Are you ready for a feast of locusts? Some years back, I ate bugs in America. Mealworms, I think. They were a novelty snack variously flavoured BBQ and Chili. And I later discovered that back in London Selfridges had a small section that stocked similar products along with chocolate covered crickets and boiled sweets with scorpions inside. The late lamented Bug Centre in Liverpool had a range that included crispy giant ants.
But on the box last night, scientist Dr Sarah Beynon and award-winning chef Andy Holcroft were on a mission to bring a protein-packed new industry to Wales in the form of bug food. Their endeavours were the feature of a brand new BBC One documentary The Bug Grub Couple.
Innovative Welsh couple Sarah and Andy have spent the last four years building the foundations for their new venture in the UK’s smallest city, St Davids in Pembrokeshire. Sarah, an Oxford University scientist and farmer, founded the award-winning Dr Beynon’s Bug Farm on her original family farm in 2013. The Bug Farm is a research and education centre focusing on the importance of bugs and how we can produce food efficiently and sustainably.
She still rears some Welsh Black cattle and points to the higher level of resources required to produce a decent bit of steak. The documentary shows that bugs use up very little water and can eat waste products, while other animals need feed from edible arable crops.
Insect farming is extremely sustainable: Many insects can produce equivalent amount of protein to beef with 25 times less feed and a fraction of the water and energy. The edible insect market is predicted to be worth €65 million in Europe alone by 2020.
The challenge for the couple is to change people’s perceptions of bugs from creepy crawlies to edible, sustainable and tasty food.
“I strongly believe that insect protein is a new ingredient here in the western world that can improve the sustainability of our food production systems and improve the nutritional quality of our food,” says Sarah. “It’s not about a squirming grub on a stick, it’s about utilising a new source of protein to help us to eat more healthily and more sustainably.”
Chef Andy Holcroft launched the Grub Kitchen, which is located alongside the farm and offers an interesting double menu with a choice of ‘normal’ food next to insect versions. The Grub Kitchen is the UK’s first full-time restaurant serving food containing insects and recently won the award for the Most Innovative Business Of The Year in Wales.
“As a chef, it’s not often you find new ingredients,” says Andy. “Edible insects give me a whole larder of exciting, new ingredients and flavours to experiment with and the possibilities for new dishes are endless.”
One of the folk sampling their produce was First Minister of Wales Rt Hon Carwyn Jones, AM, sharing his thoughts on bugs as a new and sustainable source of protein. He thinks it’s just a question of “broadening people’s minds” and the industry could be a benefit to Wales. Actually he seems more enthusiastic about eating the cricket cookie than John Selwyn Gummer did about eating a health scare spongy brain burger. Come to think of it, Gummer made his daughter eat one first.
The programme followed Sarah and Andy as they took Andy’s dishes out of the restaurant and into the mainstream by launching the Cricket Cookies. They also traveled to the Netherlands to meet large-scale insect farmers and have their products tested by top food scientists. Battery hens have nothing on this.
With a population set to reach an estimated 10 billion by 2050, the documentary touched on the global need for more sustainable and healthy protein sources alongside conserving natural resources and ecosystems. Insects are extremely nutritious and healthy: whole insect powder can be around 65 percent protein, contains all nine essential amino acids, is low in saturated fat, low in sugar and has the perfect balance of omega 3: omega 6 fatty acids.
So can I get a bug burger in the north ...? If they ever get their stall up at Caernarfon Market I will be there.