Posts tagged ‘permaculture food’

Farming Insects For Food

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. 
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Hey Pesto! Winter Greens Pesto Yum

While the winter crops come to an end and the spring crops are busy growing, one of the biggest crops coming out of the garden are around a hundred different types of green things. Coriander, rainbow chard, rocket, silverbeet, kale and the leaves from brocolli, cauliflowers (yes, you can eat them too). Plus a plethora of wild greens like dandelion, fat hen, chickweed, nettle, to name a few – they’re all delicious and nutritious.

There are a couple of ways I like to make sure I eat as many as possible – kale chips are a big winner and so is pesto. Contrary to what some people might think, you don’t need basil and pine nuts to make pesto – in our cool temperate climate, things things don’t often come in abundance. We make vegan pesto out of any greens that happen to be thriving in our garden – here’s how.

IMG_6330Rainbow chard, curly kale and coriander – a few of the greens in our pesto

Pick a range of greens from your veggie beds (or some of the edible weeds growing on the edges) chop them up nice and fine and pop them in a large bowl.

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When you make pesto – garlic is your best friend, we’re firm believers that more is better. So get as much garlic as you can, chop it up roughly and add it to the same bowl as the greens. Our garlic has the vague name of Tasmanian purple garlic – we’ve got a whole bunch left over from two seasons ago and it’s only now just sprouting. Perfect for pesto.

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The only other ingredients we use are olive oil, sea salt and sunflower seeds. We also use almonds or pepitas – whatever is more available at the time.

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Add all the ingredients into the bowl and find a way to pulverise it – we use a bar mixer thingo which works ok. Other people use a food processor or smash it up in a mortar and pestle.

You may need to add more olive oil as you go to get the right consistency – don’t bother skimping on the oil and no, water is not a good replacement for oil – I’ve tried that and it just isn’t pesto.

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I like my pesto a bit chunky and “stiff” so it holds its own shape on a spoon (see below). If you want yours more runny, add more olive oil. You’ll notice we don’t add any cheese, we’ve found that its the garlic that really gives the ‘pesto’ taste and that cheese is just a bit of ‘bling’ that you don’t need – in our humble opinion.

IMG_6344That’s it, pop it in a jar and store it in the fridge or eat it fresh. I like to eat it with carrots, on home made pasta or olive oil crackers. Right now I’m just eating it with a spoon for a late breaky, it’s darn tasty.

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Conscious Catering

We’re lucky to have a Source Community Wholefoods as our local food co-op in Hobart – it’s a beauty.

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Built on university land by students and community members, it was born as a thought around 10 years ago and has been in operation for around 6.

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The building is made from local timber, straw bales and clay light straw and the small community garden around it includes an espaliered apple orchard, pizza oven, vegetable garden and a stage for music gigs.

 

 

These days it functions as a food co-op, cafe, community garden, a meeting place and as a *kick-arse* catering enterprise, providing ethical, simple food with minimal packaging and serious yum factor. One of the key drivers for this enterprise is Lissa Villeneuve.

IMG_5931Lissa in the Source kitchen

Lissa has a long history with good food – growing it, cooking it and eating it – she’s a good one to have on your side when you need to feed many mouths.

IMG_5949Organic carrots heading for the oven

12814065_239328299734799_3736113899814905060_nPotato salad 11143101_239328066401489_1922842870526842006_oCucumber with minted beetroot

IMG_5941Bulk dry wholefoods at the Source food co-op

She sources wholesome fresh produce from both the food co-op and the community garden for her meals, meaning all food is generally in season, local and therefore at its best.

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IMG_5943Grapes in the Source community garden *pumping*

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IMG_5939Fresh produce sourced mostly from local farmers (bananas not included of course)…

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The “truth window” inside the co-op where you can see the straw bales and some of the pictures showing the garden design (designed by me) and evolution of the space.

As well as catering for events, Source also do a great food stall for festivals and parties….

12778721_239329023068060_6826903074164236758_oDrea and Lissa at the Koonya Garlic Festival.

We regularly book in Source Catering for some of our workshops and events. They’re our number one choice as we have complete peace of mind knowing their food will be ethical, healthy and darn tasty every time. We’re lucky to have them – you can track them down and book them in here and by emailing Lissa at produce@sourcewholefoods.org.au.

12650946_10153941771839626_9110369626417763598_nA sweet gig taking place in the community garden

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Pasta From Scratch

Despite what some people think, making pasta is actually really really easy. All you need is egg and flour, sure you can add herbs and spices, but you don’t need to. I love making it because yes, it tastes good but also because it’s plastic free, no packaging at all – which is how food should be. Here’s how we do it at home.

Crack some eggs into a bowl, use as many eggs as there are people who’ll be eating – we’ve got two people eating, so we use two eggs.

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Roughly mix them up.

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Start adding flour and mixing it in until you have a good dough consistency. We don’t use actual measurements, just keep adding until it feels right. We mostly use white or wholemeal wheat flour (sometimes a mix of spelt and buckwheat), however you can use most – some gluten free flour will have trouble and fall apart, there a re lots of recipes out there, like this one.

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Towards the end of the mixing, ditch your mixing tool and use your hands to finish it off.

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Make sure there’s a nice layer of flour on it so it’s not sticky to touch.

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Wrap it in a plastic bag and pop it in a cool place or the fridge for at least 20 minutes. You can actually leave it there for days if you like, it’s simply helping it to ‘become one’ so it stays together nicely for the next steps.

