"Let's open the door to 'Konchushoku,'" reads the headline in the July issue of Shincho 45 magazine. "Konchu" means bugs or insects; "shoku" means eat. Eating bugs. Yuck!!
Hold on, writes Shoichi Uchiyama, director of Japan's Research Group for Insect Cuisine, who in an 8-page article outlines some reasons why gulping down bugs can be a good thing.
In 2013, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations issued a 200-page report on insect consumption, which is recommending as one of the ways of dealing with rising human population and global climate change.
Even prior to that, in May 2011, Uchiyama's organization was formed, and by 2015 the government accorded it NPO status. And to raise awareness of how yummy bugs can be when imaginatively prepared, he organized activities.
Last November 24, the fifth annual "Chu-fest" was held in Tokyo. The timing of the event is not coincidental: it's purposely set as close as possible to Japan's annual Labor Thanksgiving Day holiday. Who needs roast turkey with all the trimmings when you go hiking in the woods and harvest your own feast for free?
Uchiyama introduces some winning recipes from Japan's first insect cuisine contest. The grand prix went to Satoshi Tokuno for his "Bug Paella." Seasoned with saffron, it contains bee larvae, Argentine forest roaches and Taiwan locusts. Magnifico!
Other winners included spring rolls with a filling of mealy grubs and cheese; gnocchi stuffed with silkworm pupae; rice steamed with vegetables and locusts; and deep fried "hampen" (a white, fluffy fish cake) stuffed with cheese and mealy grubs.
In 2014, the grand prix was captured by Aiko Hashimoto, who wowed the judges with mochi (glutenous rice) rolled in a mixture of cicada exoskeletons and round-leaved sundew, a carnivorous plant that feeds on insects.
It's been said that three silkworm larvae contain the nutrition equivalent to a single chicken's egg. Comparing protein relative to total mass, the former rates 63%, as opposed to 51.5% for the latter. And the larvae contain considerably less fat. Locusts, meanwhile, boast 76.8% protein and just 5.5% fat. Crickets are nearly just as nutritious, and actually recommended as a food by the U.N.
Of course, one needs to bear in mind certain precautions when eating insects, the first of these being to abstain from those whose bodies produce toxins. As a general rule, insects should always be cooked at high temperature during preparation. People should be on guard for allergies as they would for shellfish or crustaceans. And it's also advisable to indulge only when a person is in the pink of health. By the same token, when anything causes a sensation of discomfort, bug-eating should be halted immediately.
The favorites that Uchiyama lists in his own "top ten" take the form of eggs, grubs, pupae and adult insects. Here they are:
1) White kamikiri (longhorn beetle) grubs ("they've got a deep flavor and are creamy, like 'toro' cuts from tuna") 2) Japanese giant hornet pupae ("deep rich taste and texture like tofu") 3) Wasp pupae ("flavor resembles eel") 4) Large brown cicada larvae ("deep fried, they have a nutty taste") 5) Hawk moth larvae ("aroma similar to cherry tree leaves") 6) Taiwan giant water bugs ("aroma like western pears") 7) Migratory locusts ("taste like shrimp --- and they turn pink when deep fried") 8) Silkworm eggs ("they have a chewy texture") 9) Nut weevil grubs ("sweet and creamy") 10) Japanese silk moths larvae ("sauteeing brings out their deep flavor, with a texture akin to tofu")
Nature, sums up Uchiyama, is truly a treasurehouse of things to eat. He extends the welcome mat to Shincho 45 readers to his future bug-eating meets, assuring those who undergo the enlightening experience that they'll become reacquainted with the "basic starting points of eating."
Except for the earth's polar regions, insects exist everywhere, and Japan alone has over 100,000 varieties. Just step outside your door, and you'll soon encounter something that might be edible. To make it happen, of course, you need to discard your fixated negative attitudes toward our six-legged pests -- er, friends. When you do so, you'll be opening the door to "nature's enormous restaurant."© Japan Today