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Insect Food Cart Success?

Has anyone had success/experience with an insect food cart, or has heard about a success?

I'm familiar with the Don Bugito folks out in San Francisco, but have yet to experience it. I'm curious how well they're doing, if they have a model that could be replicated elsewhere (especially in the Midwest).

I'm in Madison, Wisconsin and am considering possibly starting something around here. Not sure what types of foods to start with. It seems like tacos might be the way to go.


  • Sweet stuff like DonBugito's vanilla ice cream w/rum carmelized mealworm larvae sounds like easiest to market; the carmelized larvae are pre-made, storable & thus ready to garnish any dessert, like ice cream or yogurt. The operation's fresh tacos were (are still?) made with waxworms bought & frozen until stir fried; waxworms are considered by some to be the best tasting bug for western tastes.... The online store sells mealworms in variations of oven toasted with spice, carmelized, toasted then chocolate dipped; also crickets with limed chili & toasted crickets dipped in chocolate. Source = This video at 4:20 mark moves from street reactions into the proprietress' home base showing some of her cooking & a clever mealworm rearing set-up. Link =

  • Thanks, gringojay! I ordered Don Bugito's stuff off Etsy. Definitely like the crickets and the mealworms. Wasn't too impressed with the carmelized larvae though. A big challenge will be coming up with a product that can compete with other more traditional food cart/festival offerings. Wonder how well Don Bugito are able to draw repeating customers, and not just curious one-timers.

  • We've also heard via twitter that this food truck in Austin is experimenting with insects on their menu - although it doesn't appear listed on their online menu.

  • Hi ericbescak, for your food cart bug how about making mealworm felafel; where replace most, or even all, of the chickpea flour with mealworms? The patty spicing & vegetable garnish options stays the same, as well as the tahini based dressing & plopping the cooked pieces into a pita . In cool climate Madison mealworms are probably the most practical bug for you to rear for becoming profitable.

    I haven't made this felafel but suggest something like the following. Blanch the mealworm larvae, drain, press them quite firmly inside a folded over cloth to get rid of body fluids & squeeze out a lot of their fat for the cloth to pick up. If you get to a commercial venture, or have access, then you can easily make yourself a manul hydraulic press out of a car jack.

    Take the resulting mealworm press cake & break it into as small fragments as needs be to become blendable with dry spices' mix regularly available cheaply. I think pulsing mealworm press cake pieces a "bullet" mini-blender pod or coffee/spice grinder would readily produce a friable product if you've 1st pressed a good deal of original mealworm larvae's oil out.

    You should experiment with lightly dry-pan toasting the pulverized press cake to see if that makes a difference in how utilitarian the degree of de-fatted mealworms is in your end-product. My surmise is that you will want to do some flash heating, even if not toasting the friable material to the point of any visible color change, both for microbial neutralization & to be able to reassure people of your food safety precaution.

    Then take that high protein content meal & use it in place of garbanzo flour to make into felafel balls. By reducing the raw material's oil content less off-flavors & rancidity (oxidation) can occur during the time that batch of felafel mix is waiting to be balled up & fried. Felafel vendors have their assortment of ready to use mixes set aside & by keeping their oil hot create on the spot fast food. Felafel has more potential for visual appeal to a customer (than the taco's tortilla slit) due to how a felafel's open top features the spectrum of top garnishes a customer asks - making those who see someone with it want their own.

  • Again ericbescak - For the "Meal Maker of Madison" food cart it would be good to have a variety of dishes. These can be mixed & matched as either side portions or serve as alternative main dishes.

    One suggestion is to elaborate a mealworm taboule; cracked wheat marinated with vegetables & de-fatted mealworm larvae. Consider using a young mealworm larvae; even though they will have less mass the end-product should look more like people associate fine taboule should. I would blanch them, pat or spin dry & then press them.

    This time you'd want less of a bulk meal cake & more of individual tidbits. Try broadcast sowing the larvae over a cotton cloth(s) to get a shallow layer(s); fold the fabric over & press decisively with something like a rolling pin (if commercially worthwhile a hydraulic press is more thorough at flattening to squeeze oil into the fabric or a drainage hole). When unpack it coax the layer(s) apart to fluff out the pieces somewhat.

    Then you should see if it is worthwhile to briefly dry heat (pre-heated regular oven or convection oven or dry-pan toast) the larvae. The food safety regulations might necessitate this in your area if you must submit to inspections for meeting legal limits on microbial spore(s) count in cold food. The tactic should not over cook them for use as an ingredient in taboule.

    Use the de-fatted lightly dessicated larvae along with the cracked wheat/mint in the same citrus based marinade. If you have displaced (pressed out) their initial oil content & not carbonized their bodies then I anticipate the larvae will absrob marinade & plump back up a bit as small tidbits in the plate's visuals.

