The Whole Hive

Added on by Guillemette Barthouil.

posted by Guillemette Barthouil, recipe development for our Pestival menu

Stories on limitation.
In a contemporary context of infinite possibilities we look for constraints, both to challenge our creativity and give meaning to our action. Following the seasons, exploring a territory, collaborating with crazy producers... looking into these constructive interactions to push you to do better.

Blossoms are out in the Denmark and, like us, bees are flying around in search of fresh and tasty food.  Having lived on their own honey during winter, they are now looking for flower nectar, pollen, tree sap and resin to produce the honey, bee bread, propolis, royal jelly [1] and beeswax necessary for the hive community.

With the exception of honey, bee products are mainly considered medicinal. We eat them not because they are good but because they are good for us. Yet the bee hive produces a wide palette of fascinating flavours, which is rather incredible considering they all come from the same small house and are produced by the same animal.

So talking about limitation, I spent a few weeks trying to develop a dessert based only on the beehive.  We served this dish as part of our menu for the NFL talk and tasting workshop at Pestival in London, entitled ‘Exploring the Deliciousness of Insects’.



Beeswax is a natural wax produced by worker bees of the genus Apis. As the main building material it makes everything possible in the hive. In the hexagonal wax cells, bees store honey, pollen and nest their brood [2]. Bees secrete wax only while bringing nectar and pollen to the hive. The eight wax-producing glands are located on four abdominal spiracles. Produced by the glands, the wax is then seeped to the outside of the mirrors and cooled in contact with the air, forming a thin and white layer. It becomes progressively more yellow or brown by the incorporation of pollen oils and propolis – certainly a complex taste, though a less pure and consistent one.  We have therefore decided to cook with purified and bleached beeswax, which beekeepers use to make honeycomb foundation. 

Beeswax is mainly composed of esters of fatty acids and different long chain alcohols. To extract as much flavour as possible it seemed appropriate to infuse in a fatty solution like cream. And what to do with cream… ice cream, no? But then comes the difficult part: what is the best infusion temperature and time? After a few weeks of research (it has been a challenge) it seems that blending cold- and hot-infused creams gives the best result (at least for ice cream). The cold-infused cream for 18h at 4°C, enhances the subtle floral honey-like, nectary flavours while the hot infusion for 1h at 80°C [3] brings more structure to the ice cream with its resinous, earthy and astringent notes.

Beeswax ice cream recipe (for 1 paco container – 12 servings)

        - 70 g of beeswax

        - 400 g of cream 38% fat

        - 255 g of cow’s milk 3.5% fat

        - 200 g of cow’s milk yogurt

        - 93 g of trimoline

        - 3 g of guar gum

        - 1.3 g of salt

The day before :

Freeze, grind and cold-infuse 20 g of beeswax into 50 g of cream. Leave at 4°C for 18h.

Production day :

Freeze, grind and hot-infuse 50 g of beeswax into 350 g of cream. Put into water bath at 80°C for 1h.

Meanwhile, pass the cold infusion through a superbag. Weigh 30 g and reserve the cream. Weigh all the other ingredients. Melt the trimoline (should not be hot) and mix it with the milk, yogurt, guar and salt.

When the hot infusion is done, put it in the blast freezer until the cream reaches body temperature. The beeswax should solidify in a block – throw it away and pass the rest of the cream through a superbag. Weigh 270 g of the hot-infused cream and add the 30 g of cold-infused cream. Blend with the rest of the ingredients in a pacojet container and freeze.

Wait until it’s frozen, paco and most importanty taste it!

NFL Insects-9461.jpg

Bee bread is a fermented staple food of bees. Honey bees obtain two things from flowers: nectar for honey production and pollen. So why not to bring them together in a sauce? We all know plant pollen, a source of energy and allergy – and an essential part of the bees' diet as their primary source of protein. Yet it is a seasonal product, so the bees preserve it themselves – and what else but to ferment it! Lacto-fermentation [4] is hardly the sole domain of humans. Bees pack the pollen into a beeswax cell with their head. During the packing, the bees mix the pollen with nectar, enzymes and bacteria that will transform the plant pollen into bee pollen. The resulting material is more nutritious than the untreated pollen, both for the bees and for us. It also happen to taste fantastic.  Flowery top notes and a light bitterness persist, with a slight sourness and peach stone flavours from the fermentation and moist, dense yet powdery texture that coats your mouth. A rich food that could be balanced with a refreshing honey Kombucha.

Honey kombucha sauce recipe (for 12 servings)

        - 190 g of honey Kombucha  

        - 10 g of beebread

        - Agar agar

Weigh and mix the kombucha [5] and pollen. Stir.

