Cooking Singaporean Dishes with Insects

5 min read

Imagine going to a popular hawker stall and you are served a plate of delicious fried bugs. Would you run or dig in? After years of saying ‘eww’ to insects, maybe it is time to look at insects from a new culinary perspective starting with our favourite local dishes.

With the looming presence of global warming and fear of food scarcity, insects might be our next big protein option. There are several countries that are already enjoying insects as part of their diet and many more are slowly adopting this culinary trend. According to Meticulous Research Inc., a US-based research company, the edible insect market is expected to hit $9.60 billion by 2030.

Why Are Insects The Protein Of The Future?

Some insects can provide high-quality protein and nutrients that are just as good as meat and fish. According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), insects are high in fatty acids, rich in fibre and have many helpful micronutrients like zinc, iron, and magnesium.

Additionally, consuming insects is better for the environment. Insects produce lower greenhouse gases and use less water compared to conventional livestock like cows and pigs. At the same time, insect farming requires less space and is not as land dependent as conventional farming.

Other than that, insects are also safer for humans to eat compared to cows and chickens. According to Arnold van Huis, a professor emeritus of tropical entomology at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, the taxonomy of insects is considered much further from humans than conventional livestock. This means humans would not contract diseases from eating insects as opposed to eating cows and chickens.

The demand for edible insects is currently growing and now is the perfect time to introduce insects into our daily meals. We reimagined a five-course meal with popular local dishes to get the ball rolling for Singaporeans to start trying insects!

Mealworm Youtiao Rojak

Let’s start our critter course with some savoury rojak. Instead of topping the rojak with chopped peanuts, we can use fried mealworms! Did you know mealworms can pair well with almost anything?

Mealworms are the larvae of the Darkling beetle. They are usually found in dark and dry places like flour or stored chicken feed. This versatile insect protein is known for its unobtrusive umami flavour. It has a light and nutty aftertaste which would pair perfectly with the sweet and tangy rojak sauce.

Satay Grasshoppers

Many have described the taste of grasshoppers as something similar to prawns and sometimes even chicken. The most popular grasshopper to cook with in Asia is rice grasshoppers.

Adult rice grasshoppers are usually no bigger than your pinkie finger. They are usually stir-fried and are enjoyed as a side dish in Asia. They can also be marinated to taste and roasted over burning coals like our favourite Lau Pa Sat order!

Char Kway Teow with Lemon Ants

Usually, we would want to keep ants out of our food, but these Lemon Ants are worth keeping around! Lemon Ants, also known as Myrmelachista schumanni, are found in the South Americanchi jungle. These ants get their unique citrusy and somewhat spicy flavour from the tree they nest in, the Duroia hirsute.

The flavour of these ants would burst just into your mouth when you take a bite. This means you don’t have to add extra chili or trouble yourself by squeezing a calamansi all over your Char Kway Teow.

Chili Scorpions

It may come as a surprise, but scorpions taste like softshell crabs and lobsters! The main difference between crabs and scorpions is that the scorpion has a more earthy taste. The best scorpion for cooking is the Black Scorpion, also known as Heterometrus longimanu. This scorpion can be found in Pulau Tekong so we can locally source scorpions for dinner!

It would be interesting to try the earthy flavoured scorpion paired with the spicy chili crab sauce we all know and love. Additionally, you do not have to worry about the scorpion’s venom as it becomes non-venomous after it is cooked.

Ondeh-Ondeh Cricket Cake

If you still struggle with eating insects, then this dessert will be a piece of cake for you to eat. The secret is cricket flour!

Cricket flour is made by grinding dried crickets into a powder. The most popular commercial species of cricket is the European House Cricket. The flavour of this species can be influenced by its flavour – grain for a mild, nutty flavour or fruits and carrots for a hint of sweetness.

Not only will the sweet Ondeh-Ondeh cake be gluten-free, but it is also a great way to start introducing insects into our diet!

Don’t judge an insect based on its looks! They are good for you, good for the environment and might even be tastier than you think.

Written by Julaila Latiff
Illustration by Sung Jernin


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