Honey mustard crickets and salt-and-pepper mealworms — those are just a couple of the edible bug varieties in the “sustainable proteins” section of MOM’s Organic Market in Hampden. The Baltimore Sun invited staffers like Jacques Kelly and John McIntyre to a surprise taste test. These were their reactions. (Baltimore Sun video)
If the constant chatter about food trends bugs you, just wait for this one. It's got legs to stand on and has taken flight in recent years.
We're talking about the demand for edible insects like crickets, grasshoppers and mealworms as a source of protein.
A section at the new MOM's Organic Market at the Rotunda in Hampden is dedicated to sustainable protein products containing bugs like honey mustard crickets, power bars with cricket protein powder and chocolate chip cookies made with cricket flour. It's the only MOM's location that sells the items.
"It makes sense to give people as many choices as we can to get protein," said Lisa de Lima, vice president of grocery at MOM's. "We want people to think responsibly about their protein intake."
Before the store opened in April, de Lima traveled to Mexico and tried edible bugs. "I thought, "Wouldn't this be cool to put at MOM's?'"
The bug aisle has been so successful that MOM's will start rolling out products containing bugs in its other 15 stores in upcoming months, de Lima said.
Rob Gelhaus of Bolton Hill, a longtime fan of crispy critters, is especially fond of the store's salt and pepper mealworms. "I like to eat them for a snack," he said. "They're delicious."
Ever since a 2013 United Nations report declared the benefits of eating bugs (a practice called entomophagy), Americans have started paying attention to the crawlers' possibilities as a food source. The study found that insects are a nutritious alternative to chicken, pork, beef and fish and that many are high in calcium, iron and zinc.
One result of the findings was a sort of bug-con symposium in May on "Exploring the Culture of Insects as Food and Feed" at Wayne State University in Detroit.
The conference was promoted as the first such gathering in the U.S. to discuss the gourmet insect market. It included a five-course meal featuring edible insects with drink pairings.
But the transition to bug eating isn't always easy for apprehensive diners, who can only think of "Fear Factor" TV contestants ingesting squiggly specimens.
"Bugs really evoke fear and disgust that cause a negative connotation," said Sara Foresman, a nutritionist at the University of Maryland Medical System. "It scares people."
But Foresman points out how bugs would help increase global food supplies. "Insects are efficient at turning what they eat into edible body mass," she said. "They are a healthy, nutritious alternative to staple protein sources."
She cites the U.N. study to support her comment: "Insects emit fewer greenhouse gases and less ammonia than cattle or pigs and require significantly less land and water than cattle rearing."
Despite the benefits, Foresman realizes consumers might be skeptical at first.
"We're not talking about going into your backyard and eating live worms," she said. "Prepare them in a way that would be appetizing."
She suggests roasting them and using them as croutons or tucking them into a dish like chili. "They can be cooked, fried and boiled, and are delicious," she said. "It's not just for people who are adventurous eaters. It's a sustainable and affordable food option."
For instance, the honey mustard crickets at MOM's are $4.99 an ounce, and the salt and pepper mealworms cost $5.99 an ounce. To put it into perspective, a half a bag of crickets, more than enough for snacking, comes to $2.40.
Or maybe you'd rather drink your bugs. That's how they do it at Clavel, the Mexican-inspired restaurant in Remington that specializes in mezcal and tacos.
The bar serves its popular mezcalita—"our margarita," said owner Lane Harlan—with chapulines salt, made with ground grasshoppers.
She eventually would like to add a dish to the menu with coarse ground grasshoppers sprinkled on top of guacamole. "That's something I've had in Oaxaca [Mexico] and really enjoyed," she said. "It has a kind of crackle."
In July, Charm City Farms in Baltimore, an initiative to turn vacant lots into gardens and to offer nature programs, will present a new "MicroHerding Insects" class. It will teach participants about various bugs, how to set up a habitat to raise them and ways to cook with them.
Instructor William Padilla-Brown, a social scientist from New Cumberland, Pa., said the class will start with a cultural history of bugs. "Then, it will be hands on with insects I've worked with and are easy to breed," he said.
Expect to get up close and personal with crickets, mealworms, beetles and even roaches.
Eric Kelly, who runs Charm City Farms, is no stranger to eating bugs. "Crickets and mealworms are some of my favorites," he said. "Other cultures around the world eat bugs, and it's not that foreign to them."
Charm City Farms will host a "MicroHerding Invertebrates" class on July 31, from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., in which participants learn to set up small habitats to take home with their choice of crickets, mealworms or red wiggler worms. The class includes a demonstration on cooking with edible insects, and takes place at the farm's Brick Barn, 1310 Hillman St., across from Green Mount Cemetery. $40. Visit charmcityfarms.org for more information.