Cold-infuse at 4°C for 18h (stirring occasionally, except for the last couple of hours). At the end the pollen should have sedimented. Pass the mixture through a superbag.

Weigh and add 0.6% of Agar.

Bring to the boil, wait for 30 s and let it cool down until it becomes a gel. Blitz it until smooth.


Propolis can remind one of a food that is better for you than it tastes. However, it has a fantastic aroma. This ‘bee glue’ sticks the hive together, protects the colony from foreign objects and inhibits microbial growth. A multifunctional product, it is made from resins from tree buds and sap, and composed of phenolic compounds (58%), beeswax (24%), lipids (8%), flavonoids (6%) and terpenes (0.5%) [6].

The beeswaxy and fatty components of the propolis are not necessary for the dish, since they are already there in the ice cream. To extract polyphenols and terpenes we made a tincture, macerating 10% of propolis powder into 60% ethanol for at least one week. This gave us a strongly resinous, nectary, minty solution with a good bitter taste - an astringent concentrate that we use to spray on the sweet honey crisps.

Honey crisps recipe

        - Crumiel (freeze-dried honey and maltodextrin)

        - Propolis tincture (10% of propolis in 60% ethanol infused for a minimum of one week)

IMG_0004 - copie.JPG

Dust a thin layer of crumiel on the moulds. To reproduce the beautiful hexagonal beeswax shape, we made our own moulds by pressing beeswax into silicon.  Put in the oven at 150°C for 3min. Remove from oven, press beneath a silicon sheet and return to the oven for 30s.


Take out, wait until the caramel has reached body temperature and peel the crisps carefully from the mould.


Just before eating spray with some propolis tincture.


As you may have noticed, infusion is a recurrent technique through these recipes.  Dealing with food that has been processed by bees already, the aim for this dessert was to alter these products as little as possible. Infusing the ingredients in cream, alcohol or water according to the composition of the substrate has allowed us to extract flavours to reintegrate them in our edible beehive.

Of course, in the end it must taste good – otherwise this all becomes just storytelling.


[1] We have not managed to integrate royal jelly in this dish, though this is worth further investigation, especially considering its umami component.

[2] Thank you to Annette Bruun Jensen, Associate professor at the University of Copenhagen, Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, for the precious information about bee's life cycle.

[3] 80°C has been prefered since the beeswax melting point is around 63°C, depending on its purity, and its discoloration occurs above 85°C.

[4] Vasquez, A ; Olofsson, T. The lactic acid bacteria involved in the production of bee pollen and bee bread. Journal of Apicultural Research,vol 48, 3, 189-195

[5] The sugar content and sourness of the sauce depends on the development stage of the Kombucha. For futher details have a look at our post on Kombucha.

[6] Farooqui, T; Farooqui, AA (2012). "Beneficial effects of propolis on human health and neurological diseases". Frontiers in bioscience (Elite edition) 4: 779–93


With or without wings

Added on by Ana Caballero.

posted by Ana Caballero

Feet – what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?
- Frida Kahlo

Wings have long been associated with a poetic dimension, one of fantasy, freedom and elevation. Insects, on the other hand (at least in the western mindset), connote something much lower; they are an object of dislike and disgust. So it is ironic that one of the keys of success for the insect world – with over a million named species – has been the evolution of flight [1].

This sturdy yet elegant structure has provided great inspiration to biomimetic engineers – recently, for example, studies of the desert locust wing have lead to new kinds of design for lightweight aircraft vehicles [2].

Although from a biomimetic perspective the locust wing proves fascinating, at the Lab we are more interested in its constitution for consumability than for performance.

The month of April was all about insects. In pursuit of understanding the culinary potential of something so novel in our diet, we began by questioning our most basic assumptions about the ingredient. And when it comes to food, one of the fundamental distinctions is to understand which parts of a material are good to eat and which are not.

Hence the recurring dilemma, captured in the video below:


Although this chat between Ben and me seemed somewhat frivolous, the fact was I had no clue about the edible properties of this curious structure. So after some readings on the weekend, this is what I found.

