“Hey, pass me that plate of crispy crickets, would you?” OK, this was not overheard at any recent dinner party I know of, but we could be heading in that direction. That’s right: People are talking about eating bugs. And that’s just one of many offbeat food trends that are getting some national attention and driving search spikes on Allrecipes.com and Google. Some of them are really out there (bone-marrow doughnuts? edible charcoal?), but others are truly worth exploring, especially if you're into healthy eating.
1) Algae Oil
Coconut oil is so last year. This year’s darling is algae oil. Yeah, algae — as in pond scum and green slime. The stuff you scrub away, rake out, and avoid under most circumstances. But the very thing that makes algae such a nuisance also makes it a great potential food source: Algae grows easily and readily, without need for clean water or any land, and its environmental footprint is smaller than that of most foods we eat. Luckily, it tastes better than it looks. In cooking-oil form, it’s a good source of the same kind of fatty acid found in salmon and fish oil—but it doesn’t smell or taste fishy. It also has a higher smoke point than olive oil, which means you can use it for searing and direct-heat grilling. (Find it at amazon.com or thrivealgae.com.) There are also high-protein, gluten-free algae flours in the works, and algae powders for egg and dairy substitutes.
It’s one of the top food searches on Google, thanks to the plant’s highly touted anti-inflammatory benefits. Its reputation is not completely unfounded. There are promising studies on turmeric’s role in fighting everything from cancer and depression to diabetes and heart disease, and it’s used extensively in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicines. Still, no one food is going to cure all that ails us and turmeric is not a magic bullet. (Speaking of which, don’t jump on the turmeric bandwagon if you are on blood thinners, as turmeric can prevent clotting.) Most of us buy turmeric in powder form, but the rhizome has a family resemblance to its cousin ginger. In fact, it’s often combined with ginger in curries, and it’s also used to add a warm, slightly peppery and bitter flavor—and its signature orange-yellow color—to mustard, cheeses, stews, and more. Try fresh turmeric in Golden Milk!
Eating crunchy critters is gaining buzz (heehee) in the food world. Americans are generally anti-insect in food (and life), but humans have been enthusiastically eating bugs for tens of thousands of years—long before reality TV shows used them to up their gross-out ante. Worldwide, 2 billion human insectivores (see, there’s even a name for it! ) eat 1,900 species of beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers, cicadas, crickets, termites, dragonflies, bees, wasps, and ants the way we matter-of-factly might have a burger or pork chop—that is, without much thought for the creature it came from. And there are actually very good reasons to eat bugs. The United Nations believes bugs may be the answer to providing the ever-growing world population with sustainable, nutrient- rich food. Some savvy start-ups — like All Things Bugs, which makes cricket powder, and Chapul, which sells energy bars made with crickets—now have products available both online and in stores.
If you've never been one to eat like a bird, millet might just change that. Millet is an ancient grain that birds love but need to eat in limited quantity. (It’s sort of like bird candy—if given a choice, many birds would happily eat only millet, but it doesn’t provide all the nutrients they need.) Millet as a regular part of our diet is great, though. As do all whole grains, it has impressive health benefits, especially related to diabetes and heart disease. Millet is used in India to make roti (flatbread) and in Africa to make porridge and millet beer. Not only is it a great addition to energy bars (it’s fairly high in protein, as grains go), but it can also be used to make a creamy, polenta-like side dish, a hot breakfast cereal, and a fluffy dish that resembles rice or couscous.
5) Chickpea Meringue
Have you discovered the joys and health benefits of chickpea flour, which can be used to make higher-protein (and gluten-free) pasta, thin flatbreads (called socca), healthier cakes and cookies, and a thickener for soup and stew? There’s also now a vegan chickpea meringue made from the liquid drained off cans of chickpeas, liquid called aquafaba. It's whipped and combined with sugar, then baked into meringue-like cookies. Seriously. Good.
Check out more healthy inspiration at New Year/New You