Entomology, chemical ecology, evidence-based environmentalism and science in general. I like big bugs and I cannot lie.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

How to make fake poo

Sometimes I even shock myself.

  1. Add fluorescein to sugar water, then add gravy browning till you get the appropriate colour.
  2. Soak cotton wool sheets in it, then lovingly handcraft them into the desired shape.
  3. Add sweetcorn to obtain the desired artistic effect.
As to why you'd want to make fake fluorescent poo, you'll have to come to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine's Secret Insects of Bloomsbury event next week and watch my demonstration to find out.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Fancy some Easter eggs?

But I'm sure everyone's getting a bit tired of chocolate by now, so about something savoury?

Source: Wikimedia commons
Looks tasty doesn't it?  They're described as having a buttery, nutty taste. These are escamoles or Mexican caviar, a gourmet dish eaten this time of year, made from the eggs (or more accurately the pupae) of the ant Liometopum apiculatum. As those gorgeous photos by Alex Wild show, the ants are rather ferocious, which coupled with the ants' habit of nesting in the roots of unpleasantly spiky things and the fact that the "caviar" is only available in March and April makes escamoles an expensive luxury. Unlike many luxury foods though, at 40%-60% protein it's extremely nutritious.

I suspect a few of my readers are running for the brain bleach now, but when you think about it eating insect pupae is no stranger than eating shrimp or honey.  Insect eating, or entomophagy, isn't just popular in Mexico but throughout the world, in Southern Africa for example or Southeast Asia - in fact Western cultures are unusual in ignoring a tasty source of protein. (I have an entirely unscientific, untested theory that entomophagy is taboo in Western cultures simply because in temperate climates insects tend not to grow to the size nor aggregate in the numbers to make collecting them worthwhile).

This may need to change though, as we face the challenges of feeding more and more people in an increasingly vulnerable climate. Insects convert food into protein far more efficiently than the mammalian herbivores we currently get our meat from, and produce far less methane.  The first European farm producing insects for human consumption has already opened in The Netherlands. Maybe next year we should start thinking about eating a slightly different type of Easter egg?