“Why shouldn’t people eat bugs?”: A conversation with Chef Yoon
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“Why shouldn’t people eat bugs?”: A conversation with Chef Yoon25 May 2022
Joseph Yoon is a Korean-American chef and an outspoken advocate for edible insects – in other words, “eating bugs.” In 2017, Yoon founded Brooklyn Bugs, an organization dedicated to normalizing edible insects through delicious, creative, and educational programming. Yoon views his participation in this global food movement as an extension of his commitment to his community and the environment.
We spoke with Chef Yoon to learn why, and how, we should all welcome a few more insects into our lives. We’ve got the full audio (it’s a long conversation – and a good one!), as well as some excerpts below.
Why should people eat bugs?
I hate to answer a question with a question, but: why shouldn't people eat bugs?
The fascinating thing about this is that there are over two thousand types of edible insects, with wildly different flavour profiles, textures and functionalities. And there are so many ways to incorporate them into food. Given that they’re nutrient-dense, high in macro- and micronutrients, sustainable and delicious, why aren’t we eating bugs?
What got you into edible insects?
My initial start with cooking with insects came out of an art project where an artist named Miru Kim asked me if I would help her conquer her fear of insects by preparing them for her to eat.
It sparked my curiosity, and with a very short amount of research, I found a report by FAO on edible insects, along with many other peer-reviewed scientific papers and resources. The reality is, we have a great deal of supporting evidence that explains the sustainability, the nutrition, the benefits for livelihoods, and the great potential overall that the rearing and the practice of entomophagy, or eating insects, presents.
Now, it's not big news that many people, especially in the western world, have an extreme reaction towards eating insects. So the idea of being able to change that perception – from viewing insects as dirty pests to something that’s sustainably farmed, that's processed at an FDA-approved facility, that's nutrient-dense – transforming that perception is a challenge that I could not turn down.
What is Brooklyn Bugs and what do you do there?
Brooklyn Bugs is an organization that works to raise awareness and appreciation for edible insects, with the goal of normalizing their consumption. We want to help people overcome a fear of the unknown and show them that the only limitation to cooking with insects is our own imagination.
While our work is rooted in environmentalism, we're not suggesting that eating insects is the end-all-be-all solution to climate change. That’s why we work interdiscplinarily to integrate our work culturally. We want to expose people more and more to the idea and demonstrate how it can be one of the things that we integrate into our lifestyles to mitigate climate change.
In terms of nutrition, how do insects compare to “traditional” livestock like cows, pigs or fish?
Insects are incredibly nutrient-dense. On average, they might be 60 to 80 per cent protein by body weight, and that eclipses all traditional livestock. They’re high in protein, low in fat and carbs, and packed with vitamins and minerals.
What insects do you cook with most, and how do their tastes and textures compare to other animal and plant proteins?
Crickets are often referred to as the “gateway bug,” so it would behoove me not to cook exhaustively with crickets. But my all-time, hands-down favourite insect is the cicada.
In terms of taste and texture, every insect is different. Even between cicada nymphs and the cicada adults, the flavour profiles differ. Nymphs have a slight almond-y flavour and a crunchy exoskeleton with meat inside, while adults have a very vegetal and nutty flavour.
Generally, crickets also have a nutty flavour and an earthiness to them, but it really depends on how the insect is processed. Are they dehydrated, are they roasted, are they freeze-dried? All of these factors affect the taste.
You can also take whole crickets and then grind it into a powder with the consistency of flour, and with this you have an incredibly versatile ingredient that you can add to your soups, smoothies, sauces, baking… Like I said, there really are just limitless possibilities for integrating crickets alone into your food.
What are your most important special tips or particulars for cooking with insects?
- If you're going to start working with a new ingredient, start with something that you are already very versatile and adept at cooking. I really just love making all my favourite dishes seasonally and incorporating insect protein into them.
- Make sure you smell the ingredients, and if you get something like the roasted crickets, try some by itself without cooking it, just so you have an understanding of the texture and flavour profile. That will greatly inform how to better integrate it into your cooking.
Even when people get over the fear factor, aren’t there other challenges with integrating insects into one's diet? For example, finding recipes, learning how to cook them, acquiring them?
We just need to get people curious. When you go online, you'll realize that there are lots of cookbooks that feature cooking with insects, and that there are plenty of places where you can buy insect products. People just need to be interested enough to look.
Accessibility is another really big factor. Once we’re able to have pre-made foods available at grocery stores, like pre-made lasagna, cricket mac and cheese, cricket fried rice, cricket stir fry, then I think we will see really big growth in the industry.
The key step, though, is getting over the cultural roadblocks. We're seeing more and more examples where people are not sensationalizing it or making it out to be an apocalyptic kind of food, but instead quite matter-of-fact. And the more we see it put out there in this way, the more likely it will be that people open themselves up to this nutritious, sustainable and delicious food.
Check out Brooklyn Bugs for insect products and additional resources.