Bee larvae granola

Added on by Josh Evans.

posted by Josh Evans

Bee larvae have been on the roster since the summer, when urban beekeeping initiative Bybi began supplying us with their surplus. Keeping beehives involves removing some of the larvae early in the season, so that there will be an excess of honey later on to harvest. [NB: Actually the larvae removal has nothing to do with honey – it is a strategy devised to manage Varroa mite populations in the hiveTraditionally, these combs were eaten whole – larvae, pupae, honey and all – and in that form they are one of nature's most nutritionally complete foods.

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The sorting is a labour-intensive process. First we blast-freeze the whole combs to solidify the larvae and harden the wax. Then we break the combs down by shaking them in a large bucket.

We have many loose larvae and small chunks of wax. Now comes the process of going through by hand to sort the bees from the chaff.

We have tried mesh strainers, wide sieves, and various mixed techniques, but we've yet to find a faster way. It may come to liquid nitrogen. [NB: It did.]

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For our purposes we need to separate the bees from the wax, and sort them by stage of development. The larvae are younger, still curled, white and smooth, while the pupae have begun to differentiate their form, gaining a thorax and eyes. Later come legs and wings, though by this point the bees are quite mature and not as delicious.

The flavour is something of egg and honey, and warm honeydew melon. They are fatty on the tongue and deeply savoury with a lingering sweetness. Ben likes to remind new tasters that all this little thing has ever eaten is honey, so how can it not be delicious. Sound reasoning.

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Once sorted, the larvae and pupae keep well in the freezer.

The first thing we thought to do was to make mayonnaise. They are fatty and savoury and fill in for eggs exceptionally well. This is what we served with live ants as one tasting for our presentation at MAD.

Then, like we do with most things, we stuck some in the dehydrator to see how their flavour intensified. They gained a deep sweet and savoury dynamic, and with a bit of fine salt turned into a better bar snack than any we've encountered.

Yet leaving the insect whole can only get us so far. For most people, the largest barriers to ingesting an insect are its whole form and texture. If we transform the animal and remove its chitinous exoskeleton, we can begin to introduce these new and interesting flavours and build from there. This has been our strategy with the grasshopper garum.

So then we made granola, replacing the usual oil and sugar with bee larvae and honey.

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We let the larvae thaw, then blended them into a pale yellow liquid of a viscosity between milk and cream. We blended honey through to sweeten, stirred it through a mixture of oats, walnuts, seeds of pumpkin, sunflower, flax, and fennel, and cracked dried juniper berries, salted it and baked it at 160˚ for 15-20 minutes, stirring a few times for even browning.

The granola browned quickly – more rapid Maillard reactions likely due to the higher ratio of protein to sugar, thanks to the fatty, proteinous larvae.

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We also made a 'yoghurt' by taking some of our bee larvae milk and honey mixture, inoculating it with some live yoghurt, and incubating it in a pot overnight in the oven at 42˚. The thin liquid set well, thickening to the point of a nut butter, and taking on a gorgeous caramel hue and sweet, complex aroma that accentuates the nuttiness of the larvae.

We are fairly sure the granola is safe, having been cooked for so long. We don't know as much about how the larvae ferment and their behaviour at lower temperatures like 42˚, so we need to do more research, including toxicology, just to be sure.

The best part is that the granola turns the milk brown – the childhood joy of processed cereal, but better.

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addendum 13.11.12 – folding in some birch syrup before and/or during baking adds sweetness, woody and floral notes, and best of all, more big clumps (granola's real raison d'être).

submarine kraut

Added on by Josh Evans.

posted by Josh Evans

We are always looking to our environment to explore an ingredient or process further. So given we work on a boat, it was only a matter of time before we took a project underwater.

A simple sauerkraut was a good place to start. We figured the lower temperature would slow the lactic fermentation; what we knew less was whether and how pressure would influence flavour. Every ten metres of water equals one atmosphere of pressure - not an insignificant amount. Apparently some winemakers will age certain bottles on the ocean floor so there must be a reason.

Two identical batches to start: equal parts white and red cabbage packed with 2% salt. One kept on our counter, the other vacuum-packed, weighted, and thrown overboard.

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We hauled it up after three weeks. All of it stained purple, with tiny bubbles and a bag no longer vacuum-tight. Definitely some bacterial activity.

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The underwater kraut still held a deeper colour, was moister, crunchier, and not quite as lactic. All possibly attributable to a slower fermentation, of course. But there was also a cleaner flavour, a satisfying depth without the sulfurous notes of its counterpart, even from earlier in the process.

