The Culinary World Is Embracing Ants & You Should, Too
If you're grossed out by anything creepy, crawly, and with more than 4 legs... then stop being so close-minded and eat some bugs already, dammit.
Or at least, that's what this trend is trying to tell you (in so many words).
From Chef Rick Bayless' worm salt margaritas to Zack Lemann's lightly fried dragonflies and Hugo Ortega's tomatillo grasshoppers, insects are making their way onto haute cuisine plates in a—dare we say it—scary number of ways. But right now, we want to talk about ants—yes, those annoying pests that ruin picnics like it's their job. Apparently, by not eating them we're missing out, because they're delicious?
Pardon the skepticism—let's start with the most important question.
The short answer is that it depends on the ant.
A customer of Pantry Paratus named Scott Booth agrees that "some have enough formic acid that they have that sour taste like lemon." However, "Others, like honey ants, drink nectar and taste bittersweet. Some, like big carpenter ants are unpleasant to eat and have a nutty taste with bitter overtones."
And according to Girl Meets Bug, ants can taste like anything from pistachios (leafcutter ants) to pork rinds (Guatemalan flying ants).
Eating a flying ant (check him out below) actually literally sound like a living nightmare. But hey, if they taste like pork rinds...
Is it really all that gross to eat bugs? The obvious answer is "Yes, duh," but that may just be your cultural upbringing that tells you so.
According to Alex Atala, the Brazilian chef and owner of D. O. M., many people think that "insects are disgusting. They taste like shit." But that's mostly cultural, he said, "Can you imagine eating shit from a cow? What about vomit? Have you had honey? You just ate the vomit of a honeybee. Our culture is blind."
The point is, our knee-jerk reaction of "Yuck!" is totally subjective, as is our need to put a finger on 'what ants taste like.' We need to figure out what ants taste like because we need to normalize the idea of eating ants... because we need some way of convincing ourselves that ants are edible and not taboo. But other cultures have considered ants as 'food' for the entire span of their history—so the only thing that's really keeping us from enjoying these little buggers is the culture we grew up in.
So if telling yourself that ants taste like lemongrass helps you stomach eating them, then go for it. But here's some food for thought: When Atala had an indigenous Amazonian woman try lemongrass, she said the unfamiliar ingredient tasted like ants!
MUNCHIES spoke with David George Gordon, author of The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook and chef-de-cuisine of the Explorers Club's yearly dinner in New York, and he gave adventurous home cooks a few tips about finding and preparing ants for consumption.
To harvest your ants, he says to use a Dustbuster (yeah, you heard me right the first time!) or other hand vacuum to scoop them up from right outside your house. Freeze the ants to weed out any inedible debris that's made its way into the vacuum, then spread them on a cookie sheet and bake them on low heat to dry them out (225°F is about right).
For starters, Gordon suggests trying Ants On a Log, a common kids' snack made with a celery stick, peanut butter, and raisins. In this case, though, the ants on the log are actually ants. (Well, he also uses marzipan instead of peanut butter, but that's the less extreme substitution...)
Of course, you can definitely try using ants in other recipes, too, and not necessarily ones that call for ants. Since ants are baked to a crisp, they probably add a lemony crunch to whatever dish includes them.
We see them being used pretty frequently as toppings that accompany salads:
And they also find their way onto dessert plates as a crunchy, citrusy counterpart to sweeter flavors (these Amazonian ants are hanging out on top of coconut meringues):
So if you've got a sense of adventure and you're ready to throw off the shackles of your cultural norms, then give ants a try.
Have you ever tried eating ants? If so, what did they taste like? Has it changed your mind about eating other bugs? Let us know in the comments below! We really want to know. Seriously.