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Cricket chips? Ant caviar? O.C. Fair showcases the latest sustainable healthy food trend: Bugs

Edible bugs presentation
Orange County Fair culinary arts host Daniella Malfitano, left, laughs as Elliott Bustarde, 11, tastes crickets as part of a presentation on edible bugs at the fair on Sunday.
(Julia Sclafani)

Cricket chips? Ant caviar?

Eating insects may be the next big trend in gourmet, sustainable food — but who’s going to take the first bite?

Whether drawn by curiosity or hunger, or both, an audience gathered Sunday for a “Cooking with Bugs” demonstration at the Orange County Fair in Costa Mesa.

During the talk, chef Daniella Malfitano and Aly Moore — who runs the Bugible blog — shared information about the many edible bugs and their diverse uses before asking for an intrepid volunteer.

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Elliott Bustarde, 11, of Mission Viejo shot his hand into the air. A minute later, he was standing on stage sampling lime-flavored crickets and barbecue-flavored Chirps Chips — corn chips made with cricket powder.

The chips, he reported after a few chews, were good and “sunflower seedy.” He kept on munching.

The eager youth wasn’t a surprising volunteer for Moore.

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“Kids have no fear,” she said.

Children may just hold the key to the future of the insect-ingesting industry, too.

If companies can convince kids that crickets and mealworms are healthy, tasty, sustainable and, to top it off, kind of cool, then they’ve locked in a demographic that will eventually outgrow the “ick” factor.

Seated audience members of kids and adults taste corn chips containing cricket from small plastic sampling cups.
Fairgoers get a taste of edible bugs during Sunday's demonstration.
(Julia Sclafani)

In the age of conscientious diets and a growing desire to eat less-processed foods, bugs would seem to be a sensible, if not-often-thought-of option.

“It’s not a new health trend,” Moore said. In many parts of the world, insects are just another delicacy or familiar ingredient, particularly among indigenous communities.

Bugs are nutritious and sustainable — high in minerals and protein. In most cases, the entire exoskeleton is edible, making for a highly efficient food source.

Insects also require fewer greenhouse gas emissions and less water and land to produce than other forms of protein, according to Moore.

“If you chose any environmental metric, bugs come out ahead of livestock,” she said.

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Moore never set out to be a bug-biting pioneer, but a Thanksgiving prank on her family spawned a fascination with the wild and delicious world of entomophagy: the practice of eating insects.

She went on to create Bugible in 2012 and now runs her own firm, Eat Bugs Events, which she uses to introduce bugs to the palates of chefs and the curious alike through critter-focused cooking classes and “Bug and Brews” drink-pairing sessions.

There are at least 2,000 known species of edible bugs and their qualities and flavors vary.

Crickets, for instance, can feature a nutty quality. Black ants offer a peppery, lemony flavor, while scorpions taste like “really good salmon jerky,” Moore said.

Other critters taste like oregano, ketchup, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups or even crab meat, Moore said.

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Adventurous eaters may even be tempted to try their taste buds on more exotic offerings like giant water bugs, black soldier fly larvae or tarantulas.

But are lots of people really going to start sampling bugs just as they are?

“I think we are going to see less bags of crickets unless we do some really brilliant marketing,” Moore said.

A clear plastic sampling cup containing corn chips and crickets
A visitor holds up a sample cup containing corn chips made with crickets.
(Julia Sclafani)

Alternative presentations include powdering insects so they can be incorporated into high-protein diets or baked into chips and breads. Bugs also are being explored as potential star ingredients for specialty diets or to fill the nutritional needs of athletes.

That’s not to say you should go out and start scooping up crickets from your garden just yet. Moore stresses that it’s important to find bugs from sources known to be safe.

Should the mood strike the next time you’re browsing for a new wine to try, though, consider a peppery syrah paired with some black ants. That’s Moore’s current favorite duo.

IF YOU GO

What: Orange County Fair

Where: OC Fair & Event Center, 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa

When: Wednesdays through Sundays through Aug. 11; noon to midnight Wednesdays through Fridays, 11 a.m. to midnight Saturdays and Sundays

Cost: General admission is $12 Wednesdays through Fridays and $14 on weekends. Several specials and discounts are available. For details, visit ocfair.com/oc-fair/discounts.

Information: ocfair.com/oc-fair

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