In today’s food-obsessed era, trends move from the extreme fringe to home kitchens so quickly that a new food item barely has a moment to take off in the marketplace before people are coming up with ways to make money off letting people make the same thing at home.
Case in point: edible insects. We just reported on the first ever insect-based protein bar earlier this week, only to see a DIY cousin today: Farm 432, an ant-farm style science project where you get to eat the results.
Farm 432 enables people to turn against the dysfunctional system of current meat production by growing their own protein source at home. After 432 hours, 1 gram of black soldier fly eggs turn into 2.4 kilogram of larvae protein, larvae that self-harvest and fall clean and ready to eat into a harvest bucket. This scenario creates not only a more sustainable future of food production, but suggests new lifestyles and food cultures.
Black soldier fly adults don’t eat and the larvae can be fed on bio waste, so the production almost costs no water or CO2. Black soldier fly larvae are one of the most efficient protein converters in insects, containing up to 42% of protein, a lot of calcium and amino acids.
The design is just a concept, for now, and the description is pretty lacking in specs, but I caught up with Unger over email, who filled me in on what it’s like breeding—and eating—bugs.
"The black soldier fly was just perfect in that it is easy and sustainable to breed. In my insect eating tests it was also crucial not having to touch the insects," she says. "Black soldier fly larvae are self-harvesting, so you can breed them without touching, which seemed perfect for my purpose of home-breeding. The larvae self-harvest by climbing up the migration ramp after two weeks of wriggling around. You freeze them after the harvest and then process them further."
To keep them alive, Unger fed them with scraps from her kitchen, though, being flies, they’ll eat most of everything. The real question is: How do they taste? "They are a bit meaty and nutty in taste," she says. "The outside is a bit harder, while the inside is like soft meat. When you cook them, they smell a bit like cooked potatoes, starchy."
It’s not unthinkable that if the edible insect trends takes off the way some entrepreneurs and environmentalists are hoping it will, these mini bio-domes could be in Whole Foods before long, right next to the grow-your-own mushroom kits. (Good news for foodies: Unger found the larvae go well with risotto.)
My bet, though, is that crickets will be the gateway into human bug consumption, since unlike Unger’s larvae they’re already rooted in the street cuisines of Mexico and Thailand. That sense of history and authenticity might make them a little easier to digest.