Originally published in the November Issue of Down East Magazine
Spiders and water bugs are main courses at one Lewiston company. Food editor Joe Ricchio pays a visit and swallows his fears.
Photographs by Michael D. Wilson
In Maine, we eat bugs all the time. Or lobsters, rather, which we call bugs, even if most folks would rather not think of them that way. But lobsters are arthropods, along with ants, grasshoppers, tarantulas, and the like, and those bugs are just as edible. Are they as delicious? At Entosense, a Lewiston-based company, terrestrial crawlers get sun-dried, salted, pulverized, spiced, chocolate-covered, and sold across the country. Since starting up in 2015, brother–sister owners Bill and Susan Broadbent have sourced from insect farms around the world. They recently moved from a 600-square-foot barn to a 5,000-square-foot mill space, planning to raise a million crickets a year on site. I met up with the siblings in their new facility for a tasting, my only request that we skip the fancy flavored options in order to experience the unvarnished essence of the bugs. Susan brought tequila, figuring I’d need a stiff palate cleanser. “You’re going to earn your bug-eating certificate today,” she quipped. “You’ll have tried more than most people in the entire country.”
Application: Bartenders — nay, mixologists — use them as garnishes in smoky mezcal cocktails.
Notes: There was a serious psychological hurdle to clear here, but the crunchiness of what are sometimes called edible armor-tail scorpions soon put me in the mood to fill a popcorn bowl with them, pop a cold pilsner, and plop down on the couch for a Sunday of NFL RedZone. Bill pointed out that they glow iridescent purple under a black light, a trait some bartenders take advantage of.
Taste: Gasoline, really.
Application: None, I hope.
Notes: “It has a very, um, specific flavor,” Susan warned. Gee, thanks for the heads-up. One small nibble out of the side of this crackly many-legged worm stick was enough for me. Susan slid me a pour of tequila.
Giant Water Bug
Application: These monsters show up stir-fried in Asian cuisines. Sometimes chefs float them in soups.
Notes: I, for one, hope I never find one of these in my soup. I started with the legs, although Bill said a lot of people prefer the head. The texture is what accidentally gnawing on a dried chili feels like. Their insides coated my mouth with a gooey film.
Taste: Between sunflower seeds and Grape-Nuts cereal.
Application: Cambodian street-food vendors season fried tarantulas with salt, sugar, and garlic.
Notes: Looking at the spiny hairs on its thick legs, I felt a rush of panic rise up in my throat. I warily nibbled one of those legs. First it was brittle, then chewy. I’d eat one of these again — if my post-apocalypse survival depended on it.
Taste: Mildly earthy, sort of like mushrooms.
Application: In Mexico, these grasshoppers, called chapulines, wind up in tacos or smothered in mole sauce.
Notes: Bill told me these little jumpers are loaded with protein and a host of minerals and vitamins, including B12. So they’re nutritious — but they’re also completely palatable and conveniently peanut-size. I tossed them back one after another — they’d make a handy after-school snack for kids.
Taste: Citrusy, with a slight tingle reminiscent of Szechuan peppercorn.
Application: Finally, ants on a log that live up to the name.
Notes: I really dig the presentation. They come in a caviar tin, as if a rare delicacy. Susan cautioned that the flavor is strong, and she was right, but I actually like it quite a bit. I would garnish all kinds of things with ants: ceviche, scrambled eggs, and cupcakes came to mind right off the bat.