The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Pets

October 9, 2013

Bugging out at Penn State's Great Insect Fair

UNIVERSITY PARK - Jeremy Collins looked at his mom, Ginny Collins, took a deep breath and then headed over to the Insect Bistro. He stood in front of the chocolate-covered crickets for a minute before he picked one up.

Slowly, he raised his right hand to his mouth, while his left hand clenched his nose. The 9-year-old then popped the insect dessert item into his mouth quickly as he chomped on it.

“That wasn’t actually bad,” he said as he reached for another. “It was just kind of crunchy and chocolatey.”

French culinary-trained chef Kristi Branstetter said she was provided more than 9,000 insects to be made into snacks for the 20th annual Great Insect Fair at the Bryce Jordan Center on Saturday. The Penn State entomology department hosted the event.

The insects were cultivated for human consumption and fed apples to enhance their flavor, Branstetter said.

“These were brought in from the entomology department and provided to me,” Branstetter said.

This was Branstetter’s first year cooking up insect snacks as she took over the Insect Bistro from Dorothy Blair, an assistant professor in the department of nutritional sciences at Penn State.

Among the snacks were “chocolate chirp cookies,” white chocolate-covered mealworms, dry-roasted crickets, chocolate-covered crickets and mealworm sushi. Moth larvae hummus also was included in the mix.

“The first thing I thought of was how to make a large amount of these snacks that can also look a little appealing to the eater,” Branstetter said. “Our goal is to get people to try something different and maybe even do a little education while we’re at it.”

Insects contain protein and enhance that portion of daily consumption, Branstetter said.

“Believe it or not, they can be very healthy,” Branstetter said. “Bugs can also take on the flavor of food like tofu does.”

Ginny Collins said she was a little squeamish when it came to trying the insect snacks, but Jeremy continued to dig into the variety once he got used to the first bite.

“I’m looking around and seeing that it’s the adults who are hesitant to try it,” Collins said. “The kids are digging right in, but I guess if people eat clams and crab and oysters and other shellfish, then I guess people can eat bugs too.”

The Insect Bistro was just one of many stands and activities for the estimated 6,500 visitors. Other activities included a Build-A-Bug contest, a moth and butterfly tent, pesticide-safety mini golf, cockroach races, honey tasting and the insect zoo.

Six-year-old Dean Ruocco’s face lit up when he was able to hold a scorpion in his hand at the Hold A Live Bug station with Ryan “ The Bug Man ” Bridge.

“We drove all the way here just for that,” grandmother Pat Cox said. Dean is from Upper Darby, near Philadelphia, while his grandparents are from Lancaster. “The scorpion was in his hand, and he just loved it.”

At a stand nearby, cockroach races were underway. Visitors were able to drop a cockroach into a PVC pipe and watch it race with up to three other cockroaches until it crossed the finish line about a meter from the start.

Other children were at booths getting their faces painted like a butterfly or spider, while the rest checked out the butterfly tent.

“I just want to see if I can get a butterfly to land on my finger,” said Sophie Castro, 7, who was waiting in line with her little sister, Izzy, 6.

Her parents, Ben and Jennifer Castro, said their daughters were more anxious for the butterfly exhibits than anything else.

“Right now, that’s their favorite thing,” Ben Castro said. “We came here last year for the first time and they ate it right up. For Christmas, we got them a butterfly set with a net and all that, and they’re really having a ball with it.”

Urban entomologist Steve Jacobs, who organized the Great Insect Fair, said while the event targets a lot of children and families, there is something for everyone.

Kay Hutton is a member of Grace Lutheran Church in downtown State College.

She said that the other day, she helped rescue a flying insect at the parking lot of the church from being run over. Not knowing what the insect was, she snapped a photo of it on her iPhone and came to the fair Saturday in search of an entomologist who could identify it for her.

Just by looking at the photo, “The Bug Man” Bridge said it was a tussock moth.

“I knew I came to the right place,” Hutton said.

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