How to make bugs appetizing with insect librarian Isa Betancourt

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    Interviewer Len Webb and entomologist Isa Betancourt dine on stir-fried and chocolate covered crickets. (Jeanette Woods/NewsWorks)

    Interviewer Len Webb and entomologist Isa Betancourt dine on stir-fried and chocolate covered crickets. (Jeanette Woods/NewsWorks)

    Len Webb learns about an insect’s role in society while snacking on stir-fried crickets in this So, What Do You Do? segment. 

    When you’re living in a brain-heavy region like Philadelphia – you may find yourself standing in line at the coffee shop with a guy who is trying to 3D print organs – or maybe you are sipping cocktails with a researcher growing lettuce leaves containing vaccines – all of which can lead to inspiring conversations.

    We recreate these kinds of chats for The Pulse in our segment “So, What Do You Do?” In this series, we team up a lay person with one of the region’s many scientists, for down-to-earth conversations about heavy-duty research. In this edition, we paired Isa Betancourt with Len Webb. 

    Academy of Natural Sciences’ Isa Betancourt really likes bugs.  As the curatorial assistant in entomology, she catalogs the Academy’s research collection of more than 3.5 million specimens, does community outreach to help the public understand the importance of the tiny creatures, and is a proponent of entomophagy – the eating of insects.  She first ate bugs when her undergraduate entomology club made cricket cookies.

    While American foodies might shudder at the notion, in the global community, we are behind the curve in utilizing bugs for meals.  Betancourt explained that science is looking to insects for sustainable sources of protein in the future: “People around the world already eat insects.  Just not so much in western culture.  With some tribes in Africa [insects] constitute 10 percent of their protein intake.”

    Back when the seven-year cicada brood was due to hit the region, Betancourt successfully adapted one of her grandmother’s famous seafood recipes, substituting shrimp with cicadas.  So when we asked her to bring in some insects for us to try, she graciously agreed, treating us to crickets in three ways – roasted and sprinkled with sea salt, stir-fried with brown rice and covered with milk and dark chocolate.  

    Intrepid interviewer Len Webb dug right in, admitting that he was surprised by their tastiness.  “There’s definitely a flavor there, like a nutty type of thing,” he said.

    The WHYY Pulse team had mixed reviews.  This journalist thought they tasted a lot like pistachio nuts – but with legs that get stuck in your teeth.  Reporter Zack Seward, who is always ready for adventure, tossed down a few of the roasted variety. Host Maiken Scott politely tried her first chocolate-dipped cricket, which will likely be her last. 

    Click the audio button above to listen to Betancourt explain insects’ role in the natural environment – beyond trendy snack food.

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