Daniella Martin—author, mom and insect eater—tells us why locusts are the most authentic Jewish food, how to make cricket matzo and which Minnesota bugs have her captivated.
Are you from the Twin Cities?
I’m from California and never thought I would end up in Minnesota. When I first started dating my husband, he would mention that he hoped to move back to Minnesota one day and I would laugh and say, “It’s nice to have dreams. I won’t be joining you, but have fun.” Now, here we are.
We are currently living in the house my husband was born in Linden Hills. My son’s room is directly above my husband’s childhood room.
Has Minnesota grown on you?
One of the things I love about being here are the cicadas in the summertime. Every time we go out for a hike, we’re seeing some sort of cool bug–cicadas, beetles, moths. There are wonderful dragonflies everywhere because of the water all around. Thus far, I’ve really been enjoying the bug fauna.
You’re known as “the girl who eats bugs”. You actually wrote the book on it, Edible: An Adventure into the World of Eating Insects and the Last Great Hope to Save the Planet. When did you have your first taste of insects?
The first bug I ate was Oaxaca, Mexico doing research abroad for my undergraduate degree in anthropology. My focus was Pre-Columbrian culture and food. Ancient Mayans ate tons of insects and Mexicans are still eating them today with gusto. So, I was intrigued and bought a paper bag of chapulines from a vendor, which are grasshoppers kind of fried with chile and lemon. I spread them out on my tablecloth to get closer look and these local kids came by and started eating off my table and grinning at me. I thought, If kids in Mexico really like them, I wonder if this could have some cultural appeal?
Were the grasshoppers any good?
I didn’t like them. They tasted like a sour, burnt potato chip.
My favorite bug is bee larvae or wax worms, which are moth larvae that are pests in beehives. In captivity, they’re raised on diet of bran and honey and taste like a nutty mushroom. I toast them until they’re crunchy. They’re good with everything. I get mine from the San Diego Waxworm company.
What interested you in entomophagy (eating bugs)?
The part of my undergraduate research I had done on edible insects was the most interesting to me. In 2008, I was reading an article in Time looking into alternative sources of protein. A lightbulb went off in my head: This really has topical applications. Insects are a culturally authentic food and also have modern implications for food sustainability. So, I put up a blog, Girl Meets Bug. My angle was going to be normalizing the idea of eating insects. I want to be the Rachel Ray of bugs.
Are insects Kosher?
Yes and no. Leviticus 11:22, the section of the Torah that talks about allowed foods says that insects with legs above the body are Kosher and those crawl along the ground, not so much.
In my book, I interview a Rabbi. He and his buddy do traditional dinners in Israel. They serve food people ate hundreds of years ago and locusts end up being a part of it. As you know in the story of the ten plagues, the locusts came and supposedly after they ate the crops, God blew the locusts into the sea so everyone would starve.
A lot of animals eat cicadas. They are really tasty. I made a dish for the Dutch embassy a few years ago with cicadas cooked with asparagus and a spicy aioli. If you like fish, you’d love young cicadas. They spend their whole lives sipping plant fat. They are full of fat and squishy
Crunchy or squishy? Which do you prefer?
Squishy. A squishy bug that’s been toasted to crunchiness would be best.
I bet Halloween treats are really fun in your house.
One time my husband and I made “scare-amel apples” rolled in various species of dried bugs. They went over extremely well. We also made rice krispie treats with toasted crickets and mealworms inside that didn’t look nearly as intimidating. But, the “scare-amel apples” were by far the most popular. Beyond being something new to try, everyone wants to get that iPhone selfie.
Are you going to feed your son bugs wants he gets onto more solids?
I think it soft bugs would be a good baby food. Really, insects are found in all processed foods. Kids are eating bugs in their baby foods, whether you like it or not. But I would probably treat bugs like honey and be careful since it could be an allergen. Honey is, after all, another insect by-product.
Did you eat bugs during your pregnancy?
I was blindsided by the squeamishness that came with my pregnancy. I’m squeamish about everything now, not just bugs. But, I plan to raise my son not to be frightened or disgusted by insects.
In studying insects all these years, the more I ate them, the more I respect them. They are the wildlife we get to interact with up close. There are just so many varieties. It’s astonishing.
What’s your favorite Jewish food?
I love matzo ball soup. Passover is my favorite holiday period, not just Jewish holiday, especially since moving to Minnesota because my husbands’ family is very traditional. I get to try all the different latkes, matzo ball soups and briskets.
For our first Seder in Minnesota, we made cricket matzo from scratch. Making matzo is very intense. You have only 18 minutes from start to finish and if you mess up you have to throw everything away. We used ground cricket flour and matzo flour. It was a big hit. I thought, Jews would’ve eaten like this on the Exodus from Egypt. You can’t get more authentic than that.
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