Interview with Sebastien Collin and Annie Ruelle-Sanguine, founders of Les Criquets Migrateurs
Tell us about how you firts became interested in edible insects
Everything started in 2011, when the french news broadcasted a short documentary about edible insects in Laos. Sébastien was studying biology, and he was in the middle of deciding where his studies should be heading from there on. And as he saw this documentary, he thought of all the possibilities insects could offer to gastronomy. Back then, insects were not really a thing in Europe – there were a couple of farms, but people did not know much about entomoculture. It looked like everything had to be invented – and that’s what Sébastien decided to do. He oriented his studies towards agricultural sciences and started to work occasionnaly with new french insect companies, until one day, as he was between two jobs, he decided to launch his own project with Annie: Les Criquets Migrateurs. Annie, as a science communicatress, enthusiastically joined him in this adventure.
What’s Les Criquets Migrateurs project?
Nowadays, a lot of people have heard about edible insects. What they mostly hear about them is how healthy and environmental-friendly they are – but rarely how to cook them. Which is kind of an issue if you want people to eat them! As Arnold van Huis puts it: people are not going to eat something if it does not taste good. And insects have been presented as a magic pill that will save the world plenty of times – but as a proper ingredient that people could actually use in real life in their kitchen today, not so much.
So, this is what we are working on. With the Criquets Migrateurs (migratory locusts in french), we are on a world tour to visit countries around the planet where people eat edible insects. We want to meet the people who capture, farm and cook insects, in order to learn more about the cuisine behind these six-legged ingredients and their places in local cultures. The best way to understand how to integrate insects in the kitchen is to see them in an actual cooking context – and to do this, we need to meet the people who have been using them as ingredients for centuries, sometimes millenias.
Our goal is to produce a documentary series, write blog articles and make cooking video – the kind that shows you how to easily prepare delicious food and inspires you to try it for yourself. The perfect format to show that insects are just ingredients – and really good ones, too! Everything is broadcasted for free on our website and on YouTube.
So far, we have been to Japan, Cambodia, Thailand, Australia and Mexico; we are currently back in France to work on our european episode, and we are flying to Cameroon and Zimbabwe at the end of October.
What’s the best edible insects dish you’ve tried?
[Sébastien] It is hard to choose, but I would have to say the fried spiders from Cambodia. The legs are nice and crunchy, the body tastes like crab, and the abdomen is like a big crunchy nut. They’re basically like ground-dwelling crabs, but easier to eat!
[Annie] Ant “eggs”, whether they’re from Thailand or Mexico, are the softest ingredient I’ve ever worked with. So good. So great. Now I’m craving them, thank you!
And the worst?
[Sébastien] A beetle on a market in Thailand. It was some kind of small adult coleoptera, mostly hard shell, and a wee bit overcooked, which made it bitter.
[Annie] Everything we found from that one merchant in Thailand. He seemed to be running a business aimed at tourists and the insects were really badly prepared, killing their flavours.
Do you think that this new food will soon became popular also in the West?
We hope so! There’s still a long way to go: the legislation needs to improve, the prices need to drop, and most importantly, people would need to become less reluctant to eating them. But we are moving in the right direction! People are still a bit weirded out by insects, but they have heard about them. We were a bit harsh on the topic of telling people about the ecological and health wonders of insects earlier, but to be fair, this is exactly the kind of stuff europeans love to hear about. Our goal is to understand the place of insects in local cultures around the world; in Europe, their place is that of a healhy, environmental-friendly food, although the fear factor is still very present. This would explain why the most promising way of integrating insects in the european diet would be to use insect-based meals in patties: by hiding the insect, you have all its nutritional and environmental properties but no fear of eating them.
What are your future plans regarding edible insects?
Well, for starters, finishing this project! We still have Cameroon and Zimbabwe to visit, and then we need to edit and publish the documentary series. We would also like to take part in exhibitions, conferences or symposiums to show our work. And after that, we’ll go back to applying for jobs ; Sébastien is aiming at insect companies, to work on developing the edible insects in Europe, whereas Annie would be happy to work anywhere in science communication whether it includes talking about edible insects or not. We also want to try and raise our little batches of mealworms at home just to see if it’s achievable to get a homemade insect meal per week and share our experiments through our website!