At Wholi our vision is to create a more sustainable and globally responsible food culture. We do that by developing delicious foods with bugs and by working with insect farmers in developing countries to improve their farming practices and support the local culture of eating insects.
Working with cricket farmers in developing countries is something that we have been dreaming about from the beginning of our venture, and now, one year later, we finally got the opportunity to start our work in Cambodia, thanks to winning SAS Scholarship.
Crickets and other insects have for centuries been a local delicacy in Cambodia and many other countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. However, in some of these countries eating insects is in decline, either due to cultural reasons (the growing upper-middle class look down upon eating insects) or because of increased pesticide use and climate change.
The aim of our work is to support the culture of eating insects by working with local communities to improve insect farming practices (from wild harvesting to more controlled farming). By working to reach international standards for food security, Cambodian farmers can access a whole new market with their delicious cricket powder. This means farmers will be able to secure a sustainable income and that we will be able to source their tasty bugs and add them to our snacks and other foods.
Traditional Khmer cuisine
In Cambodia edible insects have been on the menu for centuries. The most popular insects eaten are crickets, silkworms, giant water bugs and tarantulas. We had the pleasure of tasting all of these wonders – albeit with mixed emotions.
The first night we stayed in Phnom Penh we went to a restaurant nearby called Romdeng. Here we had the pleasure of ordering creepy crawly tarantulas with black pepper lime sauce. We have tried eating a lot of different bugs the last couple of years, but never tarantulas. And even for insectivores like us, this was a challenge.
On the other hand, spiders are technically not an insect, so we could have been excused. But when in Cambodia, this is something you have to try. Picking up the giant spider from the dinner plate was scary at first, but when we had munched into the first leg – we were sold! They have a wonderful taste of sesame chicken with an explosion of umami flavour. So we definitely recommend stopping by Romdeng, if you are ever in Phnom Penh.
The next day we visited a very inspiring young man named Phearum together with the NGO DanChurchAid, who work in the area. Phearum is a cricket farmer -amazingly a a self-taught cricket farmer. He learned by watching YouTube videos of cricket farming and has now, 9 years later, perfected the practice. There are several farmers like Phearum and in just 5 weeks, each farmer can produce up to 700 kg of crickets. The potential for increasing the local production of crickets for the local and foreign markets is definitely here.
Cambodia has the perfect climate for cricket farming: incredibly hot and humid. This means they have great conditions for growth, but also that they taste amazing! The crunchy crickets are usually fried with lemongrass, garlic and chili and are the perfect nutty, savoury snack. Crickets are found on every corner and market and loved by the local Cambodians.
Within a couple of months from now, our project with DanChurchAid should officially start, the aim of which is to support more local cricket farmers and optimise their farming practices. Our hope is to preserve and strengthen the tradition of eating insects whilst also creating a sustainable source of income for Cambodians.