The insect wing is composed primarily of cuticle that is arranged into tubular, supporting veins and thin connecting membranes. The veins are typically hollow tubes that transmit fluid, oxygen, and sensory information via nerves. The cuticle itself is a multi-layered material of chitin microfibers embedded in a protein matrix [2].


bonding schematic of chitin and β-protein

bonding schematic of chitin and β-protein

end view of chitin-protein matrix creating a chitin nanofibre

end view of chitin-protein matrix creating a chitin nanofibre

Chitin is a carbohydrate polymer – supposedly the most abundant in nature, beyond even cellulose – found in invertebrate exoskeletons, protozoa, fungi, and algae [3]. Chitin is broken down by chitinase, an enzyme that breaks the glycosidic bonds between individual carbohydrate molecules. In the past it was assumed that humans did not possess this enzyme and therefore could not digest chitin [4]. Yet the recent discovery of chitinolytic enzymes produced by human gastrointestinal bacteria has overturned this assumption [5]. Overall, the cuticle proves as well to be a high source of dietary fiber.

This composition applies not only to the wings but to all the exoskeleton. Seeing that the wings are only a small part of the whole organism, they would not be missed if they were removed. In fact, they may even pose a danger to the eater. Some research points out that the sturdy wings and legs of insects of the order Orthoptera (which includes locusts) could puncture or lodge themselves in the intestinal tract, as they have been observed to do in certain animals [6].  Incidentally, most papers that review the cooking procedures of insects in cultural context also observe wing removal in practice. The removal could be due to matters of preference or traditional knowledge related to these possible health hazards, even if the chitinous cuticle is in fact digestible and contains potential nutrients for the human eater.

Thailand provides plenty of examples where locals have used their traditional knowledge to collect and cook many insects such as crickets, cicadas and Dung beetles. Regardless of the variety, the wings and hard exoskeletons are usually removed before cooking. The delicacies are usually deep-fried, grilled over an open fire, parched and ground, or steamed in banana leaves and curried [6].

Although removal is common, it is not a hard rule. So what settled this debate, at least in the lab and for the Desert Locust (Schistocerca gregaria) we were de-winging in the video, was to consume it as a hopper (non-flying nymph). Our preference had less to do with its underdeveloped wing formation and more to do with its particular morphological characteristics at that developmental stage:

Desert Locust (Schistocerca gregaria)

5th instarnymph (Locust life cycle)

Raw: yellow-green, vivid yet delicate color pattern, with black spots.

Raw: yellow-green, vivid yet delicate color pattern, with black spots.

Baked: 160 °C for 14 minutes.  Presence of original color pattern with additional golden brick coating. Crisp, nutty, and slightly sweet with a vegetable note.

Baked: 160 °C for 14 minutes. 

Presence of original color pattern with additional golden brick coating. Crisp, nutty, and slightly sweet with a vegetable note.

At this time of the year, lacto-fermented rhubarb with dill pairs nicely with this crunchy treat. Along with a good beer, it has proven a perfect aperitivo for sunny evenings on the harbor. 

NB: Please share any examples you might know of where fully developed wings are not discarded.




1. Combes, S.A. "Materials, Structure, and Dynamics of Insect Wings as Bioinspiration for MAVs." Encyclopedia of Aerospace Engineering. 2010.

2. Dirks, J.H & Taylor, D. Veins. "Improve Fracture Toughness of Insect Wing." PLoS ONE. 7.8 (2012).

3.  Belluco, S. et al. "Edible insects in a food safety and nutritional perspective: a critical review." Comprehensive reviews in food science and food safety. 12, 2013.

4. Dufour, D.L. "A case study from the northwest Amazon." American Anthropologist, New series. 89.2 (1987): 393-7.

5. Rumpold B. & Schlüter O.K. "Nutritional composition and safety aspects of edible insects." Molecular Nutrition & Food Research. 57 (2013), 802–23. 

6. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. "Edible forest Insects, Humans bite back!" RAP Publication: 2010.

7. Julian, Vincent, and Wegst, Ulrike.  "Design and mechanical properties of insect cuticle." Arthropod Structure & Development . 33.3 (2010), 187-99.

Big News

Added on by Josh Evans.

Our official press release:

Major funding awarded for edible insect research in Denmark

Velux Foundation to support Nordic Food Lab’s development of Western insect gastronomy

COPENHAGEN – May 16, 2013 – Nordic Food Lab and University of Copenhagen have received funding to expand their research into insect gastronomy. While other researchers are focussing on environmental and nutritional benefits of entomophagy, Nordic Food Lab is working to make insects delicious to the Western palate and thus bring them into its culinary culture.

The project is funded by The Velux Foundation’s program for environment and sustainability. The Foundation has granted 3.6 million Danish Kroner for the project entitled ‘Discerning Taste: Deliciousness as an Argument for Entomophagy’.

