Would you like some mealworms with that?

I like insects.

I like eating insects.

I especially love cooking with insects - particularly mealworms (the larvae of the darkling beetle, Tenebrio molitor). In fact, around the University campus I'm kind of known for it. Some of my co-workers are fascinated, and others shudder with horror at eating insects on purpose. (I stress "on purpose" because we all consume insects or parts of insects unwittingly, and probably on a daily basis, too!)

It started a couple of years ago in 2013, when Associate Professor of Entomology, Nigel Andrew, visited my table of baked goods at Australia's Biggest Morning Tea and I laughingly assured him, "No insects were harmed in the making of these things" and he said, "Funny you should say that because..." and he told me all about entomophagy.

And so began my love of eating and cooking with insects.

That same day I made a pact with myself - at the following year's Biggest Morning Tea, everything I baked would have insects in it. So Nigel directed me to the Edible Bug Shop online, where I purchased my first order of roasted mealworms.

At Australia's Biggest Morning Tea in 2014, I served mini quiches, banana bread and vanilla cupcakes, which all included mealworms in one form or another - whole, ground up or dipped in white chocolate. They were a hit! Once the word spread, I had people seeking out my table of insecty treats. "Are you the bug lady?" they'd ask, checking out my offerings and entomophagy signage. A few people refused to try them, but most were keen and a few bets were made and challenges accepted, which raised additional funds for the Cancer Council. I even made it into the local paper (online). Success!

For the past two years, I've also cooked for students studying Insect-Plant Interactions (one of Nigel's units) to coincide with the tutorial/lecture about insects as food. Last year, I enrolled in the unit myself under Dr Kirsti Abbott (who is a huge fan of my mini quiches, by the way) while Nigel was on study leave, and this year Nigel was at the helm once more and asked if I would prepare something again, which I delivered to his lab just today.

Within a few minutes, every last morsel was gone!

Roasted mealworm mini quiches | Rebecca Di Donato

Roasted mealworm mini quiches | Rebecca Di Donato

At the moment, the consumption of insects as food has a novelty value, but soon I feel it will become much more common in the Western World - a necessity, in fact, if we want to be sustainable. Perhaps the insects won't be so obvious as those in my mini quiches (pictured above), and maybe they'll be ground up into a powder/flour and added to other foods for extra protein instead, which is already happening in body-building protein bars and shakes. But personally, I enjoy the challenge of having to identify what insect I'm eating!