Due to popular demand and the fact that we love trying weird foods and candies, The A.V. Club will now regularly feature "Taste Tests." Feel free to suggest disgusting and/or delicious new edibles for future installments: E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As of this week's Taste Test, it becomes necessary to clarify two things:
1) No, The A.V. Club does not intend to become Fear Factor, choking down increasingly grotesque substances just so we can say that we tried them. While we won't absolutely rule out further insect-based Taste Tests in future, we are not going to keep trying to top ourselves strictly on the bragging-rights-gross-out factor.
2) Everybody in the office who refused to participate in this week's Taste Test is hereby declared a total pansy. I'm looking at you, Josh Modell.
For what it's worth, a lot of people out there in our big, wonderful world don't mind eating insects. They're plentiful, they're high in protein and low in fat, and it's a sort of symbolic payback against all the damn fleas, mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers, and other things that chew on us. But here in America, where food is fairly plentiful and most of us rarely have to look directly into its sad, accusatory eyes, bug-eating is less common. Hence our group queasiness over Crick-ettes brand flavored crickets. Which are basically nakedly obvious bugs with some spice on them.
Crick-ettes come in three flavors—Salt N' Vinegar, Bacon & Cheese, and Sour Cream & Onion, and for completeness' sake, we sampled all three. At least some of us did. Surprisingly, The A.V. Club's current intern roster—most of whom absolutely refused to touch, say, Bacon Mints—led the charge, while the hard-core taste-testers mostly lingered behind, cringing. Like little pansies.
Incidentally, the packaging features a cricket diagrammed into cuts of meat—rump, flank, breast, wings, drumstick—as though they actually had meat on them. Which we found to not be the case. However these things are cooked, they're cooked so thoroughly that the chitin is brittle and slightly porous. Which is good for getting spices to adhere to it, but bad for structural integrity. Most of the crickets had lost their legs, antennae, and other small breakaway bits by the time the packages were opened, and the "drumsticks" were mostly floating around freely inside the inner plastic sleeve. Which meant we were trying to eat little buggy torsos with shriveled-up wings and flat, black, empty eyes. Which proved fairly difficult for most of the staff. Fortunately for the office wusses, Crick-ettes come in an ungenerous six or eight to a $2 pack, meaning that there weren't a whole lot of snack-insects to go around.
The packaging also identified crickets as "the other green meat," raising the question of what the first "green meat" is. Grasshoppers? Unskinned boiled frogs? Thoroughly expired red meat?
Taste: The general consensus among those who deigned to try Crick-ettes was that the taste was dusty, ashy, and disappointingly boring. The Salt N' Vinegar tasted a bit like fine salt but no vinegar, the Bacon & Cheese tasted like nothing much, and the Sour Cream & Onion, which had the strongest flavor, was vaguely salty and sweet. Crick-ettes have a very faint nutty taste underlying the general ashy bitterness; they were generally compared to eating sunflower seeds still in the shells.
Mostly, it's hard to credit just how crunchy they are, and how instantaneously they disintegrate into dust in your mouth. They've probably been fried within an inch of their lives; they have the consistency of that blackened Corn Nut or french fry or piece of popcorn that somehow got stuck in the cooker through several cooking cycles, and wound up with every particle of nutrient or organic material blasted into carbon. One taster complained that she didn't "taste any organs," and that the crickets were essentially hollow shells. Another said that they tasted like empty air. (Kyle Ryan: "What, as opposed to full air?")
A few more reactions that came in via e-mail after the tasters had a chance to think it over:
• "More like a hollow shell than a snack. Very weak bacon-cheddar flavor. I'd have to eat a handful to tell you what the flavor was."
• "Bits of cricket easily get stuck in the teeth, providing little flavor-savers for later."
• "I just think it is like eating a sunflower seed's shell, but with legs."
• "Surprisingly underwhelming, and I've eaten crickets before—this was like eating subtly flavored sand."
• "That was a lot of bracing myself for an experience that turned out to be like eating a tiny pinch of dirt."
• "They could really use more legs."
Special bonus level: A.V. Clubber David Wolinsky was challenged to try a "cricket suicide"—all three flavors at once. He did, without batting an eye, and concluded that it tasted like three times as much nothing:
The general conclusion was that working our way up to eating crickets was much harder than actually eating them. Bug-eating isn't that bad, if you can stand them staring at you with their dead, empty eyes beforehand. And the inescapable feeling that reaching toward a heap of flavored bugs for a snack is like getting your munchies out of the pile of dead flies that build up on windowsills and in basement corners. And then there's sensation of a dry, bristly little leg caught on your tongue or in the back of your throat afterward. And all the little creepy segments on their exoskeletal plates. And their little visible dangly crispy mouth parts. And the eerie sensation that they might make one last legless attempt to hop or wriggle away as you pop them into your mouth. And—excuse us, The A.V. Club has to go barf.
Where to get them: Online retailers. We got ours from stupid.com, but Hotlix.com has a much wider section of bug-related foods, including "Larvets," worm lollipops, scorpion suckers, and many more things we aren't planning to try any time soon.