Nordic Food Lab has formed an international advisory board for the project, bringing together experts in entomology, gastronomy, psychology, and sustainable food systems from around the world. The board includes:

Alex Atala, Head Chef and owner of Restaurant D.O.M. in São Paulo, Brazil Alex founded D.O.M. in 1999 to rediscover the diverse flavours and culinary heritage of Brazilian gastronomy and to preserve it through contemporary reinterpretation. Insects are some of the many ingredients he celebrates for their unique flavours and applications in the kitchen. His restaurant has been widely recognised as one of the best in the world, and his skills and knowledge about eating insects will amplify our gastronomic research.

Alex Atala, Head Chef and owner of Restaurant D.O.M. in São Paulo, Brazil

Alex founded D.O.M. in 1999 to rediscover the diverse flavours and culinary heritage of Brazilian gastronomy and to preserve it through contemporary reinterpretation. Insects are some of the many ingredients he celebrates for their unique flavours and applications in the kitchen. His restaurant has been widely recognised as one of the best in the world, and his skills and knowledge about eating insects will amplify our gastronomic research.

Paul Rozin PhD, Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania

For decades, Paul has been a leading researcher into the nature and origins of food preferences and the psychology of disgust. He will advise on experimental design and suggest strategies for sidestepping disgust responses to cultivate positive preference for insects.

Mark Bomford MSc, Director of the Yale Sustainable Food Project at Yale University

Mark came to Yale from the University of British Columbia, where he worked for 16 years as the founding Director of the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems. His strong background in the systemic issues of food sustainability will provide us important insight at the intersection of ecology, agriculture, and socio-economics, especially for insects’ role in food security and biodiversity.

Arnold van Huis PhD, Professor of Tropical Entomology at the University of Wageningen

Arnold directs multiple research programmes investigating insect production for food and feed, has extensive field experience in Africa and other tropical regions, and collaborates with the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation to investigate and promote entomophagy. He is a well-recognised leader in the field of entmophagy research and will contribute invaluable expertise in matters of production systems and cross-cultural anthropological research.

“We are thrilled to receive the support of The Velux Foundation in our work to introduce insects into the Western diet,” says Michael Bom Frøst, Director of Nordic Food Lab. “Much important work is being carried out by others, but we believe the missing piece is a focus on deliciousness. It is our goal to provide that missing argument, so that insects become not just edible novelty but celebrated ingredients with high gastronomic value.”

A team headed by Professor Jørgen Eilenberg from the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences at the University of Copenhagen will be a core partner in the project, focussing on the entomological, microbiological and pathological aspects of insects as a food source. The main collaborators will be:

Jørgen Eilenberg PhD, Professor of Entomology at University of Copenhagen

Jørgen’s main interest is insect pathogens. He founded and heads the international research team entitled ‘Insect Pathology and Biological Control’.

Annette Bruun Jensen PhD, Associate Professor of Entomology at University of Copenhagen

Annette’s research focusses on the insect pathology and ecology of honey bees. She is part of the research team ‘Insect Pathology and Biological Control’.

The project coincides with the United Nations’ release of a comprehensive handbook entitled ‘Edible insects: Future prospects for food and feed security’ that draws together these different arguments and emphasises the importance of gastronomy and a focus on deliciousness to promote widespread adoption of entomophagy.

The project will take place over the next three years, and is formally scheduled to begin in June 2013.

The Nordic Food Lab team:

Michael Bom Frøst PhD, Director

Michael is an Associate Professor of Sensory Science at the University of Copenhagen. He has expertise conducting sensory analysis, studying taste preference, and project management.


Ben Reade BSc, Head of Culinary Research and Development

Ben is a chef from Edinburgh and has worked in kitchens throughout Europe. He holds a BSc from the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy and is an intrepid autodidact on the finer points of food science and gastronomy.    

Josh Evans BA, Researcher

Josh studied philosophy and sustainable food systems at Yale University. He worked with the Yale Sustainable Food Project, Edible Schoolyard NYC and other food programs before coming to the Lab in June 2012.

The team also includes interns and stagiaires from around the world.

On Lactic Acid Fermentation. A podcast.

Added on by Ben Reade.

Beginning in January 2013, Noma stagiaires are invited to take part in monthly talks by the Nordic Food Lab team. The idea is to create a space where those interested can broaden their knowledge of relevant concepts and techniques. This podcast contains a condensed version of one talk given by Ben on Lactic Acid Fermentation. This topic is extremely complex, much more so than we could ever explain in a few minutes –nevertheless it's a start. 

We would appreciate to hear your thoughts on the podcast.

Was it useful? Understandable? 

Looking forward to your comments!