Saturday 20 January 2018

Insects are the new delicacy lapped up by Irish foodies

Forget the traditional meat and two veg, it's all about cricket flour, turkey stew and onglets of steak these days as Irish foodies get their teeth into the next big thing

Ladybug: Former chef Tara Elliott plans to launch a high-protein bar to the food market made from cricket flour.
Ladybug: Former chef Tara Elliott plans to launch a high-protein bar to the food market made from cricket flour.

Esther McCarthy

Pulled pork is passé and curly kale is so 2014 - for a growing number of Irish diners, keeping up with the latest and most innovative food trends is now a way of life.

As our culinary tastes expand and a plethora of food programmes and books mean we're more knowledgable than ever about what we eat, so do our appetites for more cutting-edge cooking expand, both at home and in restaurants.

Food trends now come and go just like in fashion, make up and music, and there's lucrative business potential in predicting and identifying what will be the next big fad for Irish gastronomists.

In other countries, predicting the next great consumer food trend has already become a common practice - the National Restaurant Association in the US carries out research into forecasting what's hot and what's not each year.

Philip Boucher Hayes tucked into a cricket and mealworm burger
Philip Boucher Hayes tucked into a cricket and mealworm burger

Though for years we had a tradition of being conventional with our meat and two veg, in Ireland we're catching on too, with restaurateurs keen to get ahead of and exploit the latest hit.

In fact, some people are staking their careers on it. Dublin businesswoman Tara Elliott is currently making plans to launch the first product in her EddieBug range - a high-protein bar made from cricket flour. It's the first in a range of edible insect and insect-based products being planned.

If that all sounds a tad too I'm a Celebrity for some, Elliott is on to something. The growth of cricket flour in cooking is a fast-emerging trend worldwide, and indeed long established in some countries, while restaurants specialising in insect dishes are cropping up in London and New York.

"At first I had to put up with a lot of insect jokes, but the science is coming to the forefront now," said Elliott. "Crickets are an extremely high source of protein and I'm developing the bar using cricket flour, targeting people who are into health and fitness, and people who are on the go generally."

Elliott worked as an insect farmer in Co Wicklow before deciding to specialise in product development.

Cricket flour is a higher source of protein and amino acids than even steak, and Elliott, who trained as a cordon bleu chef in France before turning her hand to business, is convinced it's only a matter of time before it's an Irish staple.

"It ticks so many boxes in terms of what health-conscious people are looking for now. It's paleo friendly, it's high protein, it has a unique selling point."

Current legislation doesn't yet allow for the sale of insect products on the Irish market, but Elliott believes this will soon change. Several countries, including the UK, have legislated and there is high demand from abroad. She currently sources her cricket flour from the US, where it is commonly used.

"Lots of people are developing insect-related products," she added. "In other countries you can get whole insects covered in chocolate. When I was farming I've made roasted crickets and used the flour in buns and pizza bases. It has a wonderful, nutty flavour.

"We're getting more clever about what we put in our bodies and there's a lot of pressure on the food industry to produce more healthy foods."

As a man who's worked front of house in some of Ireland's finest restaurants for two decades, Nick Munier is well poised to observe the growing interest in food fashion among us. He says the variety of food and interest in trying new things has never been greater and says people are interested in what he calls 'healthification' through food.

"Attitudes have changed completely. People are asking for different items and interested in trying the latest thing," he said.

In particular, he's noticed a trend towards less typical cuts of meat - the onglet steak was a big hit in his restaurant, Avenue on Dublin's Crow Street, over the winter months.

"It used to be known as the meat that butchers eat because it didn't sell, but it has been very popular in Avenue. Old cooking methods like braising are becoming popular again. The trick is to tenderise the meat, whatever the cut, to introduce flavour.

"We're doing a burger using minced dry-aged beef, which has been hung for a long time, and it's our biggest seller."

Nick is also noticing a growing interest in combining different and unconventional flavours. "At the moment we're doing a mango risotto with flakes of chilli, breast of smoked duck and coconut cream and people can't get enough of it.

"Superfoods remain big - beetroots and salsify are becoming very popular at the moment - and sustainability is important. People ask questions, they want to know that the food is local, homegrown."

The challenge for restaurants in what is a very competitive industry, he says, is to embrace and encourage trends without becoming wholly experimental.

"There's so much choice out there at the moment. You need to be novel, to think outside the box, but to not scare people off also."

Veggie-centric eating - making vegetables the star of the show rather than mere accompaniments - is a huge new trend, and chef and restaurateur Ronan Ryan is ahead of the posse.

Counter Culture, the restaurant he set up in Dublin's Powerscourt Centre with his wife, Pamela Flood, has been a big hit in its first year in business. He's not interested in lecturing people about healthy eating he says, (turkey stew is also on the menu), but realised that this trend was 'a thing'.

"People want healthy food that's also substantial, as opposed to three salads in a box. We change the menu every three weeks; we try different things and see what hits."

Recent attention to the dietary dangers of sugar have generated a big demand for sugar-free foods, but we Irish love our treats and Ronan has addressed this.

"We have a line of sugar-free desserts that we make ourselves - they're the sugar-free version of our old favourites and we can't make them fast enough.

"Trends are changing quickly now and restaurants are becoming more inventive and daring. Micro menus, with just a few course choices, are huge at the moment, while lots of places are now becoming 'one-strike' restaurants, specialising in fish, or steak.

"I think you'll also see more restaurants opening off the beaten track as city centre locations are snapped up by the groups.

"We don't have the huge populations or potential markets as, say, London or New York, but it's a vibrant and exciting time."  

What is so 'hot' right now?

• Micro menus in restaurants

• Sugar-free treats

• Veggie-centric dining

• Uncommon cuts of meat - the onglet steak is having a moment

• The introduction of condiments and spices we're haven't been widely exposed to before e.g. Sririacha, a staple in Thai cooking that's catching on here

• The use of insects or insect products

Irish Independent

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