One of the things I like about writing this blog is that it gives me a good excuse to try new chocolates. So when reading about local chocolatier, Charlotte Truffles, receiving funding from ICA this year, I saw Don Bugito of San Mateo was an ICA Fund recipient too, and remembered something about them doing chocolate covered crickets.
Sure enough, their website — which advertises “Tasty Edible Insect Snacks!” and includes recipes like Mealworm Toffee and Chocolate Chip Cookies, and Chocolate Chip Cookies with Cricket Flour — had a few chocolate-related snacks to try.
I got their Dark Chocolate Crickets with Amaranth Seeds, Alegrias Milk Chocolate Amaranth Bites, and — the most fun of all — a DIY Chocolate Covered Crickets Kit. The crickets are farm raised, the amaranth seeds are organic, and the chocolate is from Guittard. If you are going to eat bugs on purpose, the thinking seems to be that they should be quality bugs.
My bug-eating qualifications
Crickets aren’t my first “alternative protein”-eating foray. When we bought our house in Oakland, our first contractor was from Sardinia. One day we gave him some cheese from Berkeley Bowl which was made in Sardinia. “That’s not Sardinian cheese,” he told us. “I will bring you real Sardinian cheese.”
When he returned, he had a large round ball wrapped in cheesecloth. As he unwrapped it and told us it was called casa marzu, fruit flies rose from it. We decided to continue this adventure out in the driveway.
Turns out casa marzu is cheese made from sheep’s milk, and the aging process includes having flies lay their eggs in it, and the resulting maggots pre-digest the cheese for you, so it is soft and creamy. If the maggots die, the cheese goes bad, so you eat it while the little white maggots are squirming around in it.
It is illegal to import casa marzu — because, maggots — so he smuggled it in because of course you can’t buy it here. He served it between pieces of thin Sardinian cracker bread, but you could still see the maggots writhing and jumping ship. I was game to try it until I saw the actual maggots, then I backed away while everyone else tried it.
When I was the only one left — and that includes our neighbor walking by who asked what we were eating, and when we replied, “maggot cheese,” he stepped up and tried it — I finally bit into my piece. It wasn’t bad, I didn’t feel the maggots, and the cheese was a mild, slightly tangy, soft cheese, but honestly, there are other tangy soft cheeses in the world that don’t include living creatures, so I don’t feel the need to ever eat “the most expensive cheese in the world” again.
My second bug-eating experience was at a bar in Seoul where they served sea snails and silk worms like bars here offer shelled peanuts. I was game cuz I already ate the maggot cheese, and bonus: these critters were boiled to death. I liked the sea snails, they were tiny and served in their conical shells so they were fun to eat, but the silk worms were kinda ugh — best description I can give is that they tasted like dirt. I’ll stick to peanuts.
But I am an optimist, and chocolate seems to make everything better (except collard greens, I swear…), so I hoped these snacks could be a good way to eat bugs & save the planet (the Don Bugito site mentions that eating bugs is a sustainable food practice).
Plain brown wrapper
The first Don Bugito snack, the Dark Chocolate Crickets, I had several friends try with me. Safety in numbers, misery loves company, something like that. If they were awful, at least it might be fun to reminisce about in hindsight.
The first important thing to know about these is that they do not look like crickets, more like plump chocolate covered raisins; or as one of my 7 tasters said, rabbit pellets, and he wasn’t referring to the pet food.
The description on the website said the crickets are hand coated in chocolate, but we didn’t see any visible crickets, even when we bit them in half. It seemed like the crickets were ground up, then mixed with chocolate and amaranth seeds and shaped into little balls. Another taster suggested they would be cooler if the snacks were molded into a cricket shape if they weren’t going to leave the crickets whole.
As for the taste? They are crunchy and reminded me of Nestle Crunch bars. I could taste the semisweet chocolate and amaranth; and otherwise it had a kinda smoky, roasted taste. Alas, there were no legs to tickle my mouth, which was the fear of one of my would-be tasters (it was harder than I thought to get people on board with this tasting). If you didn’t know there were crickets in it, you wouldn’t guess it.
I thought these treats were good; a little savory, they tasted more like chocolate than anything else. The texture is a little different; one taster described it as a flour like texture; and another said they tasted dustier than regular chocolate, but otherwise were mostly chocolate tasting. If you want to try eating bugs, this is a good baby step.
The non-bug treat, the Alegrias Milk Chocolate Amaranth Squares, looked like mini-Rice Krispies treats. They were roughly 1″ squares, made with Guittard milk chocolate and “the ancient grain” amaranth, and were a lighter treat all-around.
They had a small textured crunch and a light milk chocolate flavor. They were sweeter than crickets, but not too sweet, and more visually appealing. They were so light colored that they didn’t look like they were made with chocolate at all, but the milk chocolate taste was distinctive and lingered.
My tasters all liked the lighter texture and intensity. And the amaranth had a puffed cereal taste and texture that was like a refinement of Rice Krispies treats. If bugs are a bridge too far, try this organic, sustainable treat.
Playing with bugs
Snacks are great, but playing with food can be even better — at least when we are talking bugs. Don Bugito’s DIY Chocolate Covered Cricket Kit is aimed at kids, but we had fun with a group where the youngest was college aged. We just made some age appropriate adjustments.