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I got given a pasta machine around 10 years ago for a birthday present – it’s tops. We use it to make pasta (surprise, surprise), lasagna sheets and ravioli. However, you don’t need it, you can use a rolling pin (or a bottle of wine if you haven’t got one of those) and a knife.

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Get your dough out of the fridge and shape it into a sausage and then cut it into pieces to make it easy to roll out.

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Using just your hands, roughly massage each piece into a basic small oval.

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Now you’re ready to pop it through the pasta machine (or roll it out), start at the ‘thickest’ setting to give them the once over. You can then jump straight to the thickness you want to make it as thick or thin as you desire. I never go to the thinnest layer as it can sometimes fall apart (depending on your flour).

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IMG_4111My long and strong sheets and little Frida in the background, wondering when I’m going to go play with her.

You need to make sure you add more flour onto each sheet before you work with them so they’re never sticky, otherwise they can easily clog up the pasta machine and rip easily. You can now choose your style of pasta (flat or skinny worm is what I call the options) and pop the sheets through as below.

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Perhaps the best hot tip I ever learned was that from here you can just throw them in a bowl of flour (so they don’t stick together). You don’t need to sting up clothes lines everywhere in your house to dry your pasta. This was a bit revolutionary for me and adds to the easiness of the whole process.

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Usually I cook it straight away, however if you need to dry it out for later, just throw it out onto something like a cake rack so air can flow around it to dry it evenly. Once completely dry, you can pop it in a paper bag (so it can breath) and store it for a few weeks and probably months in cooler climates (it never lasts that long for me).

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When you do cook it, make sure you hang about. Unlike stuff from the shop, it’ll only take a couple of minutes in boiling water so don’t walk away from the stove, otherwise you’ll end up with something resembling clag glue.

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And as you can imagine, it tastes bucket-loads better than anything you’ll buy from the shop… Enjoy!

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Experiments In Cheese Making

So we have a little baby, right – and at the moment I have so much breast milk I have to occasionally express it to avoid my boob’s exploding.  Once I got over the social norms which imply it’s weird to consume your own breast milk (heaven forbid) I’ve been drinking some, adding some to yoghurt (which is based on cows milk) and this morning thought I’d experiment with making 100% breast milk cheese – as you do early on a Monday morning.

I used the same old ‘farm cheese’ recipe I always follow (in my head) when making cheese with cows milk as it’s super quick, easy and tasty. Here’s how I do it…

The first step is to bring the milk up to just before boiling point – around 80 degrees.

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Then, take it off the heat and add either lemon or apple cider vinegar. How much, you ask? I start with small amounts (i.e. half a lemon) and then add more until I see the milk curdle – which means the curd and whey separate which looks like milky snot globs forming amongst watering substance. Nice description, I know.

IMG_2294Alas, the 100% breast milk just did not want to curdle, I added more lemon, and then a touch of apple cider vinegar to see if that would make any difference. But it was beginning to taste super sour, so I surrendered to the fact that perhaps cheese made from 100% breast milk doesn’t work.

Some research suggests that breast milk has only 2.5% protein when compared to cows around 8% and goats 8.7%.  Apparently breast milk also has a bit more fat than the others but not my much.  When making cheese it is the proteins that react to form the characteristic curds.  The more protein the thicker the curd and higher the cheese yield.

In the name of a good science experiment, I also made a small batch of 70% cows milk and 30% breast milk cheese to compare the two. Below you can see cow/brest milk on the left which has been heated to 80 degrees and had 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar added to it (I ran out of lemons). Straight away it has curdled, which is what you want. Compare this to the 100% breast milk mix on the right where I had put the juice from a whole lemon and a few teaspoons of vinegar into it with a whole lot of nothing happening.

A bit more research reveals a chef called Daniel Angerer caused a bit of a stir making cheese and blogging about it  in 2010.  His recipe involves a 50% cow and 50% breast milk mix.  He also uses true rennet (derived from animals) rather than an acidulant – like lemon juice. You can also use vegetarian rennet made with microbes or from thistle plants, microbial rennet is usually fermented from bacteria but can also be genetically modified. You can can vegetable rennet online from websites like this one – I’m sure there are others as well.

IMG_2298Cows milk on the left and breast milk on the right

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The next step in cheese making is to strain the curdled mix through some cheese cloth – I put mine into a colander with a pot beneath it to catch the whey.

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You can simply leave it here while is slowly drains, or you can hang the cheesecloth up (as below) to begin shaping it.

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Before you walk away and let it drain, you can choose to add flavours at this point. I’ve added salt, pepper and thyme – which is herb of the moment in our house right now.

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Just pop in your flavours of choice and mix them through

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If you don’t hang it up, I encourage you to ‘press’ it with a bit of weight to speed up the draining process and to form a firm shape. I do something different every time, this morning I used a collection of bowls and plates to form my highly sophisticated press. IMG_2313

5 minutes later (I’m impatient) you have a soft mold of cheese ready to rock and roll. Of course you can leave it longer to get a firmer cheese, but technically you can eat it straight away.

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But what happened to the pot of failed breast milk cheese? I used it to cook a batch of brown rice – in the past I’ve also used it as a base for making a curry or stew instead of stock or water. It’s a pretty amazing resource which has major health giving properties and there’s no way I’m tipping it down the sink.

You can read more about the benefits of breast milk on the Australian Breastfeeding Association. 

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