From field to food: a grasshopper dinner

Yukoners Chris Gilberds and Erin MacIntyre think more people should be eating insects

To ensure a successful grasshopper hunt, one must first look not at the ground, but to the skies.

The insects prefer hot, sunny weather, during which they’re more prone to be jumping around and therefore easier to spot and trap in a net, explained Chris Gilberds, who, along with his partner Erin MacIntyre, organized a hunt off Fish Lake Road the evening July 9.

And, like most hunts in the Yukon, the session wasn’t so much for recreation or catch-and-release, but for a much more practical purpose — making a meal.

Gilberds and MacIntyre are the de facto leaders of the Yukon’s small but enthusiastic movement to get insects incorporated into more people’s diets, something they say is both a tasty endeavour and one with both health and environmental benefits.

The pair began their own bugs-as-food journey about a year and a half ago, when Gilberds, a longtime cook, was managing the kitchen at the Mount Sima ski hill.

“I was ready to give up cooking completely,” he said.

“(I was thinking) ‘I just am bored to death with cooking. I’m bored with everything I make, there’s nothing interesting anymore, like, no matter what food I make, it’s just a slightly different version of some other boring thing.’”

However, on his breaks, Gilberds started to rekindle a childhood interest in insects that was sparked by watching National Geographic documentaries, including ones featuring people eating witchetty grubs in Australia. Browsing YouTube, he found a plethora of videos featuring people chowing down on bugs and decided to try it for himself, ordering “a whole arrangement” of insects online just to have something new to do.

“Some were good, some were absolutely horrendous,” he recalled.

Still on the edge about quitting cooking for good, Gilberds said he asked Mount Sima for a raise but was told it wasn’t in the budget.

“So I said, ‘Just let me put four items on the menu. So we put barbecue cricket tacos, cricket quesadillas, grasshopper nachos and … then we had an assortment of desserts like sweet-and-salty crickets, maple crickets, Nanaimo bars where the bottom was made from almond flour and cricket powder, and the middle is flavoured with black ants.”

With a whole new world of ingredients to work with, Gilberds said his love for cooking was rekindled, and a new passion — promoting insects as food — was found.

It also didn’t hurt that Gilberds has long been concerned about the impact of human activity on the environment, and insects, compared to other protein sources, have minimal negative consequences for the planet, requiring far less space and far fewer resources to raise.

“It was just a pleasant surprise that for once, something that I like is good for everything instead of the very opposite, so that was just a very cool surprise,” he said.

He and MacIntyre now run the “Northern Bug Munchers Society,” a Facebook group that shares insect recipes and articles and videos about the benefits of eating insects (did you know a pound of crickets contains more protein than a pound of beef?). They also put on bug dinners, where Gilberds whips up gourmet dishes with insects from around the world (cheese-and-roasted-red-pepper-stuffed Thai June bugs, anyone?), have brought human-grade-food crickets to the Independent grocery store, and host open-invite insect catching-and-eating expeditions.

“The main focus has to be on how they taste,” Gilberds, who has cricket powder daily, said.

“If they don’t taste good, no one’s going to eat them, doesn’t matter, unless you’re apocalypse-starving … We want to encourage people to eat them, we want to change people’s minds on them being an actual good.”

Grasshoppers, occasionally jokingly referred to as “land shrimp,” are a good starting point, both because they’re tasty, and getting them from field to plate is a relatively quick and easy process.

Get yourself a net (the kind that come to mind when you think about butterfly-catching, a small mesh thing attached to a long stick) and put yourself in a grassy area on a nice, sunny day.

Pop your catches into a container with ice in it and a lid (a bottle or a PVC pipe with a sock slipped over both ends works fine).

Wait until the grasshoppers stop moving, usually a couple of minutes.

Once they’re inanimate, separate the insects from the ice. Pull off the wings and wing covers before popping them into a pot of boiling water for at least five minutes. Their shells should transform from a brownish-green to a deep red, not unlike the transition lobsters make during cooking, and the boiling will ensure the neutralization of any potentially harmful parasites or bacteria.

Strain your grasshoppers before placing them into a hot pan with generous amounts of butter and garlic.

Cook until the garlic is browned, and then serve.

Although utensils can be used, grasshoppers are perhaps best (and most easily) eaten with the hands; grab a specimen by the legs, and using them as one would use a bone in a check drumstick, pull the body off with your teeth.