    Continuing in the mediterranean Meal Maker theme you should be able to elaborate a hummus spread. I'd try substituting younger de-fatted mealworm larvae that have been pressed for some of the usual chickpeas & then adding in the bit of olive oil needed to get the consistancy desired; keep using sesame tahini in the recipe to still drive the taste. You don't want visible larval pieces, in my opinion, but may find some customers who like a titillating sprinkle of pan-toasted young full-fat larvae - in immitation of hummus sparsely sprinkled with exotic pine nuts.

    Couscous should also be ammenable to presenetation with some added mealworm larvae. For soupy food items consider very briefly pressure cooking the larvae for tenderness that holds up. To elaborate a pasta salad with the larvae I think their best pre-preparation will also work out to be a brief pressure cooking them. You probably can confect a kind of burger from de-fatted mealworm press cake meal blended with suitable vegetables/spices & egg; them make it into a small patty to grill.

  • Holy moly, thanks gringojay! I'm ready to start some cooking.

    Do you have any suggestions for ordering insects in Wisconsin? I have the "Eat-a-Bug" cookbook and the closest spot he lists is Timberline in Illinois.

    I looked them up, and the order came with some high shipping costs. I would like to find something as dependable but in or closer to Madison, Wisconsin.

    I would start with wax worms, meal worms and crickets.

  • Hi ericbescak, --- if you are going to go forward with public sales then I suggest you understand some health issues that the Department of Health might raise.

    (2012) "Microbiological aspects of processing and storage of edible insects" makes several points about mealworms (& house cricket Acheta domesticus). Quote (from abstract): "... A short heating step was sufficient to eliminate Enterobacteriaceae, however some spore forming bacteria will survive in cooked insects.... Lactic fermentation of composite flour/water mixtures containing 10, or 20% powdered roasted mealworm larvae resulted... in...shelf-life & ... control of Enterobacteria and bacterial spores..." (ie: spores could not germinate & therefore naturally occuring spore forming bacteria did not grow on their host fermented mealworm larvae).

    This study interestingly did not find there were pathogenic species of Enterobacteria or sporolators on the mealworm larvae (nor crickets). The experiments revealed that simply roasting the insects was a not reliable method to kill the Enterobacteria. A 5 minute boiling did kill the Enterobacteria. Due to the inability of a 5 minute boiling to kill sporolators (even though boiling unlike roasting killed Enterobacteriacea) caused authors to insist on following up with 5-7* Celsius refrigeration for safe storage.

    When they are first boiled the mealworm larvae (& crickets) then they kept fine at the specified 5-7*C refrigeration temperature for more than 14 days. In contrast, if they only refrigerated & had not pre-boiled the fresh larvae then those became spoiled for human consumption by the original bacterial load within about 14 days.

    Link to above cited 2012 abstract (& of course publisher's option to buy ) =

    You may be interested to hear that Salmonella spp. & Listeria monocytogenes were not found in samples of commercial mealworms (& crickets) from what are classified as closed-cycle farms (no exposure to wild insects or contaminants) tested by V. Giaccone. The insects did have Gram positive bacteria & those were primarily determined to be Staphylococcus spp (average 103 cfu/gram), Lactobacullus spp. (average 105 cfu/gram) & Micrococcus spp. (I think average was 106 cfu/gram) Source = Giaccone's (2005) chapter " Hygiene and health features of Minilivestock." appears in "Ecological implications of minilivestock: potential of insects, rodents, frogs and snails" from Enfield, N.H. Science Publisher. pgs. 579–98.

    In closing, in case you missed the thread on handling precautions Andrew has advised wearing a face mask when handling a lot of insects. Once they are boiled this is probably not so important. Some people's skin can react as well; there is a quirk called sensitization which occured in some people over time.

  • Thanks for info on North Prairie, gringojay. Will check them out.

    And I'm nowhere near public sales. I really need to get to understand the farming and food possibilities here. I'll be doing a lot testing and learning for a awhile.

    Nonetheless, I did reach out to the Madison department of health about what criteria/regulations a business would have to meet in order to serve bugs and got this response:

    ** Eric, I have consulted with my State partners and here is their determination:

    About a year ago DATCP asked the FDA for guidance on edible insects and they did not have much to give us at this time. As for approved source as of right now it would basically be anything that is not clearly a pest insect. So a facility cannot pick up their pests from the floor, cook and serve them.

    The bottom line from the FDA was that insects in food not be considered edible unless they were deliberately added. He said no “vermin” type insects since this gives them a sanitation loophole they could drive a truck through.

    Good Luck with your new business venture.**

    Obviously, I would want to go above and beyond with cleanliness and sanitation, so keeping up-to-date with the studies you posted will be key. But it's looking like the city's not going to require much beyond what's expected of your traditional commercially-available foods.

  • I spent some time at the Farmers' Market in Madison this weekend. It seems like a great place to introduce insect snacks.


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