cereal killing What did the Nordic Food Lab do with a beekeeper’s surplus of bee larvae? Turn it into granola, of course By Josh Evans, Researcher at Nordic Food Lab
e began experimenting with bee larvae last summer, when an urban beekeeping initiative in Copenhagen started supplying us with their surplus. At first I was surprised. Why would a beekeeper want to remove bees from the hive? I assumed it had something to do with the honey harvest, that the beekeeper removed some of the brood early in the season to yield an excess of honey later on. My idea was perfectly logical and also completely wrong. It turns out the larvae of the common honeybee, Apis mellifera (specifically the drone brood) are removed as a strategy to manage Varroa mite populations in the hive. The Varroa mite (Varroa destructor) is mean. Its Latin name is ‘destructor’ – how sinister can you get? It’s a parasitic mite that latches onto the immature larvae, sucking out their hemolymph and leaving gaping holes in their carapace, which makes them susceptible to infectious disease. Certainly nature has neutrality about it, but it still affects me to see such complex societies, whole hives of these noble pollinators with which we have coevolved for millennia, crumble at the feet of this puny, vociferous force.
There is no known method to completely wipe out the mite, and it has been very successful in spreading to honeybee hives around the world (save Australia, for now). Beekeepers have developed an arsenal of techniques to deal with it, hoping to keep its numbers under control. The most effective and least invasive technique beekeepers have developed is to systematically remove a third of each frame of drone comb per week throughout the brood season, which runs from early summer to fall. There are two castes of bees in the hive, other than the queen: the workers, which are all female; and the drones, which are all male, and whose sole function is to mate with the queen so that she may collect their sperm and use it to fertilise worker eggs. It takes around 21 days for a worker to hatch, while it takes drones around 24. This extra time makes drones the ideal breeding ground for the mites – an extra three days for the young to prey on their host. The hive will produce thousands of drones in a season, only a few of which are needed to submit their sperm to the queen. The rest are a reproductive safety net. They are easily culled with no ill effects to the hive. This makes the drones
the perfect decoy. The beekeeper will remove the drone brood just before the pupae hatch. By repeating this practice throughout the season the beekeeper is able to maintain the mite population in the hive at about a quarter of what it would be otherwise – hopefully low enough to keep the hive healthy over the winter. The mite is vampirous and ineradicable but in itself poses no threat to other organisms. And the drones would almost all die anyway. So by removing and consuming the most serious threat to their population we are participating both literally and symbolically in the survival of our apian collaborators. Traditionally, the combs have been eaten whole – larvae, pupae, honey, fermented pollen, and all – and in that form they are one of nature’s most complex and nutritionally complete foods. They are still eaten this way in parts of Ethiopia, and in other small pockets of the world. The comb is also utterly delicious. Straight from the hive, when the larvae are soft and still warm, they burst delicately in the mouth, smooth and savoury and slightly sweet. The flavour is something of egg and raw nuts and warm honeydew melon. The comb drips with honey, speckled with cells of fruity, intense, lacto-fermented pollen. The whole is luxurious, bewildering, ambrosial. But the fresh comb is an ephemeral thing, and a messy one. To use the brood in cooking, we have to separate the larvae and pupae from the pollen, honey, and wax. At first, we froze the comb, broke it up and sorted the pieces by hand. This took a long time. So we brought out the liquid nitrogen, froze it to -197˚C, smashed it to pieces, and sieved away the debris from the brood. That worked much better. Then we sorted out the honey and pollen, deep-frozen in hexagonal prisms (perfect for later use), and disposed of any pupae too close to adulthood (they taste a tad too bitter). The sorted brood keeps well in the freezer. The first thing we did was to make mayonnaise. The larvae 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 the MAD Symposium last summer. Then, like we do with most things, we stuck some in the dehydrator to see how their flavour intensified. Images by Chris Tonnesen and Josh Pollen 17
They gained a deep sweet and savoury dynamic and, with a bit of fine salt, turned into a great little bar snack. Yet leaving the insect whole can only get us so far. For most people, the largest barrier to ingesting an insect is being confronted with its whole form, intact and unabashedly insect-y. If we transform the animal we can start by introducing their flavours, and build from there. This has proven an effective strategy in general. So we made granola, replacing the usual oil and sugar with bee larvae and honey. Simple food that everyone knows and anyone can make. We let the larvae thaw until soft, then blend them into a pale yellow liquid of a viscosity between milk and cream. We stir honey through to sweeten, fold it through a mixture of oats and whatever seeds or nuts we have on hand, salt to taste, bake until golden, cool to room temperature to let it crisp up and we’ve got ourselves some dangerously snacky goods. BEE LARVAE GRANOLA makes roughly 1kg 750 g dry ingredients (we’ve settled on a basic ratio of 1:1 for oats : seeds/nuts (our standard recipe is 5 oats : 2 sesame : 2 sunflower : 1 pumpkin) 250 g bee larvae 100 g honey 5g salt sometimes we add in a bit of fennel seed or dry juniper berry for a burst of spice Preheat oven to 160˚C. Bring larvae to room temperature. Measure out dry ingredients. Blend larvae in a blender with honey and salt. Mix into dry ingredients, with spices if desired. Spread mixture out on pans in a thin layer. Bake in oven, stirring every few minutes for even browning. Stir in some birch syrup while baking for a touch more sweetness and larger clumps, if desired. The larvae are about 50% protein, 20% fat, and 30% moisture, fibre, and other compounds by weight. This high protein-low fat content is likely what accounts for the rapid browning of the granola – more rapid Maillard reactions as the proteins react with the sugars in the honey and oats. This recipe cooked a whole 10 minutes faster than a control with grapeseed oil instead of larvae. The high protein also affects the flavour – the granola is heftier, more savoury and satisfying with a rounder, more full taste. If you want more fat, a few knobs of butter never hurt. The best part is that the granola turns the milk brown – the childhood joy of processed cereal, but better. We eat it in solidarity with the bees, in honour of our mutual dependence, and in the name of all things delicious.
Published on Jun 10, 2013
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