The flavour and texture is reminiscent of that of shrimp or soft-shell crab, albeit in much smaller quantities and with a little more crunch, since removing a grasshopper’s shell is both unnecessary and impractical.

“The bigger they are, the more plump and shrimpy they taste, because everything in the body is like this juicy stuff,” Gilberds said, popping one into his mouth.

“Oh, that one was eating some kind of sweetgrass.”

“Yeah, sometimes you can taste their gutload,” MacIntyre responded.

The pair acknowledged that there’s a huge “ick factor” that serves as a psychological block for many people when it comes to popping a cricket into their mouth, no matter how well-prepared it is or how good it actually tastes. There’s also a class factor, they said, because for a lot of Canadians, eating bugs is associated with a last-resort, apocalypse-situation or with being so destitute that you can’t afford “real” food.

But Gilberds compared the current mentality towards insects-as-food to the mentality surrounding sushi 20 years ago. He recalled going to eat at Edmonton’s first sushi restaurant, just as Japanese cuisine was starting to take off.

“I’m like, ‘Look at me! I’m cool and radical, I’m eating raw fish! And I’m a wild and dangerous guy!’ You know? And really, I’m just eating sushi,” he said.

“My mom, I told her, ‘Oh, I went out for sushi.’ (She said), ‘Oh my God, that’s crazy, those people are going to get worms and they’re going to die! You don’t eat raw fish, that’s just stupidity!’ Now she eats sushi, you know? And you can buy it in a gas station in Regina. So it’s totally normalized now. Insects are the same thing.”

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Are they coming?

One of COVID-19’s big economic questions is whether it will prompt a… Continue reading

Yukon MP Larry Bagnell, along with Yukon health and education delegates, announce a new medical research initiative via a Zoom conference on Jan. 21. (Screen shot)
New medical research unit at Yukon University launched

The SPOR SUPPORT Unit will implement patient-first research practices

Yukon First Nation Education Directorate members Bill Bennett, community engagement coordinator and Mobile Therapeutic Unit team lead, left, and Katherine Alexander, director of policy and analytics, speak to the News about the Mobile Therapeutic Unit that will provide education and health support to students in the communities. (yfned.ca)
Mobile Therapeutic Unit will bring education, health support to Indigenous rural students

The mobile unit will begin travelling to communities in the coming weeks

Premier Sandy Silver, left, and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley, speak during a live stream in Whitehorse on January 20, about the new swish and gargle COVID-19 tests. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Swish and spit COVID-19 test now available in Yukon

Vaccination efforts continue in Whitehorse and smaller communities in the territory

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment in Faro photgraphed in 2016. Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old building currently accommodating officers. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Faro RCMP tagged for new detachment

Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old… Continue reading

In a Jan. 18 announcement, the Yukon government said the shingles vaccine is now being publicly funded for Yukoners between age 65 and 70, while the HPV vaccine program has been expanded to all Yukoners up to and including age 26. (1213rf.com)
Changes made to shingles, HPV vaccine programs

Pharmacists in the Yukon can now provide the shingles vaccine and the… Continue reading

Parking attendant Const. Ouellet puts a parking ticket on the windshield of a vehicle in downtown Whitehorse on Dec. 6, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is hoping to write of nearly $300,000 in outstanding fees, bylaw fines and court fees, $20,225 of which is attributed to parking fines issued to non-Yukon license plates. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City of Whitehorse could write off nearly $300,000

The City of Whitehorse could write off $294,345 in outstanding fees, bylaw… Continue reading

Grants available to address gender-based violence

Organizations could receive up to $200,000

In this illustration, artist-journalist Charles Fripp reveals the human side of tragedy on the Stikine trail to the Klondike in 1898. A man chases his partner around the tent with an axe, while a third man follows, attempting to intervene. (The Daily Graphic/July 27, 1898)
History Hunter: Charles Fripp — gold rush artist

The Alaskan coastal town of Wrangell was ill-equipped for the tide of… Continue reading

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. While Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis is now setting his sights on the upcoming territorial election, other members of council are still pondering their election plans for the coming year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillors undecided on election plans

Municipal vote set for Oct. 21

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decicions made by Whitehorse city council this week.

A file photo of grizzly bear along the highway outside Dawson City. Yukon conservation officers euthanized a grizzly bear Jan. 15 that was originally sighted near Braeburn. (Alistair Maitland/Yukon News file)
Male grizzly euthanized near Braeburn

Yukon conservation officers have euthanized a grizzly bear that was originally sighted… Continue reading

Most Read