BAR HARBOR, Maine — Sometimes the creepy-crawlies can be crispy, if you can bring yourself to bite a bug.
If you combine the critters with other foods or flavors such as brittle, garlic, butter, crackers or hummus, you can chow down on chocolate chirpers or even make a minor meal out of mealworms.
It’s just that some people can’t see themselves scarfing down scorpions or gulping a grasshopper, which is why edible insects were offered to the public this weekend at College of the Atlantic. In the spirit of the Halloween season, the college’s Dorr Museum of Natural History was open Saturday evening to visitors who wanted to see the museum’s animal specimens, view marine creatures in a touch tank or make children’s Halloween masks.
And if anyone happened to be hungry, there were snacks, too.
Carrie Graham, the museum’s manager and an instructor in entomology at COA, prepared four dishes from bugs she purchased on the Internet. With mealworms, she made mealworm brittle and also offered them dry roasted with hummus and crackers. With crickets, she covered some with chocolate and sauteed others with butter and garlic.
“Blech!” was the reaction from more than one child at the event, most of whom went for candy or grapes from nearby bowls. But according to Graham, several museum visitors sampled her buggy bites.
“A lot of Americans have never eaten insects,” Graham said. “It’s a novelty for a lot of people.”
Graham said that though bugs are not seen as food in most Western cultures, insects are commonly eaten in many Asian countries. They are rich in protein and often in amino acids and, if properly prepared, blend well in dishes, she said. Crickets, she said, are high in calcium.
“Nutritionally, they’re quite good,” Graham said.
To support her case, Graham had two books available for people to skim while they ate — or at least thought about eating. One, called “Man Eating Bugs,” was about cultures where insects are part of the local cuisine. “Entertaining with Insects” featured recipes for dishes with names such as Honey Bee Souffle, Beetle Bars and Hot Cricket Avocado Delight.
Of the 80 or so people who visited the museum Saturday night, Graham estimated that one-third of them tried her cooked bugs, which she had prepared earlier in the day.
She said she ordered them online and had them shipped live from domestic insect farms to ensure their freshness. Insects such as crickets and mealworms, which are best eaten in late juvenile stages, are fairly easy to raise and aren’t expensive to buy, she said.
“Most of [the insect farming] business is in the pet trade, but more and more people have been ordering them for human consumption,” she said. “The bulk of the cost [for buying bugs online] is the shipping.”
When the boxes arrived, she put them in her freezer for a few days to kill the contents before cooking them in her oven at 200 degrees for two hours. She said she cooks insects to eat only as a rare treat, maybe a few times a year.
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“I cooked it all in my kitchen today,” she said. “Usually I dry roast them.”
Graham stressed that Maine requires permits for many exotic species, but not for native ones such as crickets and mealworms. Anyone who purchases live insects online should make sure they have any needed permits before they place an order, she said.
A dead Vietnamese giant centipede — a former pet of Graham’s named after dancer Cyd Charisse “because she has great legs” — that the museum manager had in a glass box at the event was acquired in Michigan, she added.
For many who sampled the bugs Saturday, their primary reaction seemed to be more to texture than taste, presuming they could get past the concept of eating bugs. Most of the dishes tasted like the added flavorings such as chocolate, butter, garlic or candy brittle, rather than like an insect. But the flavors didn’t prevent little bug appendages from getting stuck in the teeth.
One girl, Elle Yarborough, happily chomped down on a cluster of chocolate-covered crickets but lost enthusiasm as she chewed, according to her mother, Marie Yarborough.
“I don’t like the insects,” the girl told Graham.
Marissa Altman, a second-year COA student from Brookfield, Conn., said she has eaten insects before in lollipops. She said she likely has eaten bugs on other occasions when she didn’t mean to.
As for the snacks at the museum, Altman said she preferred the mealworms over the crickets.
“I think the mealworms taste better because they don’t have legs,” Altman said.