Angie Hunsaker pursed her lips, took a deep breath and popped the high protein, low-fat snack in her mouth.
"It tastes like a Lay's potato chip with a salty taste to it," Hunsaker said, after sampling a fried grasshopper Tuesday at the Utah State Fair. "The wing I didn't try, so I don't know about that."Hunsaker was among hundreds of fairgoers who dared sample Utah State University extension entomologist Jay Karren's insect cuisine, served daily in the 4-H Pavilion.
It's a simple menu, just stir-fried grasshoppers at a nickel per bug, but Karren also provides recipes for fried locusts and grasshopper fritters. Grasshopper legs are free for the taking.
"It's all in your head," said Karren, holding a 3-inch-long Madagascar hissing cockroach in one hand and offering passers-by a plate of fried grasshoppers with the other.
"If I call this a giant beetle, you say, `OK, it's cute.' Once I tell you it's a cockroach, you say, `Eeewwww.' If I call these shrimp, you say `Oh, it's fried shrimp.' If I tell you it's a grasshopper, you say `yuck.' "
While some fairgoers cringe at the idea of eating a fried grasshopper, Karren said, consumers unknowingly consume one to two pounds of insect parts per year, based on Food and Drug Administration reports.
"And it doesn't hurt us a bit. It's all protein. It's the other things in our food that bother me, the mouse droppings, rodent hair and feathers. You eat this stuff anyway and you don't know about and apparently it doesn't hurt you. After all, we've got the best food in the world."
Karren said American consumers most often eat Mediterranean flour moths, saw-tooth grain beetles and Indian meal moths, often found in dried fruit such as raisins.
The fried grasshopper booth is part of an educational display on the insect world. "It's been very popular," Karren said, noting that he's run out of grasshoppers every day of the fair.
Admitting the grasshopper snacks are an odd enticement, Karren said he catches the insects in a pesticide-free environment, feeds them bran and starves them for a day before freezing them for frying ("that way when you put them in oil, they don't jump out") purely for the educational benefit of state fair visitors.
"It's just like I tell my 4-H kids, there's a completely different world there if you just get down at your knees and look at it."
Sampler of insects on world menus
Mexican caviar: Aquatic true bug eggs are considered a delicacy in Mexico, served in elite urban restaurants.
Escamoles: Ant pupae, fried in butter, look like Rice Krispies and taste like nuts.
Honey ants: Don't necessarily taste like honey but whatever they've been eating: honey, butter, vinegar and Coca-Cola.
Leafcutter ants: Kids eat these roasted (instead of popcorn) at the movies. Africa
Caterpillars: In some countries, more than 30 varieties appear on the table, fried with onions and tomatoes and eaten as a relish. African natives prefer caterpillars to beef.
Bettlegrubs: Thrown in stew for flavor. They are a source of fat.
Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison