The caterpillars came after locusts and grasshoppers, which had been prepared with chili and soy sauce respectively. I was already familiar with a similar type of caterpillars from DR Congo rather than Burkina Faso, but having them with wine rather than beer was a first, and I found that red wine in particular worked very well.
The locusts and grasshoppers had been delicious as bar snacks – crunchy intense bursts of sweet or spicy flavour – but the caterpillars were destined to be a hearty main course, perhaps comparable to a ragout or ratatouille to have with rice. Charlotte had prepared them according to the recipe from the Burkinabé village where she worked – with onion, tomato and red pepper, and you could imagine them also going well with other Mediterranean vegetables like courgette or yellow peppers, perhaps with some red chilis.
I first tried the caterpillars with the light white wine that had combined well with my last taste of chilli grasshoppers, but the bold and savoury flavour of the caterpillars called for a complementary red. I found the caterpillars rather different from the other insects in this respect – most were crunchy and light, paired well with a white wine, but the meaty and firm texture and flavour of the caterpillars came into their own with a rounded and spicy red wine. The caterpillars were remarkable for their strong scent and taste, perhaps one of the insects that seems most unusual to western palates. Where the locusts and grasshoppers absorbed the qualities of their seasoning, the caterpillars had a bold character that deserves to be balanced with similarly strident tones – and an intense, peppery red wine might work best of all.
So now you know! Unfortunately, the caterpillars proved so popular that I’ve none left for a retrospective pairing photo, but here’s a handy diagram to help you remember:
Chris adds: Looking at the reds we had on offer for the tasting, I’d say the wine Clara has in mind is the Cedre Heritage Malbec 2014 . It’s a Malbec, but more importantly, it’s from Cahors, in France. This is Malbec’s home, and the wines made here are much more bold and assertive than the ones you may have had from Argentina. They’re traditionally big, powerful wines – the sort you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley. The Cedre Heritage is toned done, but still full-bodied. The other red that might fit the bill was the Cannonau di Sardegna ‘Mumuthone’2014, from Sardinia. Cannonau is the local name for Grenache, so another relatively powerful, full-bodied red, but not quite so much as the Cahors.
Would you like to know a bit more about what caterpillars taste like? Read some descriptions here!
Would you like to try buying and coking some caterpillars of your own to go with an intense, peppery red? There are a few places that sell caterpillars online – and also, check out your local African foodstore!
If you do manage to get hold of some, here’s a recipe. We used a bit of a modified version for our launch event, so I’ll post that one soon on this blog.
And finally, if you’d like to contribute something to our knowledge of edible caterpillars and to the livelihoods of the people who collect them, please consider backing this crowdfunding campaign for a research project on experiment.com.
To follow up on Liana’s post describing the Japanese grasshoppers we had at our launch party, and the wines they paired with, I thought I’d take this opportunity to post a recipe passed down to me by a woman in rural Japan. This method is known as ‘tsukudani’ and is also used to cook silkworm (as well as many wild plants and seafoods), and I think it would work well with many other insects, especially Orthopterans (grasshoppers, locusts, katydids and crickets).
How to cook grasshoppers, Japanese-style
Soy sauce 2 tablespoons
Mirin 2 tablespoons
Sugar 2 teaspoons
Sake/dry sherry 2 tablespoons
Sugar 2 tablespoons
1. If the grasshoppers are alive, first throw them into boiling water (ideally boiled with a pinch of salt, raising the boiling temperature, to minimise grasshopper suffering) and simmer for a few minutes. Freshly caught grasshoppers should be kept alive for one day before doing this, to ensure their stomachs are emptied.
2. Drain the grasshoppers (which should now have turned pinkish) and wash in cold water. At this point some people remove the legs, though this is optional.
3. Return the grasshoppers to a saucepan with fresh water that just covers them, and bring to the boil once again. Simmer until the water is nearly completely reduced.
4. Add the soy sauce, mirin and sugar (or sake and sugar), Simmer for a further ~20minutes until the liquid is reduced. By now, the grasshoppers should be brown-black in colour and covered in a shiny film. Leave to cool. The soy and sugar will preserve them, and they can be kept for several weeks in the fridge.
These make great party food. Serve on a small plate as a snack, or on skewers (cocktail sticks work well), as they were once sold from street vendors in Tokyo.
