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Waiter, There’s a Cricket in my Soy Sauce!

Waiter, There’s a Cricket in my Soy Sauce!

Japanese haute cuisine restaurant Antcicada has long practiced the bugs-as-food philosophy that we’ve been looking at recently. Foodies rave about their cricket ramen, made with two kinds of local crickets, in which “[n]oodles, sauces and oils were also developed […] to express the charm of crickets in various ways.” At their new permanent Tokyo location, you can even wash down the umami-rich soup with their in-house cricket beer! 
 
Antcicada is now poised to reach even further into Japanese cuisine with a new collaboration with traditional miso manufacturer Noda Miso Co.: a “soy” sauce that has no soy in it at all, but instead uses as its base — three guesses — crickets! Noda Miso president Yoshinari Noda came up with the idea after developing cricket miso five years ago, after a student in one of his miso-making classes asked if it was possible.
 
“Noda, an avid traveler who had tried insects overseas, found the bugs rich in protein, like soybeans. […]

The two-spotted cricket, which has a ‘strong savory and aromatic flavor,’ and the house cricket, characterized by its ‘delicate and elegant taste,’ were used.

The crickets were provided by a start-up company in Tokushima Prefecture and another Japanese company.

The insects were pulverized into powder and treated with rice malt and salt in wooden buckets at Noda Miso Syoten. No soybeans were used in the production.

‘The flavor makes a difference,’ said Noda, referring to the finished soy sauce. ‘I cannot come up with any good descriptions of the flavor other than “cricket-like,” but it resembles that of nam pla and other kinds of fish sauce.’”
 
As we’ve seen in this space before, much is being made of crickets and insects as a protein alternative to meat. But Antcicada and Noda Miso’s collab is the first time I’ve seen flavour as the main selling point. It’s an interesting (and to me, far more appealing) approach! I wonder how long we’ll wait before that attitude — and possibly this soy sauce — make it to our shores?

Scotch Eggs and What Makes a Meal

Scotch Eggs

Much like a local dive bar who obeys liquor laws by keeping a dusty package of Miss Vickie’s behind the counter, UK pubs are getting creative in order to reopen after the end of their most recent lockdown. According to the law, a pub must be able to serve a “substantial meal” along with the pints of cask ale that form the usual menu. The trick is, many of these establishments don’t have kitchens, instead of serving light, cold foods or bar snacks, which means they must stay closed. This is bad news for the livelihoods of the folks who run these quintessentially British establishments.
 
To help their publican constituents, Conservative ministers are attempting to define the classic pub nosh, the scotch egg, as an official “substantial meal.” As a result, manufacturers of the sausage-and-breadcrumb-covered soft-boiled eggs are struggling to keep up with the sudden demand. In some markets, ten times the usual number of orders are coming in as the debate rages on. From The Guardian:
 
“[Gourmet scotch egg company] Happy Belly normally produces about 10,000 scotch eggs a week, said [owner Brendan] Baury. This week he has made 15,000 following a huge increase in enquiries from new customers, particularly kitchenless pubs. […]

Images and repeated discussions about scotch eggs on the news have also helped to drive up sales by putting the old-fashioned delicacy front and centre of people’s minds this week, according to Peter Nutt, who runs Nutts Scotch Eggs in Weston-super-Mare. ‘I think there was subliminal advertising going on. If you hear the phrase “scotch egg” mentioned enough times, it gets into your consciousness.’”
 
There’s a lot of fun British food out there; I’m glad this unique local snack is rising above the rest and bringing home the bacon for the UK’s small businesses. Whether or not this nosh qualifies as a “meal” is just semantics!

Candy Technology Sweetens New Mask Development

mask technology using cotton candy technology

Just in time for National Cotton Candy Day!: A physicist from OIST University in Okinawa has repurposed a trusty piece of fairground culinary equipment — the humble cotton candy spinner — into an inexpensive, quick, and effective method of manufacturing N95 filters for respirators. N95s are the most effective anti-COVID masks, filtering 95% of viruses breathed into or out of the wearer. This comes from the filter material’s non-woven nature, and its electrostatic charge; both features which make it tricky and slow to produce, leading to shortages. Enter Mahesh Bandi, with his MacGyvered method!
 
First, Bandi heated common plastics, like those from water bottles, as the “sugar base” analogue in the cotton candy process. Then he loaded the cotton candy machine hopper with this material, and spun the liquified plastic into a complex matrix of threads, making a mesh. The spinning process already electrostatically charged the textile a bit; Bandi later charged it fully by holding it next to an air ionizer vent. And voila: an N95-quality filter created with the ease of a county fair snack!
 
“Bandi tested his filters by placing several inside of surgical masks. He found the filters worked very well, but the masks were not a viable option. He then designed his own mask to allow easy insertion and removal of the filters (each mask requires three) and used a 3-D printer to produce the result. Rigorous testing (which included microscopic inspections and comparisons with N95 filters) showed the filters to be as effective at preventing inhalation of SARS-CoV-2 viruses as standard N95-type respirators.”
 
Bandi has published his results in Proceedings of the Royal Society A; with no plans to mass manufacture these filters himself, he hopes by offering his research, another organization with greater resources can pick up the baton. Here’s hoping this fascinating and deliciously simple technique gets wider use and helps with potential mask shortages — with the winter we’re expecting, we’re going to need all the innovation we can get.

Bugs on the Menu for Man’s Best Friends

While we in North America remain squeamish, other parts of the world have long boasted tasty traditions of insect-based cuisine. Over here, food innovators have been laying the groundwork for the adoption of crickets, mealworms, and grasshoppers as an alternative protein for a while now, but progress is slow.
 
At least in the human food department: Purina, a sub-brand of (the still problematic) Nestlé is piloting a dog and cat food line that features chicken, fava beans, and black soldier fly larvae. (A second flavour — chicken, pig liver, and millet, is bug free.)
 
This is in response to a general consumer pivot to more environmentally friendly protein options. Meat production is a stunningly resource-heavy undertaking, and the methane that is a byproduct of cow digestion is a big contributor to climate change. Farming insects for food could popularize a low-impact protein source for both humans and their furry friends.
 
“Purina also plans to offer U.S. consumers an insect-based dry dog formula in January online, Lorie Westhoff, a Purina spokeswoman said. It will be rolled out along with several other formulas using protein alternatives, like the invasive Asian carp, she said. […]

Nestlé doesn’t have an estimate on the potential environmental impact of switching pets to a bug-based diet yet, the company told NPR. But they said they ‘generally see the need to diversify sources of protein in food for a variety of reasons, including environmental goals such as fighting climate change and protecting biodiversity.’”
 
As a dog owner and a foodie, I look forward to further developments in bug-based pet foods with interest. However, as a human, I’ll take anything Nestlé says it’s doing to be a moral entity with a giant grain of salt. Maybe I can learn from this industry change, and incorporate insects into the homemade food we cook up for our liege, Samson? Though he may be too picky; instead, I may have more luck flipping the script — and perhaps a burger with some of our sauce — and starting with us!