‘HERE’S a tip when eating ants – always take them from the nest. Freeze them to kill them and then just eat them raw or blitz them up into a paste.”
Ben Reade offers the advice in the same way he’d recommend the best way to cook an omelette or pan fry a steak.
As far as the Leith-born chef is concerned, eating insects is such a normal part of life in so many cultures that he can’t understand the taboo in Western countries.
Now he is making it his mission to educate the masses.
From his base at the pioneering Nordic Food Lab in Copenhagen, Denmark, Ben is working tirelessly to investigate the world’s most nutritious, tastiest insects in the hope that “closed minded” people might see the same benefits that he and his colleagues have been sold on.
Not only is he happy enough to turn a grub into a mousse, or even munch on a deep-fried grasshopper, he is now preparing to travel the globe to find the best insects to use in meals and how best to cook them. Ben believes insects deserve a place in mainstream cuisine – and that they are a wholly sustainable way to provide food for the masses. “Insects are an exploration into changing food habits,” says Ben, 28. “Scotland has got a lot of innovation and creativity but there’s quite a lot of conservative attitudes, too.
“If you stick some grasshoppers on the menu just for the hell of it as a gimmick, you don’t really deserve any customers. But if you stick them on because it fits into the menu, then that’s a different story.
“Insects are an important part of many people’s cultures and that deserves respect. The people who don’t even entertain the idea are just closed minded.
“Sushi is a really good example of how eating habits have changed. It wasn’t so long ago that people thought it was disgusting, now there are sushi restaurants everywhere.”
And it’s not just insects. Ben, a former head chef at Iglu in Jamaica Street, believes there are lots of natural resources we can eat, offering plentiful opportunities for free, sustainable meals.
“We are looking to explore the whole natural edible world. We have been looking into the edible seashore, too – limpets, razor clams, seaweed,” Ben explains. “We are opening up the discussion on a whole lot of other things, whether that’s insects, seaweed, oddly-shaped vegetables or offal. It’s about changing food habits and acceptance.”
The issue of revolutionising food and our acceptance of eating the unthinkable has been brought to the fore this week as the world’s first lab-grown burger was cooked and served.
The stem cell burger has been hailed as a food revolution which could be a vital tool in curbing the global food crisis, as well as climate change.
Although the research being carried out at the Nordic Food Lab – which was set up by those behind Noma, voted the world’s best restaurant from 2010-2012 – has a different focus, the science behind it is just as important.
In Copenhagen, where the lab is based within a houseboat on the harbour outside Noma, bizarre food specimens are being collected and linked to a large database, where the food scientists are looking at the gastronomy behind it all.
And in order to boost their research, Ben, who is head of culinary research and development at the lab, is flying out to Uganda, Kenya, Mexico, China and Thailand to extend his research into the most edible insects.
“We have been looking a lots of different species in these places and trying to identify the culture that serves them,” he says. “There are countries where insects are celebrated. In Uganda, they are mental about this particular type of grasshopper. It’s about finding out how these things fit into the food system. How do they cook them, spice them? How do they collect them?”
“It unleashes a whole new set of techniques and set of ingredients which, prior to that, were unimaginable.”
With Ben currently sharing his findings with former colleagues in Edinburgh’s restaurant trade, it may only be a matter of time before these “unimaginable” ingredients are making their way on to your plate.