Our third post from the Insects & Wine launch party is about Japanese grasshoppers, which are sold in many parts of Japan, not only in rural areas but also in Tokyo and in some major supermarkets. In case you’re reading this and might be in a Japanese supermarket sometime soon, here’s the label to look for:
Locust heads are good, but – as I (re)discovered during last week’s tasting – Japanese grasshoppers cooked in soy sauce and mirin are wonderful. They’ve got an unctuous, caramelly sweetness that’s punctuated by explosions of umami – a bit like posh childhood candies with a grown-up edge. The first wine I tried – Fuchs and Hase Pet Nat Volume 4* – worked OK with them. It smacked of damp earth and soggy leaves and helped to ground the sweetness of the grasshoppers, but didn’t really draw anything out of them. I thought insect and wine were best consumed one after the other rather than together.
The La Raia Gavi 2015, on the other hand, went very well with the grasshoppers (as it did many other critters). Its flintiness and acidity cut through the grasshoppers’ syrupiness and left a lingering nutty taste in the mouth. The third wine I picked up – Arndofer Grüner Veltiner Die Liedenschaft – also got a big fat ‘YES’ on my sheet. (I think this was the point at which scrupulous note-taking dissolved into general dopey pleasure.) This one was gentler than the Gavi – think nicely behaved young fruits (or whatever the technical term for that is) – and worked to enhance the treacliness of the grasshoppers.
Although the grasshoppers we used for this tasting were purchased by a friend in Japan, I’ve been taught how to cook grasshoppers before using a similar recipe – so, as with the crickets, I’ll share that in an upcoming post!
* For an introduction to Pet Nat, read this post from Anthroenology. Fuchs and Hase doesn’t have its own page that I can find, so we linked to one of the two wineries involved in making it. The other is Arndorfer, who is linked to later in this post.
For our Insects & Wine launch party, we wanted to have some fresh insects. That’s not so easy in the UK in March but fortunately it’s not impossible.
Since it’s pretty hard to find any wild edible insects at this time of year, we bought some live crickets from Northampton Reptile Centre!
(Important note/disclaimer: These crickets are farmed as animal feed, not human food. This means they are subject to different health and safety regulations. We’re not advocating anything here – just documenting what we did, because people asked us.)
We checked with the company where they farm their crickets, what species they use, and what they feed them on. The answers? They farm them in Essex, they’re Gryllus assimilis* and they feed them on vegetable scraps**.
To kill the crickets, we use a two-step process in the hope of minimising suffering, inspired by Kevin Bachuber, who used a very similar method when he started Big Cricket Farms in Ohio. Then, we cook them. Here’s the process and recipe**.
How we cooked our crickets:
Live crickets, ideally from a local farm and fed on a diet you think sounds tasty enough.. (the food they eat can really affect their flavour)
Oil, ideally a good quality one – Walnut oil works well
Salt, if you like salt
Put the crickets (still in their box/container) in a cold fridge for a few hours, so that their body temperature drops low enough that they go into a state resembling hibernation.
Transfer the crickets to a freezer overnight, which is so cold that they die.
Take them out of the freezer and wash them thoroughly.
Blanch them in boiling water for a couple of minutes.
Drain the crickets and heat some oil in a frying pan.
Saute the crickets in the oil for 5-8 minutes. (If you like, add a pinch of salt after about 3 minutes.)
Serve hot! These work well as a snack, or as a salad topping, or as a pizza topping, or as a taco filling, or in fried rice, or in sushi rolls, or…anything you’d like to give a bit of a savoury hit!
*This species is originally from Jamaica
**Important note, again: These crickets are farmed for reptile feed, not human food. We’re just documenting what we did – not advocating it nor taking any responsibility for others trying it out.
We’re moving through our launch party menu in reverse order, so the next insect is silkworm (Bombyx mori pupae) from Japan, prepared as ‘tsukudani’ in soy sauce and mirin, and described by Shoji:
Insect #6: Silkworms by Shoji
I must admit,until this fateful evening, I had not been the greatest fan of the silkworm pupae. Not only are they actually caterpillars and not worms, they come with a very distinct, lingering aftertaste, which I have never associated with pleasure or joy.
But I was pleasantly surprised upon trying them in combination with the wines, particularly the Andert Rulander. A gentle sip of it would immediately wash away the the mournful aftertaste like a fresh Austrian breeze. Furthermore, the pupae’s rich flavours (contained in the chewy ooze released after the initial satisfying crunch, mmm…) perfectly complemented and enhanced the smokey, yet soothing taste of the delightful orange wine. That’s right, all of this right in your mouth and without a catch. It was as though the silkworm had finally found its long lost friend.
