SYDNEY Looking for a taste treat for a special snack? Perhaps a packet of chocolate covered bugs, chocolate-chip mealworms or cricket lollipops will hit the spot.
Australia's Aborigines have been eating witchetty grubs for centuries, but now entomologist Skye Blackburn is breeding edible bugs and selling them to Australians from all walks of life, and as special treats at corporate functions and children's parties.
"Eating insects is a fairly new concept," said Blackburn, who runs The Green Scorpion and bug shop, a Sydney-based online venture that sells the creatures for human and animal consumption, as well as for collections.
"On Father's Day we sold a lot of gift packs, which included chocolate covered bugs, choc-chip mealworm cookies and flavored lollipops with bugs in the center."
As with many business ventures, the beginning was serendipitous.
"We were doing a pet and animal expo, and needed a good promotional item to get people to come over to the stall. So we started making the lollipops and they were really successful," she said.
She also sells bugs ground up into chocolate-coated cookies, frozen bugs and roasted bugs, so they can be mailed to customers.
A trial pack retails for A$20 ($19.64). The bugs can be bought by the 100 grams or in kilogram lots.
"You would use them like you would use meat really," said Blackburn, adding that mealworms have a nutty mild flavor and are a little bit more crunchy than crickets.
"If you put crickets into a hot dish, like a stir fry or a curry, they do absorb the flavor a little bit better than the mealworm."
Blackburn said edible bugs also offer nutritional benefits.
"Crickets are high in calcium, termites are high in iron and silk worms have special amino acid and good fats in them, while tarantula and water bugs mainly have protein factor," she said, noting that they are also low in fat.
Sales are picking up. Blackburn said the shop sells 1,000 lollipops a week and that she has about 100 regular customers who buy raw insects to use as part of their daily diet, including university professors, doctors and lawyers.
But eating bugs can still be a hard swallow in the land of the barbecue.
"Some people can't get past the fact they are eating a bug," she said.
"Some people spit it out because that would be a normal reaction if you got a bug in your food. Others are willing to try and love it." ($1 = 1.018 Australian dollars)
(Editing by Elaine Lies)
(This story corrects spelling of entomologist in paragraph two)