Many of us here in North America are a little squeamish when it comes to eating insects. The creepy crawly legs. The crunchy shells. The…wiggling.

Bleargh.

Lots and lots of people eat insects and think they’re delicious

For much the rest of the world, insects are a good source of protein and fat. In fact, according to this article from National Geographic, those of us who find entomophagy icky are in the minority, globally speaking.

And this isn’t a recent trend. Gourmands in ancient Rome ate specially-raised beetle larvae. The ancient Greeks relished cicadas.

Insects remain an important traditional food for cultures across Asia, South America and Africa. For example, in Ghana winged termites are fried, roasted or made into bread. In Japan, fly larvae are prepared with soy sauce and sugar. And in Australia, raw or lightly roasted witchetty grubs (actually a collective term for a variety of insect larvae) are still a popular traditional staple.

A surprisingly healthy choice

There are good reasons that insects have remained a popular element of many cuisines. For one thing, most are better sources of protein and healthy fat than familiar-to-us beef, pork or chicken. According to National Geographic, hamburger is roughly 18 percent protein and 18 percent fat, most of which is saturated. Grasshopper, on the other hand, is 60 percent protein and only six percent fat, most of which is unsaturated. One hundred grams of silkworm larvae contain a full 100 percent of the daily recommended allowance of copper, zinc, thiamine and riboflavin.

Environmentally friendly, too

Farming insects is also arguably far more environmentally friendly and efficient than conventional meat sources. According to Marcel Dicke, a Dutch entomologist, ten kilograms of feed produces one kilogram of beef, three kilograms of pork and five kilograms of chicken. That same amount of feed produces nine kilograms of locusts. (Take a look at Dicke’s TED talk on eating insects.)

Dealing with the ick factor

OK, you’re thinking—insects are healthy and efficient and all that. But how do I convince my customers that they’re not DISGUSTING?

That’s exactly what one Vancouver-based chef, profiled in this Vancouver Sun article, is trying to do. Chef Meeru Dhalwala, co-owner of Vij’s and Rangoli Indian restaurants, is trying to put insects on the menu and Vancouver on the map as the leader in bug munching.

Starting with parathas made with a relatively innocuous cricket-based flour, she’s now moved onto Indian-inspired cricket pizza. The jury’s still out as to whether customers are taking to the new dish, although the staff of the restaurant are mostly on board.

Other places are promoting the values of insect cuisine. The Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory in Cambridge, Ontario, hosts regular “BugFeasts,” which have featured both dishes using insects and a slightly more palatable array of bugs dipped in chocolate.

Where’s the…termite?

What do you think? Diners have become more sophisticated in their approach to potentially icky food—witness the budding popularity of nose-to-tail cuisine and dishes using offal. Could bugs be far behind? (and if you’re interested in getting into entomophagy, check out the Insects Are Food website. Recipes and everything!

Image credit: Tim Brown Architecture