After a decadent feast of spicy locusts, succulent caterpillars and surprisingly sweet grasshoppers we were presented with a final *bonus* course. On any other day being presented with a dish full of crispy crickets might have been disconcerting. However, having munched our way through six wildly different invertebrates and emboldened by several varieties of wine, by this point the prospect of crickets, apparently homegrown in Essex, seemed almost mundane.
The crickets arrived piping hot, freshly simmered in walnut oil and black pepper. For their small size they were remarkably flavourful. Their crispy exterior was combined with a very succulent and meaty texture, which was favourably compared with chicken nuggets. This may go some way to explaining their universal popularity, as a fried and extremely moreish snack to round out the evening. As far as pairing with wine, their striking similarity to chicken would suggest a crisp white wine. Though I think they would go equally well with a pint.
For a country whose culinary reputation leaves something to be desired these crickets were a surprising indication that British cuisine may have an unexpectedly bright, six-legged future!
Chris adds: Alex suggests ‘a crisp white wine.’ This makes one almost immediately think of something like a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. We didn’t have one of those at the tasting, so if we were to stick with the wines that were there, I’d suggest the Davenport Horsmonden Dry White 2015, which has the nice touch of also being English, like the crickets. My other choice would be the La Raia Gavi 2015. Gavi is from Piemonte, northwest Italy, and is noted for floral and peach notes.
I’ll post a full list of the wines from the evening soon.
PS. Alex isn’t just a great scientist, he’s also an awesome illustrator, as you’ve seen in the image above. Check out some of his work here.
PPS. Do you want to know where we found our crickets? Are you wondering how these crickets were cooked? Watch this space! We’ll soon have a short blog post explaining all..
Last night, we held a launch party for Insects&Wine. We had LOTS of insects and wine for people to taste and pair with each other. We’re going to post next weekend with all the details, and with some contributions from our guests describing the tastes, and which pairings they liked best.
For now, here’s our event in numbers:
12 wines (5 white, 3 red, 2 orange, and 1 each of rosé and sparkling)
7 insects (from 4 different continents & 5 different countries)
9 tasters (from 7 different countries!)
1 locally available insect that surprised everyone with how tasty it was
10+ memorable quotes and moments, some of which probably shouldn’t be shared publicly…
So we think we’re getting off to a pretty good start 🙂
Thank you to everyone who was involved! And for those reading this who weren’t involved but would like to be:
Have you ever tasted insects with wine? If you’ve got any stories to share, please be in touch! We’re looking for guest bloggers, and for new insect&wine enthusiasts to join our project.
Do you want to keep up with our latest events? Follow us on Twitter! We are: @anthroenology and @libertyruth, and we’ve also got an account only for I&W: @InsectsAndWine
Do you want ideas, advice and recipes for your own events?Contact us! We’ll help you out, free of charge.
Edible insects are touted as the ‘future’ of food, and we’re by no means the first to consider how they might pair well with wine as part of Western cuisine.
But: If 2 billion people enjoy insects as part of their daily diet, what ‘wine’ do they drink with them? (Since not all cultures make alcoholic drinks from grapes – the definition of wine, at least in the EU – we are taking an expansive view here, and considering any alcoholic beverage.
Much like edible insects, a diverse range of fermented drinks are commonly consumed worldwide. Here are the first five of our top ten* traditional insect and wine pairings from around the world:
(*Normally top tens are in order of taste. But we can’t decide on our favourite, let alone rank all 10! What do you think? Do you have a favourite?)
1. Mezcal and chapulines (Mexico)
Chapulines (grasshoppers) are usually cooked with salt, chilli and lemon. They’ve got a really unique taste, and go well with smoky mezcal, which is fermented from agave plants. (click here to read about how mezcal is made, and here to read about a couple of other Mexican insects enjoyed with mezcal)
2. Goto-mushi and warm shochu (Japan)
Goto-mushi are the larvae of the long-horned beetle. They’re found in winter, and are delicious roasted over an open fire and accompanied with a warm shot of shochu, a spirit distilled from fermented grain or potatoes, but usually with a much lower ABV (alcohol by volume) than vodka.
3. Palm grubs and palm wine (West and Central Africa)
Palm grubs are found inside the rotting trunks of fallen palms; palm wine is tapped from living palms. The wine is sweetest when it’s freshly tapped, and compliments the grubs, which can be roasted, smoked or stewed with spices. (Click here to read more about palm wine, and here to read about some other insects that are traditionally enjoyed with it in the Democratic Republic of Congo)
4. Fried crickets and smoked rice wine (Northeast India)
We’ve never tried this, but we’ve read about Northern Indian fried crickets and smoked rice wine here and here, and we think that this pairing sounds delicious!
