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You Can Grow It: Cooking up edible bugs in the Treasure Valley

Idaho gardeners know that one of the things they must deal with every growing season is bugs. But instead of bugs eating your garden, how about eating the bugs?

BOISE, Idaho —

Idaho gardeners know that one of the things they must deal with every growing season is bugs. Some bugs and insects are beneficial, pollinating plants and eating some of the bad bugs that are out to destroy your garden.

On Thursday's You Can Grow It, we focus on something a little different. Instead of bugs eating your garden, how about eating the bugs? It sounds pretty strange, but lots of people are turning to bug protein as a popular new nutrition source. 

When was the last time you ate a bug, at least, that you knew of, and that you really meant to eat? Most of us would not eat a bug intentionally, but some bugs are very nutritious, and there’s a whole industry out there that makes food products out of bugs. 

Some dried and powdered insect bodies are full of healthy protein and have been incorporated into flour for baking a variety of food products, including brownies. You can also find insect protein pancake and waffle mix, as well as dried bug protein to make nutritious shakes. 

There are even just plain dried bugs to eat, like original flavor roasted crickets that are also available in other enticing flavors, like cheesy ranch, buffalo wing sauce, hickory smoked bacon, and spicy cayenne pepper. 

If eating dry roasted crickets is not your thing, how about some tasty black soldier fly larvae bites, in various flavors, of course. 

Survivalists will tell you that eating some bugs will keep you alive when you cannot find any other food source in the wilderness, like grubs. But edible insect protein food products are a multi-million-dollar industry in this country, and it continues to grow and become more popular. 

This year at the Western Idaho Fair, there will be a unique event highlighting the nutritious possibilities of cooking some delicious dishes with bugs. In fact, it is called a bug banquet. 

Teresa Biggs is the Agriculture and Contest Supervisor for the Western Idaho Fair. An opening for a contest opened up in the schedule, and they decided to try something new and different this year. 

“Bug banquet is about introducing an alternative form of protein into our diet,” Biggs said. “So, we thought, let’s get creative and experiment with some things, and I found a few products, talked to the owner, he said ‘I’m on board with that’, and the rest is history.” 

The initial response to the idea was, as you might expect, a little less than enthusiastic. 

“Eeww. I don’t want to judge. Yeah, the typical.  Although some said, ‘Oh, that sounds great.  I’m glad that you’re bringing us in,’” Biggs said. 

This year’s contest will include a number of local chefs and restauranteurs, all vying for the title of ‘Chefonator,' coming up with the tastiest dish involving bugs. 

“This is a savory challenge. So, we have two different rounds, but we have one with crickets by themselves, because they’re pretty much like larvae, that they have to incorporate into some sort of savory dish,” Biggs said. “Now we’ve given them carte blanche. It can be an appetizer, salad, soup, main course, pretty much the sky’s the limit.”   

But it is not just the flavor of the dish that judges will consider. 

“They bring it in ready-made, and part of the scoring is display,” Biggs said. “So, they’ll be scored first of all on display, and then they’ll sit down and they’ll be served, and they’ll taste, and we have scorecards to go from there.”   

Winning chefs get cash prizes, and bragging rights, but will bug food products ever really catch on here? 

“Even if it starts small, and goes from there,” Biggs said. “Maybe five years from now we’ll see it on the food row.  You know, deep fried something yummy with crickets.” 

Until then, eating bugs is still an acquired taste. 

“They’re slightly addicting. You start adding them to your salads and just grabbing some. They’re very nutty,” Biggs said. 

The Bug Banquet Contest at the Western Idaho Fair will be on Sunday, August 21 at 2 p.m. and it is free to attend with your paid fair admission. 

You can find all kinds of various insect-protein food products on several company websites on line, such as CricketFlours.com

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