by Claudio La Rocca & Silvia Ronzani
If you grow up in Italy, food is a central part of your life. For an Italian, food is almost a religious matter, every dish the revered sum of history, culture and tradition. So what made us, two Italian grad students, decide to put bugs on everyone’s plate? One day, one of our lab mates brought some dried grasshoppers to eat as a snack – and we were hooked. It was love at first bite.
We soon started down a path of discovery, learning about and experimenting with the unconventional insects-as-cuisine. Learning about entomophagy – eating insects – involved asking some tough questions: why would people want chow down on bugs on a regular basis? What are the pros and cons of using insects in cooking? And, importantly, what do they taste like? The last question was the first one we answered when we tried our first grasshopper: they are pretty good, but as any good Italian would think, there’s room for improvement – which we’ll get back to in a minute.
Answering why we should cook with insects involved a much more interesting path of research.
We have always been involved in environmental science. Because of our background, we know all the ins and outs of the environmental costs of food, especially meat. Farming requires land, water and resources, and in a world that is constantly growing, this constitutes an expanding sustainability problem.
Enter insects. Insects have been part of our ancestors’ diets long before we even became Homo sapiens. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, insects are eaten every day by an estimated 2 billion people around the world.
Insects are a complete source of protein, with all the essential amino acids we need from our diet, and they pack high levels of minerals such as calcium, iron and potassium – and, as we mentioned before, they taste great! Did you know that crickets, for example, have more potassium than bananas? And that only 10 grams of cricket flour contains 100% of your daily ration of vitamin B12?
Beyond being good for our diets, eating insects is good for the planet. Farming insects requires a fraction of the resources required by, for example, cattle. You can farm one pound of pure insect protein using less than four liters of water and one pound of feed, compared to the 22,000 liters of water and seven pounds of feed required for one pound of beef. Not to mention the amount of CO2 emitted per kilogram of protein produced: between 0.05 and 0.45 grams for the most common commercially farmed insects versus almost six grams for cattle. The difference is astonishing!
When considering all the environmental and nutritional upsides and their great taste, there are no real downsides to using insects in your kitchen.
Now that we knew the why, and we had an idea of what they tasted like, it was time to tackle improving our bugs recipes. In the past few years, insects have crawled into mainstream food, mostly as dietary supplements such as energy bars and shakes or, more recently, pills. But that was not enough for us.
As we said, any Italian worth their salt tries a new food or flavor and then thinks: “How can we make this taste more like what our Nonnas would cook?” When we started thinking about entomophagy, we decided to apply the same principle. This is how we came up with the idea for our company, Camola. Camola means mealworm in Italian, and admittedly, the Italian word sounds much more food friendly! We thought – why not use insect flours and enjoy them in some good old-fashioned Italian recipes? After all, everyone loves Italian food!
We took some of the recipes we liked growing up, and some of the foods we discovered later in life, and prepared them using insect flours. It took some experimentation and tweaking, but the results were delicious. We ended up with pasta, ‘bugscotti’, gluten-free chips, one sweet treat called ‘brut-e-bun’, Italian for ‘ugly but tasty’, a granola bar and other incredible recipes.
Our food is the perfect gateway for people who want to try insects and discover their nutritional properties, but do not want to put a whole bug, legs and all, in their mouth.
We consider eating insects a culinary adventure that is both sustainable and good for our health. Our goal is to help the environment one bite at a time.
We are excited to let people try our products, and we think that Edmonton, with its vibrant and growing food scene, is the perfect place to showcase our work. We are also thrilled to work with eHub and be part of the vibrant entrepreneurial culture at the University of Alberta. Find our tasty treats and open up your palate to a sustainable and delicious food at Farmer’s Markets in Edmonton starting in September!
Photography courtesy of Monika Viktorova.