Thomas Knack has always enjoyed food other Germans find a bit weird.
The 36-year-old Berliner likes American beef jerky and sweet oat bars called flapjacks in Britain.
But he has a special affinity for bugs – beetles, scorpions, grubs and other strange creatures he imports from Thailand and sells through his website and a friend’s wine store in the German capital.
“I’ll admit, they don’t all necessarily taste very good,” he told The Local recently. “But they’re better if you mix them with rice or potatoes.”
Knack said he’s the only person in Germany currently selling insects for human consumption – although not all the creatures he sells are insects. Scorpions, for example, are arachnids like spiders.
But though his fellow countrymen may think he’s odd, he’s just following the recent trend of increasing bug-eating in the Western world.
People in Asia, Africa and South America have been practising entomophagy, the scientific term for eating insects, for thousands of years although it has long been taboo in Europe and North America.
But as scientists have argued that people should eat more bugs because of their high protein and vitamin content – the United Nations has even held a conference on the subject – inhibitions have slowly been eroding.
Today there are bugs for sale in the United States, Britain and elsewhere, though few would argue that they’re top selling items or taking dinner parties by storm.
In Germany there’s just Knack’s operation.
Fighting to sell bugs
Knack, who spends most of his time as a dance choreographer, first started trying to sell insects in Germany in 2008 after becoming intrigued by them during a trip to Asia. But it took him more than a year to convince German bureaucrats that bugs were safe enough to sell here.
On trips to the customs office to pick up his imports from Thailand, he found himself spending hours convincing authorities that he wasn’t crazy.
And at his store he was bombarded by visits from incredulous officials and curious Germans.
“After a while the health inspections became a bit repetitive and a bit much,” he said. “And there were always people asking questions. Usually the same ones over and over.”
Last year he closed his shop and decided to sell mostly online.
Today, visitors to www.braidysnack.com (a contract of brain and body snacks) can buy everything from dung beetles to grasshoppers, all packed in vacuum sealed bags and thoroughly cooked beforehand to satisfy German health regulations.
A bit nutty
So what do bugs taste like? Not especially good, but not as bad as you might expect, as this reporter discovered during the bug tasting at Der Weinkeller in Berlin’s Mitte neighbourhood.
The long, stringy bamboo worms, which are actually the larvae of grass moths, had a little bit of a meaty taste – like a little piece of smoked ham. But the grasshoppers tasted a bit like a cross between chicken and nuts.
And the big, scary-looking dung beetles had an indescribably odd-tasting white filling to be sucked out.
Those three bugs were intriguing for a first sampling, but not enough to place an order for The Local’s next Christmas party.
Various types of insects can be bought at Der Weinkeller, Linienstraße 147 in Berlin or online at www.braidysnack.com.