy, light and acidic, floral notes or citrus undertones. This multitude of flavors make wine extremely versatile when trying to pair it with foods such as steak, seafood, pasta and cheeses. Similarly, insects have a great range of flavor profiles, many of which are yet to be explored. Entomophagy (the practice of eating insects) is a field that is just beginning to be explored in the culinary world; there are over 1400 identified edible bugs, yet only a few have crawled their way onto restaurant menus and into certain cuisines. From the plethora of bugs I’ve eaten so far, I’ve noticed substantial differences in textures, acidity, and flavors. I can only imagine the potential of these bug flavors in the hands of professional chefs and connoisseurs.
The crowd at this event was interesting. Curious foodies who had never tried bugs before, environmentalists drawn by the potential of eating bugs, as well as entomophagists attended this event. Below, I’ve drawn together a summary of the pairings as well as commentary from the group, and other facts learned from the session.
1. Sauvignon Blanc with Chirp Chips and Queen Weaver Ants
We started off nice and slow with a light sauvignon blanc paired with Chirp Chips and Queen Weaver Ants. We’ve sampled the chips many times before with our dips and sauces, so it was a nice familiar snack. The Queen Weaver Ants, native to Thailand, are somewhat of a prized delicacy given that they are hard to collect and are only available during certain months. They were pleasantly crunchy and milder in flavor compared to other ants which tend to be acidic.
2. Chardonnay with June Bugs and Bamboo Worm
Next on the list: chardonnay paired with june bugs and bamboo worms. June bugs are common in many parts of the world including the US. They have a hard exoskeleton and flavor that exposes itself once you crunch into it. At our table, attendees claimed they tasted like half popped popcorn, which is my favorite part of a bag of popcorn. Toss in some seasoning and perhaps this could be your next snack. While june bugs were hard, bamboo worms had a soft, buttery texture that paired extremely well with this creamy white wine.
3. Pinot Noir with BBQ Mealworms and Shield Worms
Onto the reds! For our next course, we were poured a pinot noir and served bbq mealworms and shield bugs. The bbq mealworms were a crowd pleaser as they were pleasantly seasoned with familiar flavors, like bbq chips. and some said it tasted like a bar snack. The shield bugs were also popular. They were mostly tasteless with a subtle umami flavor at the end. When you bite into them, they have a subtle savory aftertaste.
4. Cabernet Sauvignon with Chapulines and Sago Grub
Here, we have a cabernet paired with chapulines (oaxacan grasshoppers) and a sago grub. By now, I am well acquainted with the taste of chapulines as we’ve used them in several of our recipes. These grasshoppers are drizzled in lime and have a crunchy texture and nutty flavor. These long distance leapers have higher muscle density compared to crickets, making them a lighter and healthier snack. Many agreed that they could picture this as a common bar snack.
Thus far into the tasting menu, I was comfortable sampling familiar and subtly different insects. But when the sago grub was plopped on my plate, I was shaken. A live sago grub was exactly what I pictured Pumba slurping out of a tree trunk as he sang “Hakuna Matata” in Lion King. It was a large, hefty worm, described as the “bacon” of bugs, meaty, chewy, and full of flavor. This wormy critter got a mixed review at our the table. Someone thought it reminded them of jerky, while another said it tasted more like tree bark. Some said it had the flavor of a fermented cranberry, while another said Chinese medicine. Most said this bug was the hardest one to immediately embrace.
5. Champagne with Honey Mustard Crickets and Chocolate Covered Silkworms
It is only fitting that we end with a nice bubbly and some chocolate. Like the bbq mealworms, the honey mustard crickets were a crowd favorite. As a glutton for chocolate, I have to say the chocolate covered silkworms were my favorite. While I tend to be a little adverse to the sightly flaky, chalky (some compared it to hard boiled egg yolk), texture of silkworm, once it was coated in chocolate, I found that texture delightful.
At the end, we were given a few surprise bugs. While there were not enough of these to go around to everyone to try, it was interesting to learn about these strange creatures. The scorpions had undergone a process to have the toxicity removed, but the stingers were still in place and had to be chewed carefully, otherwise they’ll be painful going down your throat.
I had a wonderful time at this event. It is always amusing to see people trying bugs for the first time. It was encouraging to see how receptive they were to it and the many possibilities they started imagining with these bugs such as various bar foods and snacks. I was also fascinated to see just how multifaceted bugs are as a food and their potential to used in meals, desserts or simply paired with a nice glass of wine.