5. Shea caterpillars and sugar cane spirit (West and Central Africa)
Sugar plantations and shea-maize agroforestry fields are common in western Africa. Cane sugar is fermented and distilled to make a potent spirit, while the caterpillars that feed on the shea trees are collected and cooked with chilli and soumbala. The savoury caterpillars are a perfect match for the sweet spirit. The flavours are strong, and this is not a pairing for the fainthearted… (Click here to read about how these caterpillars are collected, and here for a recipe.)
Part 2 is on its way (and see our acknowledgments below for some clues to its content). But in the meantime – What about you? Have you come across a great insect and wine pairing that’s not mentioned here? Tell us about it!
With thanks to: Gabe Mott from Aspire FG for guiding me to pairing number 1, Gobar and Kushihara Agroforestry for introducing me to pairing number 2, @Bug_tasting_bot for the beautiful photo of pairing number 2, Ndopo for taking me through Congolese villages where pairing number 3 could be found, Antoinette and Bertine for preparing pairing number 5 countless times, (spoiler alert for pairings 6-10…) Kenichi Nonaka for introducing me to pairing number 7, Tetsuo Nakagaki for introducing me to the joys of pairing number 8, Roberto Flore for telling me about pairing number 9, Glen Courtright for letting me taste the insect part of pairing number 10, and Catherine and Lori from Simbi for pairings 4 and 6, as well as everyone else who’s given me delicious insects and wine over the past few years!
In this post, I want to follow up from my previous one, on the general principles I use to match wine and fine. I‘m going to go through a few examples of pairings to illustrate how I approach them. Do keep in mind, that although I – and I think most others – would argue there are good and bad pairings, there’s a very wide range of what works. How that is defined is also subject to disagreement.
I’m going to focus mostly on non-insect examples here, since they will doubtless be more familiar to most people. Charlotte has kindly made it more insect-relevant with some additional comments for each pairing. They are also easier to experiment with, and the only way to really understand wine and food pairing is precisely that: experiment. You will also notice that I have a tendency to think in terms of what are called ‘Old World’ (ie, European) wines. That’s not to rule others out, by any means. You could find similar matches with wines from the US, but here in the UK, they are rather expensive.
Mashed potatoes. Yes, it’s an odd thing to pair wine with. I don’t think I ever actually have. But it is a good thought experiment. For me, the main thing here is the creaminess, with body being secondary. I think a wide range of wines could work with mash. Some white wines, and many reds, would probably go ok. But I’d lean towards medium to light-bodied reds. I’m somewhat considering the ‘body’ of the potatoes, but also the taste, or relative lack of it.
I think a full-bodied red (think big Australian shiraz) would be sort of pointless. The potatoes would stand up to it on mouthfeel, but not on flavour. A lighter red could handle it, if you want to match lightness of body and tannins with the relative blandness of the potato. Something like a village level Beaujolais, perhaps. With slightly more body, perhaps a Grenache-based wine – something from Southern Rhone, or even a something a bit heavier, like an Argentinian Malbec. For me, the potatoes would act as something of a blank slate, and it would really come down to what you wanted to drink.
Charlotte adds: Based on the description Chris uses here – creamy, a relative lack of taste – my initial thought was that many larger-bodied larvae could fit, such as palm weevil larvae or giant hornet larvae. But, their flavours are a lot more delicate than your average mash, and some of the heavier wines suggested here would probably overpower them. In fact, larvae might fit better with one of the next two examples…
Burrata. This is a pairing I was asked about recently. If you aren’t familiar with burrata, it is basically mozzarella wrapped around cream. Soft, creamy, and very yummy. Here again I went for a lighter red. Valpolicella, from northeastern Italy, to be precise. Why? In this case, I wanted to accent the creaminess, not cut through it with a zesty white. In many reds, I was afraid that the tannins would overpower the cheese. So, something soft and subtle to go with a soft and subtle cheese. The main flavour I associate with Valpolicella is sour cherries, perhaps with some plum, which I thought would be a nice accent for the cheese. I think this worked very well.
Charlotte adds: This might be a better fit for the larvae described above! Hornet larvae in particular are very creamy, particularly when eaten raw, straight from the nest. Sort of like little feral miniature burratas. They certainly go well with a soft red.
