February 4, 2010

Edible Insects Being ‘Grown’ In Costa Rica

Insects, a popular delicacy in many parts of the world, are getting a culinary makeover in one Central American city, where scientists are "Ëœgrowing' insects that will be tailored for human consumption.

The idea for a common sustainable diet in many African cultures caught the eye of entomologist Manuel Zumbado, who began researching insects as an alternative food source. With the rainforest in mind, Costa Rica has a countless supply of insect species, which may include thousands of species that have not yet been discovered. It is the perfect breeding ground.

Ants, beetles, butterflies, and other creepy-crawly bugs just might become the next big market in a country that is a popular hotbed for ecotourism. In Benin, many types of insects are a common part of people's diet, explained Zumbado, who explored the phenomenon in the coastal country. Costa Rica and Benin share historical ties, as many slaves were taken from the western African country to Central America during the colonial era.

At first, the notion of tailoring insects for human consumption made people shutter, and they "thought we were a bit crazy, but I think this is an alternative, not only as a survival food, but also as a cultural concept." He added that "in other countries, gourmet restaurants serve insects."

The food diversity program at the National Biodiversity Institute in Santo Domingo de Heredia has been studying indigenous insect species, but it also examines mushrooms, an important diet of the people of Bhutan in the Himalayas.

Scientists at the institute have been talking with Bhutan mycology expert Ugyen Yangchen and Benin entomologist Elisabeth Zannou.

"Benin knows a lot about insect consumption and Bhutan about eating mushrooms, while Costa Rica is bringing its experience in managing biodiversity," Marianella Feoli, who manages the foundation coordinating the research program, told AFP.

Through his travels across Costa Rica and Benin, Zumbado has devoured countless types of insects to determine which ones are tastiest. One grasshopper species, Esperanzas, is especially tasty. With the correct seasoning, it is "far more savory than shrimp", according to Zumbado. "It's worth the effort to taste them," he added.

In an effort to convince the public about the concept of insects as a delicacy, Zumbado first dabbled with the idea of adding insects to the menus of the more popular restaurants in town. One hotel in the northern province of Guanacaste -- the country's leading tourist trap -- was tempted to take the plunge.

With a malevolent smile, Zumbado recommended "a big pricetag for the entree, so that clients appreciate it."


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