(deep sea kraut to the right)

(deep sea kraut to the right)

Often we are concerned with how to speed processes up while retaining flavour and quality -- with our vinegar aerator, for example. But it is also worth investigating how to slow a process down, to gain control over wider range of speeds. And especially when it comes to fermentation, we can use our surroundings as a tool, instead of immediately turning to manufactured and often expensive equipment. Of course, we use our fridges and freezers and stove every day (and our centrifuge, when it works) -- but the ocean doesn't need a power cord or repairman to help us transform food.

conserva cruda

Added on by Josh Evans.

posted by Josh Evans

A couple weeks back we found a recipe in Sandor Katz' The Art of Fermentation for 'Conserva Cruda di Pomodoro', a type of raw tomato paste that is preserved through moulding instead of cooking. Now, tomatoes aren't the most Nordic thing in the world (though you can find them here if you try), but we were interested to see how it works and if the technique could be adapted to other substrates.

We squeezed 4kg of tomatoes into a bucket, covered it with a cloth and left it out to ferment.

The recipe told us we'd start to get some bubbling, and then after a few days a white mould would start to form on the surface. Twice a day we stirred the mould back into the liquid/pulp mixture, until the bubbling subsided and it had a nice ripe smell.

the question is, is this tomato still, strictly speaking, 'raw'?

the question is, is this tomato still, strictly speaking, 'raw'?

The smell was the real surprise – tropical, like overripe mangos and passionfruit. And something a bit animal about it too.

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Once the moulding was done we strained out the liquid, passed the pulp through a tamis to separate the flesh from the skin and seeds, and used a superbag to squeeze out any remaining liquid. We were left with 3kg of peach-coloured, tropical-fruit-smelling aromatic juice, and 150g of a bright red, homogenous paste almost fatty to the touch. A yield of about 3.75%.

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We hung the paste in cheesecloth overnight to get out any remaining moisture, then added in 8% salt by weight to stop any mould activity. The original recipe calls for 20% but we figured we could do with lower.

What we have now is a concentrated, 'raw' tomato paste that we can use to season soups, sauces, and other dishes with an intense, fruity flavour. The paste itself has surprisingly little taste on the tongue; most of its merit is the aroma.

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The juice also provided a new ingredient to play with. It has a beautiful translucent colour when it separates, and tastes surprisingly sour. When reduced it takes on a host of funky, meaty, grill notes that aren't usually present in regular tomato sauce. Dehydrated, it turns into a potent, sour and savoury dry paste.

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We have been thinking of ways to take this process further with ingredients more commonly Nordic. Cucumber came to mind, for its high water content and natural sweetness when juiced.

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This time we experimented with available liquid in regulating the moulding process. In one bucket we blended the cucumber to a thick slurry; in the other we left it chopped in chunks. After a couple days, the blended one looked and smelled quite similar to the tomato, while the chopped one had become yellow, slimy, and definitively putrid. So the moulding process seems to be dependent on the liquid phase.

A later trial with raw onion purée started out promisingly but quickly turned rancid with an overwhelming chemical pungency, like ethyl acetate mixed with garlic. Perhaps it wasn't quite liquid enough; and the natural anti-microbial properties of alliums might have had something to do with it as well.

After the same process of straining, scraping, and superbagging, we were left with a little ball of flecked green paste. Again intensely aromatic; and again, almost tasteless. What we really want to know is, what type of mould is it? We kept them in our mould room, so maybe types of Aspergillus from the koji? We are fascinated by moulds and there is so much more to know.

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To try to extract that incredible aroma, we immersed the paste in 75% ethanol. Perhaps a tincture can give us access to that tropical fruit smell in a more versatile form.

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New on the boat

Added on by Michael Bom Frost.
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Meet Josh Evans, the newest member of our team.

Josh came to work with us in June after graduating from Yale in May, where he studied literature, philosophy, and sustainable agriculture. While enrolled as a student he worked with the Yale Sustainable Food Project. We're looking forward to collaborating with them in the future.

Josh has dived right into life at the lab, playing around with Ben in the kitchen, furthering our insect and innovation research with Mark, and preparing for events during the busy summer season. As we settle into the fall he will be continuing our work on wild edible plants, and starting some new projects, including a deeper look into the technique and fermentation of teas. And you will notice him posting updates on our blog as well.

He will be with us for the next year or so. The ranks grow.