There’s nothing quite like the look on your postal carrier’s face when she hands you a container reading “Caution, live insects” and you squeal, “Oh, my snacks!”
I’d ordered 100 crickets in an attempt to make a better trail mix. A few months ago, I’d realized that, while I’d never use my grandfather’s backpacking tent (it’s a good 40 pounds), or his hydration strategy (wine!), I still relied on his tried-and-true raisins-nuts-chocolate combo for mid-hike nutrition.
Clearly my trail mix needed a bit of a remix. Not only are nuts heavy to carry, they’re kind of naughty from a sustainability standpoint—according to a Mother Jones story, it takes 1.1 gallons of water to produce just one of my beloved almonds. So eating them by the handful—the way I tend to do on a long, hard trek—isn't really viable.
“There’s no reason we shouldn’t be eating bugs,” says Daniella Martin, author of Edible: An Adventure into the World of Eating Insects and the Last Great Hope to Save the Planet. “They’re incredibly nutritious, they have far higher levels of vitamins like zinc, B-12, and calcium than most animal meat. The slaughtering and processing process are very humane and they can be raised and slaughtered much closer to urban areas than other meat can."
Plus, they're lightweight. A cup of roasted crickets weighs about an ounce, while the same amount of peanuts tips the scale at more than a quarter of a pound. For those of us trying to lighten our loads—both in our packs and on the planet—these little arthropods are a pretty attractive snack.
Of course they’re attractive in concept only. I’d imagined the critters would look something like the cartoon crickets of my youth. When I opened the container and saw their hairy back legs and spindly antennae, I had a true moment of revulsion. Jiminy Cricket, when did you get so heinous?
According to Martin, the biggest hiccup with eating bugs (aside from having to put bugs in your mouth) is that we don't have good insect-eating infrastructure in place. "In Thailand, you can go to the equivalent of Costco and buy a bulk-size bag of frozen crickets," she says.
In the United States, you usually have to order your crickets from a supplier. On Martin's advice, I ordered my crickets from Flukers, a Louisiana-based bait company. The five-week-old variety is the best for eating, and 100 isn't as many as you think—if you're making a big batch of trail mix, spring for 200. The crickets arrive alive and the most humane way to kill them is to transfer them directly into the freezer. Twenty-four-hours later, they're ready to cook.
"There are companies that sell 'human grade' crickets," says Martin, but she adds that most reputable suppliers' bugs will be perfectly safe for consumption. If you're concerned, ask what the crickets are fed—if it's dog food—the gold standard of cricket food—you're good to go.
When cooked, crickets taste something like a cross between a pumpkin seed and an almond. They're crunchy and salty with just a hint of sweetness. And unlike peanuts, when you pull out crickets mid-hike, you're less likely to send your hiking partner into anaphylactic shock—although, it may send them into another type of shock. But that’s not your problem, is it?
Here are two recipes for a cricket-centric trail mix, courtesy of bug-eating advocate Daniella Martin.
G.O.R.C. (Good Ol’ Raisins and Crickets)
100 frozen crickets
1 tsp. olive oil or canola oil (for the pan)
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup chocolate chips
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
Healthy pinch salt
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. (You can skip the foil, but know that the crickets will shed some legs and antennae in the baking process. For me, as a first-time cricket cooker, it was really nice not to have to scrub stray cricket appendages off my baking sheet.) Lightly grease the sheet with the oil.
Remove your crickets from the freezer and rinse them thoroughly in a colander. The crickets will have produced an amazing amount of cricket poop in transit so don’t skip this step.
Place the crickets on the baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and cinnamon. Bake in the oven, checking them in five-minute intervals. Keep a close eye on the crickets, as they do burn easily. However, it’s better to err on the side of overcooked than undercooked. When undercooked, their abdomens squish rather unappetizingly in your mouth (voice of experience here), so medium rare is not something to strive for. Mine took about 12-14 minutes to cook fully.
Once cooled, toss the crickets with the golden raisins and chocolate chips.
Aztec Trail Mix
Martin first ate bugs in Mexico where chapulines—or seasoned grasshoppers—are a popular snack. This mix uses authentic-to-Mexico ingredients (except the goji berries) to create a cricket-based snack.
1 cup frozen crickets
3/4 cup pumpkin seeds (often called pepitas)
1/2 cup goji berries (can be substituted with dried blueberries, cranberries, or raisins)
1/4 cup cacao nibs
Pinch of salt
Pinch of cayenne
Olive or canola oil for the baking sheet
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Lightly grease the sheet with the oil.
Remove your crickets from the freezer and rinse them thoroughly in a colander.
Place the crickets on the baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and cayenne. Bake in the oven checking them in five-minute intervals. Keep a close eye on the crickets as they do burn easily. However, it’s probably better to err on the side of overcooked than undercooked.
Once cooled, toss the crickets with the pepitas, goji berries and cacao nibs.