The kit included toasted whole crickets, milk chocolate discs, wooden tongs, parchment paper squares, and instructions. It also included a couple of “I Ate A Bug” stickers and a 15% off coupon for future purchases.
The instructions made it look easy: Basically you melt the chocolate, dip the bugs, then place them on the paper to set up. As a non-cook, they were very reassuring (except for the special notice about not burning the chocolate in the microwave — I had no idea that was possible).
Nobody was willing to eat one of these critters plain. Our collegiate taster said they’d eaten crickets before, but they were seasoned with chili and lime, so they mostly tasted of the seasoning. We suspected chocolate covered crickets would be the same.
The crickets and the milk chocolate were packaged in small jam jars, which seemed like a nice touch — they keep the supplies fresh and are reusable too — Don Bugito is really walking the walk when it comes to sustainability.
When we opened the crickets jar, they looked so small — do they shrink down when toasted, or are these a special mini cricket species? They were whole crickets — but legless —and smelled slightly fishy. The package says that if you are allergic to shellfish, you probably shouldn’t eat these, and now that made sense. Like shrimp, crickets have an exoskeleton.
This led to a discussion about whether crickets could be considered vegan. Crickets have no central nervous system so they don’t feel pain, so we figured they probably are acceptable to vegans. But we were all non-vegans, so don’t take our word for it.
I also wonder what happened to their legs. Do they fall off when toasting? Does somebody have a tiny knife for chopping them off? Do they snap ’em off like bean tips?
I could find only one how-to video on YouTube for roasting crickets (pro tip: be sure to search for “roasting crickets” plural, or else you will get a list of videos mocking cricket players). Ten minutes in, crickets are roasted, and their legs are still attached. So I don’t know how they do it, but somebody at Don Bugito takes quality control very seriously.
But back to the bug bath. The first step is to melt the chocolate. You can either melt the chocolate in the microwave or in a double boiler. You don’t have to take it out of its jar, and you don’t have to temper it. Easy peasy.
Once the chocolate was melted (we went the microwave route), the fun began. This is a messy process with chocolate dripping off the crickets as we took turns dipping and laying them on the parchment paper. If you do this with small children, which would be a lot of fun, be prepared to do a big cleanup afterwards. Even with our best adulting, we were still dripping chocolate all over.
The tongs provided with the kit were basically tongue depressors and kinda hard to use to pick up single bug and dip in the melted chocolate. When we switched to disposable chopsticks, we did much better on this dexterity test.
The chocolate covered crickets set up quickly — less than 5 minutes — but I think that is because of the hydrogenated palm kernel oil in the provided chocolate. It was like the chocolate used in chocolate fondue or the chocolate shell sauce on ice cream, creating a hard shell almost instantly.
This is probably a good idea if you are doing this kit with small children because it is close enough to instant gratification and minimizes the mess of playing with melted chocolate.
The chocolate was a sweet milk chocolate which would also appeal to children, but it was too sweet for our crowd. So we switched it up for a bar of “good chocolate.”
I had a bar of Gusto chocolate from Forté Chocolates, Mount Vernon, WA. In addition to a range of more traditional chocolates, Forté’s Gusto line is bars of chocolate to cook with. The line features savory inclusions, and has recipe and pairing suggestions on each bar.
I had a Gusto Tasmanian Pepper & Lime in Dark Chocolate bar that suggested adding it to Mexican inspired recipes, like a chicken, corn, and avocado salad. Knowing myself, that wasn’t going to happen, but I thought it might be a good match with crickets.
It was close to perfect. The big “problem” was it took an hour to set up. So you have to be prepared to wait before eating crickets you cover in other chocolate that doesn’t contain hardening agents. Or be like us and try them before the chocolate dries on the crickets.
The flavor was great: Good chocolate with a burst of lime and mild heat from the black pepper. The crickets mainly added some crunch to the chocolate. Everyone preferred the Gusto dipped crickets even if they were a little messy to eat because we didn’t have an hour to wait.
The Gusto crickets have continued to be a good treat since hardening. The lime and pepper flavors have continued to hold their own with the quality chocolate, and the crickets have remained crunchy. I’ve shared them with a bunch of other people (who were willing, more or less, to eat crickets) with uniformly good reviews.
Experiments with bugs
I’m sure other flavored chocolate would work; and I might actually experiment more since I have like half a jar of crickets left. I know I won’t be eating the crickets plain, so I might see how they taste dipped in different chocolates, like espresso-infused chocolate, other pepper/chili inclusions, go the opposite way and try them with fruit inclusions, maybe single origins. I have a lot of crickets left over.
In fact, I recommend that if you want to try making your own chocolate covered crickets — and you won’t be doing it with anyone under the age of 12 — make your own kit. You can buy the whole crickets from Don Bugito; but assemble the rest of the package yourself. Get some good chocolate, use your own parchment paper/waxed paper, and finally have a use for those extra chopsticks we all seem to have accumulated from food deliveries during COVID.
Don Bugito snacks are available online and at stores across the country. Check their website for locations. And if you make anything chocolate with mealworms, let me know how it turns out.