Episode #130 — Eating Bugs with Massimo Reverberi

It’s 2021 and it’s still a mad, mad, mad, mad world. Case in point, later this spring Brood X, of the periodical cicada Brood Xs, will be emerging in around 15 states after 17 years. These red-eyed, creepy-looking-yet-harmless bugs will be emerging from the earth, when the ground is warm enough, after 17 years as wingless nymphs (Dibs on “Wingless Nymphs” as our band name!), drinking the finest local sap from your neighborhood trees. There could be millions of them when all is said and done, which begs the question, “What the hell can we do about it?” The answer is nothing, really. They’re going to be incredibly loud and look like giant flying figs, but other than looking gross, they’ll just do their thing for a bit and then disappear again.

But wait a minute. Aren’t figs delicious? Believe it or not, there’s a periodical cicada cookbook. These bugs apparently are a high-protein, low-fat snack with a nutty, earthy flavor. And if they’re eaten before their exoskeletons harden, the word on the street is that they taste like shrimp. (Don’t ask what street we got this word from…)

But let’s be honest, after looking at a photo of these insects — or any other sort of insect — how to eat them might be the last thing on your mind. Luckily, this week’s guest has a solution. We spoke with Massimo Reverberi from Bugsolutely, a company making pasta out of crickets as well as exploring all the other ways people can create delicious food out of bugs.

Massimo gets it — eating insects isn’t something people with a Western perspective are necessarily comfortable with. He talked with us about how food norms are established when you’re a kid. People who grew up in the West usually don’t think of insects as a sustainable source of protein, minerals, or vitamins. They mostly think of them as something that produces a full-body shiver when encountered in the shower area of a campground. (Okay, that last bit was us, but if you wouldn’t yell after a clump of writhing bugs fell from a tree onto your head in southern Indiana during the last 17-year cicada cycle, you’re a better person than the unnamed member of our team that happened to.)

Massimo’s solution is a great one: combine bug protein with other ingredients. That helps overcome the psychological barrier many people have about consuming insects. And having the right packaging helps, too. In other words, avoid having giant photos of crickets when trying to sell your product. Busolutely makes cricket flour and they use it to produce cricket pasta. (Another band-name dibs for “Cricket Pasta!”) Massimo shared with us why pasta was the perfect way to introduce cricket protein to consumers. He also explained how distribution can make or break public acceptance of cricket pasta; how it’s easier to make dry stuff like bread, crackers, and pasta from cricket flour; and that cricket protein is ecologically helpful.

We had a lot of questions for Massimo about how crickets taste, how to overcome the subconscious ick factor, why we haven’t been eating bugs all along, and how cricket flour is a sustainable food option. We’re guessing you have the very same questions. And maybe after listening to what Massimo has to say, you’ll think of bugs as less of a pest, and more of an option to put pesto on. (And no, “Dad Joke” is not an option for our band name.) For more information about Massimo and Bugsolutely, check out their website. They’re also on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Now if you’ll excuse us, we’re off to clean out our carryout menu drawers — mostly because having paper menus dates us as old. Maybe someday soon there will be a menu for a place near us that offers insect ingredients. We mean the sustainable, hygienic, regulated kind —  not the kind that lives in the restaurant walls and earns a failing grade from the health inspector. In the meantime, would cricket pasta get too soggy in bone broth if Heidi tried it at home? Maybe it’s time to find out…

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