Gnocchi in blue cheese sauce. This (specifically, baked gnocchi in blue cheese sauce) has become something of a go-to comfort food for me of late. Here it is really the blue cheese that needs to be taken into consideration. The gnocchi are basically just a carrier for the sauce. What I like to drink with this is clear: a zesty white, either a German Riesling, or the classic Austrian Grüner Veltliner. I’d personally give the Austrian a slight nod. Nothing fancy in either case. Both are noted for having high acidity that is well integrated. The zestiness cuts through the fat and creaminess of the sauce, and the green apple and citrus flavours just give the whole thing a refreshing lift. Pretty much any red in this case would be overkill for me. This is a case where heavy on top of heavy would just be too much. If you are going to insist on a red, go for something lighter.
Charlotte writes: I think that the combination of the strong taste of the blue cheese with the creaminess of the gnocchi can be best likened to the taste of the contents of a freshly collected wasp nest, sautéed with a tiny bit of oil and seasoned with salt – the creamy larvae and pupae are joined by the stronger-tasting adults. A zesty white works well with these, too.
Venison. Or wild boar. Here – especially with the wild boar – bigger is pretty much better. Venison steak with a red currant or lingonberry sauce, home-made chips and something green to pretend to be healthy. Northern Rhone is where I’d like – fairly big, but elegant Syrah (Shiraz outside of Europe) wines. Crozes-Hermitage would go well here. Slightly rustic, and a good deal more affordable than many of the other northern Rhône wines. (Although if you can afford them, go for something like a Côte Rôtie here.) For venison, I also like to go with a souther Rhône, and in particular, Vacqueryras, a favourite of mine. This is Grenache based (regulations require at least 50%), rather than Syrah, although that is present too.
Charlotte comments: Wild meat? Fresh caterpillars spring to mind! Boiled, and then steamed, or lightly fried, many species of wild-caught caterpillar are enjoyed throughout Africa, and like many wild meats they are high in protein and iron, and relatively low in fat. The taste varies between species, but all are fairly meaty and I’m sure they’d pair very well with a rustic red – we’ll have to try this sometime soon.
Silkworms. I put this one in the list for two reasons. First, this is a site about wine and insects, so why not at least one insect? And second, it illustrates the fact that people can disagree about pairings. Charlotte is convinced the only wine to pair with silkworms is Malbec. I’m not so sure. I can see her point. Silkworms are quite savoury, and require something with body and strength. For this, Malbec is a very good choice. However, for me, it comes down to the quantity. If you had enough silkworms and wanted to make sort of hamburger patties with them, or meatballs, or basically anything where you’d be having more than two or three silkworms, then I’d agree. But for me, as we were tasting the silkworms – in relatively modest quantities – Malbec was overpowering. I wanted (once again) a relatively light red, with fruitiness, but some seriousness to it. I opted for a Fleurie, a fairly ‘high-level’ Beaujolais. The red fruit and berry flavours come through, but lighter body and softer tannins keep it from overpowering the silkworms. Charlotte continues to disagree. That’s fine. At the end of the day, it largely comes down to personal preferences. As I said earlier, I (and most wine and food people) would say there are better and worse matches. But in between those boundaries, there’s a whole world to explore. Ultimately, that’s the best way to learn about food and wine pairing: experience. Eat and drink, with friends if you have them, and decide what works and doesn’t. In time, you’ll have to think it through when someone asks for an explanation, but the pairing itself becomes almost second nature.
Charlotte says: I just love Malbec. But I think we’ll have to do a few more tastings, with a few other discerning tasters as well, to resolve this one!
Updated 26 Feb, 2017, to include comments by Charlotte making the post more insect-relevant.
You’ve gotten yourself some edible insects. Now, how do you decide what wine will go best with them? There’s good and bad news. The bad news is: there are very few, if any, hard and fast rules. The good news is: that doesn’t mean there aren’t things to keep in mind. They may seem at first to be a lot to juggle mentally, and more complicated than ‘white wine with fish.’ With practice, they’ll become second nature, and you won’t really have to think much about them. It becomes a semi-automatic process.
Ultimately, wine and food pairing is about balancing aspects of both. You might want to look for things that complement each other, or that contrast. I’ll give examples of what I mean, to illustrate how it all comes together.
The things to keep in mind related to the characteristics of wine (and food). Let me briefly outline these in relation to wine, and food and wine pairing. I’m going to cover five different aspects of wine. Ultimately, they all work together, but it is easier to approach them at first at separate elements. I think of them as sort of a grammar of wine and food pairing. And, like grammar, it’s good to know the rules not only to construct pairings that work, but also to know when and how to break the rules.