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Cambridge Uni delivers first insect-based Formal Hall

The University of Cambridge Catering Manager’s Committee (CMC), has strengthened its commitment to sustainability by hosting an insect and sustainable wine tasting meal for students and staff, followed by its first ever insect-based Formal Hall.

The unique events embrace entomophagy, the practise of eating insects, and the first event will take place at Darwin College on Monday 20 May.

Ivan Higney, catering manager at Darwin College and chairman of the University of Cambridge Catering Manager’s Committee, (pictured) said, “After the adoption of our progressive sustainability platform, we have been consistently looking for ways to increase our plant-based food offer, whilst also reducing our use of ruminant animal products such as beef and lamb cattle.

'We’ve delivered many new initiatives in line with our sustainability aims, and when insects were suggested as an alternative source of protein, we decided to create the first ever insect menu for a University of Cambridge Formal Hall.

'With this unique event, we hope to entice students and staff into trying some new and interesting sustainable options.”

A Formal Hall at the University of Cambridge is a college dining event steeped in ancient tradition. A three-course meal is served within each individual college dining hall, usually in candlelight, and students and academics wear their academic gowns.

The insect-based Formal Hall is a complete departure from traditional menus and will offer a three-course insect tasting menu for guests to taste. The menu will include cricket falafel and buffalo worm, which is the larvae of Alphitobius Diaperinus, (a species of beetle) and which is extremely nutritious due to their high protein and low-fat percentage. All insects will be are pre-cooked and include a range of roasted crickets, grasshoppers and mealworms. Additionally, a powder form of the insects may be used, which is added to the dishes.

Colleagues from not-for profit company Insects and Wine, will support Darwin College at the event and guide the guests through the experience.

According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation, an estimated two billion people eat insects as part of their normal diet. And roughly 2000 species have been identified as edible.

It is the first University of Cambridge Formal Hall to adopt an insect menu but not the first-time insects have been served there. In 2017, the trail blazing catering department at St John’s College, under the stewardship of catering and conference manager Bill Brogan, held an insect tasting session for students and staff. Main courses at the event included falafel hashara, buffalo worm, cricket falafel, zataar flatbread (made with cricket flour), tzadziki and tabbouleh.

Daniel Creedon from the Archipelago Restaurant in London hosted the event as guest chef to produce a range of recipes for the tasting panel. Creedon has rapidly gained a reputation for cooking with insects and has appeared on various media channels.

Brogan, who is also chairman of the Food Service Managers Group at the University of Cambridge, said, “The interest started roughly six years ago when I organised an insect tasting in London for the Food Service Managers Group. From the success of this, we presented the idea to Catering Manager’s Committee and hosted a three-course lunch of insects for the students.

'Since then, we have put insects on the menu during a college feast and held a wine and insect pairing session for the students and staff at St John’s College.”

While there are no immediate plans to put bug burgers or cricket fritters permanently on college menus, attendees were able to hear about the possibility of insects becoming a more established part of diets in the future.

Brogan added, “The main aim of the tasting session was to start a discussion about the role that insects might come to play in our diets over time. While many people still feel queasy at the thought of eating a plate of beetles or a deep-fried grasshopper, in many other the cultures, the practice of eating insects is completely normal.

'We’re not going to start serving insects to students at dinner full time, but we do want to want to encourage new thinking about the challenges that we face when it comes to how we get our food.”

Many establishments across the UK already offer insects on their menus. London’s first insect bar opened in October 2016 at Carousel in Marylebone. And in 2008, the Nordic Food Lab by René Redzepi opened. Redzepi serves ants at his Noma Restaurant in Copenhagen. Ant Gin for Noma Restaurant is produced in Cambridge.

Most edible insects are from Holland with some are produced in Devon and the Lake District and then distributed throughout the UK. 38 UK firms have asked for approval to raise insects as food for human consumption.