From what I hear, it is inevitable that we will all, soon enough, be subsisting off of bugs.
While there are plenty of tough questions to be asked about what that future will be like, my main concern is this: what does it mean for cookies? I decided to give various bug flours a spin in the classic Toll House chocolate chip cookie formula to see if the future is a place where I’ll want to bake (and live). Let’s all stay sane and not consider if there will be bags of industrially-produced chocolate chips after the apocalypse, because there are some truths out there that are just too difficult to confront.
After spending far too much time perusing the odd insect products one can buy on the Internet (Unseasoned cicada eggs! Cricket pasta!), I placed my order. Four weeks later, I went to the post office and picked up a very battered package with Thai lettering, containing a package of Acheta domestica cricket powder, some dried silkworm pupae, and two jars of scorpion and earthworm powder.
At home, I did what the Internet told me to do and mixed some hybrid flour: three parts all-purpose to one part insect powder. Ironically, I had to pause my baking efforts about halfway through because I opened a cabinet and surprised a cockroach trying to pry its way into my sugar canister, which scared the bejeezus out of me. Thankfully, my (much braver) roommate soon came home and took care of the situation so that I was free to proceed.
Without further ado, here are my observations on baking at the end of the world:
Because the silkworm pupae came whole, I had to grind them up before adding them to the cookies. I used my coffee grinder, which I meticulously washed and dried both before and after insectification to avoid coffee-flavor contamination. The dried pupae, which were shellacked and cocoon-like and about as big as my thumbnail, blended like a dream.
The silkworm powder smelled like old drawers that you haven’t opened in a long time, but not in an unpleasant way. After I incorporated it into the dough I couldn’t smell or taste anything insect-like. Once baked, however, I detected a lingering artificial sweetness—almost as if I had used aspartame. The cookies themselves had spread more than the others, and were the most bronzed around the edges. My tasters also singled the silkworm cookies out as the sweetest of the bunch. Maybe the raw silk, from which they make their cocoon, somehow manifest as sugars when baked? Or maybe, since the silkworms are undergoing a transformation from larvae to moths, they have extra sugar present in their bodies—where’s a biologist when you need one?
Scorpion powder was the priciest of the bunch. Ten grams of scorpion powder costs five times more than 100 grams of cricket powder—but it contained twenty scorpions! Which is twenty more scorpions than I had eaten thus far.
Baking with scorpion powder makes you feel more powerful. More adventurous. If Indiana Jones baked chocolate chip cookies, he would most definitely bake chocolate chip cookies made with scorpion powder.
Their taste, however, was nothing remarkable. The cookies had a slightly unpleasant grittiness, but the flavor was comfortingly Toll House. After swallowing the first bite I thought I could feel a prickling sensation on the back of my throat, which I dismissed as paranoia until several other testers said they felt it, too. At the time of publishing this piece I am still alive and well.
Peeling back the lid on the can of earthworm powder smelled like I imagine an underground bunker would smell like if no one had opened its hatch for years and years. It was gray. It was peppered with disconcerting strands of what looked like hay. I was not optimistic.
After baking the earthworm cookies, my fears were confirmed. They were darker than the others, almost as if I had added in cocoa powder or buckwheat flour. They smelled like something you should not be ingesting. Not rotten exactly, but definitely off. Like alien food, maybe.
They didn’t taste any better. A more constructive tester thought that the earthworm flavor profile might pair better with a savory, carnivorous dish. “Maybe a human meat pastry, like Sweeney Todd,” he suggested. Cookies were just not their medium.
I almost felt sorry for the little guys. Earthworms seem to be so earnest and hard-working, diligently inching through dirt day in and day out, fertilizing the earth. They act as live bait for our hooks. And now we find out that they don’t taste good in cookies, either? Unlike the other critters in the group, earthworms don’t have a hard exoskeleton—maybe that put them at a disadvantage?
The cricket powder itself smelled nutty and vaguely savory, almost like jerky. The dough had a distinctly malt-like flavor.
The cookies they made were the most normal-looking of the bunch. They were the palest, once baked, but still bronzed nicely. They were also the fan favorite—by far. Almost all of my testers said they tasted “just like cookies,” which I took to be a very good thing. In fact, a few people ate the cookies before realizing they were chock-full of cricket, and said they couldn’t taste any difference. Though I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I prefer my chocolate chip cookies cricket-ified, I definitely didn’t mind the change.
So what did I learn? Earthworms drew a shit stick in life and crickets taste like malted milk balls. Mostly, however, we learned that eating cookies cut with ground-up bugs is really not too bad. Bring on the future of insect protein, I say. I’ll be ready with a glass of reconstituted dry milk and an underground bunker brimming with chocolate chips.