I recently interviewed Louise Morris from *almost launched* Rebel Food Tasmania who farm (and will soon sell) a range of insects as delicious and nutritious food. Read on to find out what she and Rebel Food are up to…

Who is Rebel Food and what are you up to?

Rebel Food Tasmania is a new enterprise farming insects as human food. We’re doing things our way and a bit out of the ordinary as we’re working to a local food economy vision. We grow small herds in small spaces that we hope will have a big impact on food, reducing food waste, provide a new business in regional Tasmania, and bringing a new premium product to the Tasmanian food scene.

Farming and eating insects isn’t a new thing. Right now insect products are being sold in supermarkets in Europe, the USA and are starting to take hold in Australia. And of course, let’s not forget that 80% of the global population eats insects as a normal part of their diet. While most of our processed food stuffs like store bought bread, have insects just from the realities of factory and kitchen processes plus food regulations allow some trace insect in commercial foods.

We are in the minority overlooking this source of nourishment.

This past year we’ve been taking a fair bit of time to test our theories, learning about the best feed stocks and testing our insect end products with people who have expertise in nutrition, taste and what works out in the world. It’s a big adventure, and so far we have been overwhelmed by the interest of other people and businesses who are interested in putting bugs on the menu.

Mealworms with native pepperberry and coffee

When it comes to protein production, how is farming insects better for our landscapes than farming larger livestock? 

There is a lot of media going around about insects being the super sustainable protein source of the future. The ability to farm these little critters in small spaces with minimal water, and on food waste is an amazing opportunity.

That said we are also very mindful that what is used to power the temperature control systems is a major component of the energy and financial sustainability equation. It also needs to be named upfront that vertical farming systems can become intensive farming systems if done just for money, which does not do any favours to the animals being raised or those of us eating the food

includes using fairly run of the mill feed sources, such as commercial chicken feed and other highly processed commercial cereal mixes to get them fat and fried as quickly as possible. This flies in the face of producing a nourishing or sustainable insect based food, so we’re doing it our way – with fresh food, a bit of extra time and attention to learnings.

Part of the reason for doing a long period of research and development is to make sure we can actually grow and breed insects from farm and food waste. Housed in temperature controlled systems that are viable and run on renewable energy, and that we are sure of both the quality of the insects on the plate, and that insect farming in Tasmania is a long term viable addition to the Local Food Economy.

Crickets in a tub

What insects are you farming and which one’s your favourite to eat at the moment?

The primary focus is on the domestic cricket (Acheta domesticus), for a flour product that can be included into foodstuffs in the longer term, and also to supply some early adopter restaurants in here Tasmania and Sydney for bespoke bugs on their menu.

To add a bit of interest and variety, mealworms (Tenebrio molitor) and wood roaches (Parcoblatta pensylvanica) are also being grown because, well – why not?! Not to mention they all taste pretty great.

As part of the research and development period, we are fact checking whether it’s true that the insects take on some of the flavour profiles of what they have been eating. Short answer, yes they do.

During pumpkin season and the apple season there was a detectable sweeter edge. Wine marc was an absolute winner for plumper, sweeter crickets (maybe a bit drunk too, who knows) while coffee grounds with mustard leaf is still a reliable foundation feed for giving a spicy edge. Not to mention carrots and root vegetables, they love the carrots as a moisture and food source.

In terms of cooking them up: I’m really enjoying whole crickets as part of dishes, and doing a lot of cricket flour inclusions into baked goods. I’m loving the cooking experiments with mealworms as they have a slight cheesy end taste to them which rounds off dishes beautifully. The surprise of the cooking experiments has been using woodies, they are umami powerhouses. A little bit goes a very long way.

Do they really taste good or do you have to drown then in soy sauce before eating them?

One of my bugbears (excuse the pun), is seeing insects served up that have just had the S#*t fried out of them. This means you lose all the taste profiles, not to mention much of the nutritional benefits of eating insects. I’ve had a few examples of insects presented as a dish where it was just texture and oil. Cook anything like that and it all tastes the same, fried.

An easy introductory way to cook up your first batch of crickets is a bit of sesame oil, in a pan. Throw them in there for a quick fry, add some sesame seeds, and after a minute or so add them to a good salad or Asian veggie type dish, squirt with a bit of lemon and you’re away. They’re also good with avocado, as the crispy savoury element bounces off that creamy avocado base.

What type of environment are they grown in?

Good time to ask as we’re in scale up and future planning, so this is in flux. One system is a shed that is temperature controlled, the other of our test systems is a strawbale room that is not heated, but uses the polished concrete/window/insulation warmth as the temperature control. This is going remarkably well.

Living quarters for crickets consist of large tubs filled with places for them to hide (mostly egg cartons and large brassica leaves at this stage of the season), and as they get older the boys make lots of noise as they chirp and flirt…crickets are mad flirts!

Tasmanian native Pepperberry infused crickets

What’s the role of the Insect Protein Association? 

The IPAA is the industry representative body for those involved in the insect protein business either as food or animal feed producers. We’re working to develop strong industry standards and frameworks to build a long-term viable insect industry for human food and animal feed. Industry wide standards in labelling, practice and transparency that people can trust, produces quality products and has a voice in legislative and regulatory areas to advocate for the little herds that can make a big impact on how agriculture is done.

When can people start buying your product?

We’re looking to be on menus at select Tasmanian and Sydney restaurants early 2018 with bespoke insects grown for their needs. We will be doing targeted events where the importance of flavour and how the insects are grown is part of the story, while scaling up our systems to be making clean, green Tasmanian grown cricket flour as a key ingredient people can incorporate into their everyday dishes.

Will you ship nationally and internationally through your website?

We are pretty focused on making sure we do things right, and that means not getting too big too fast. We will have national distribution options via our webpage and as our production systems grow, we will grow with that. A key for us at this point is not trying to take over the world, but to have a viable farming system that creates a meaningful and viable addition to our food system, is an efficient use of food waste to make more food, and above all produces a delicious high quality product.

Baked tapioca & cricket flour crackers with sesame seeds

Where to from here?

One of the big jobs for the next 6 months is to secure funds to scale up to larger facilities and fine tune our climate control systems, and of course the renewable energy mix supplying them. As we grow, and the bugs grow, we will keep trialling new options of feeding them with veggie farm and food waste to see what is the best food source available for each season. This is one of the most fun aspects of the whole entoprise (pardon the pun), finding new feed sources and new options for increasing efficiency and quality of the insects.

Oh, and did I mention insect frass (their poo)is a great addition to compost?! I am using the frass as part of the compost and veggie patch at home to see how it works on all the seasonal crops we grow and our fruit trees. So far it’s been a winner, with the frass compost tea being a pungent and powerful brew. The insects also get the fruits of their work back from our vegetable patch system. They have many a leafy green, broad bean, apple, squash, and whatever else is in season incorporated into their feed.

Early Adopters

We have some early adopters on the mainland and here in Tasmania including Meru Miso who are trialling fermenting our insects, Quartermasters Arms who have used all three of our insects species in pop up events and some of our state’s best restaurants ready to incorporate insects into their menu – as soon as we are public and launched. It’s all a bit exciting, and a bit overwhelming!

Keep an eye out for Rebel Food and their launch in late 2017. You can follow them on Instagram, and see a bit of the behind the scenes functions of insect farming, some of their foody experiments in using the insects in food (not deep fried) and general entomophagy goings on.

  • You can also listen to Louise on ABC Radio talking farming and eating insects here.