Claire Mawisa, Carte Blanche TV presenter pictured with Gourment Grubb insect ice-cream.
Claire Mawisa, Carte Blanche TV presenter pictured with Gourment Grubb insect ice-cream.

Strange as it may seem, the world’s first-ever dairy alternative made with insect larvae is trending in Mzansi.

EntoMilk is a leading dairy substitute made from black soldier fly larvae. The product is the brainchild of Leah Bessa, who started exploring insects as an alternative protein source after completing her Masters in Food Science at Stellenbosch University.

She realised the world needed to be reintroduced to insects in a new and modern way. “Insects as an alternative protein source has immense potential to bring both a healthy and environmentally friendly alternative to the food industry,” she says.

In 2017 Bessa reconnected with university friend Jean Louwrens and they began experimenting with different products. Through this process, EntoMilk was developed.

“With my interest in insect-based products and Jean’s interest in building a sustainable business, we co-founded Gourmet Grubb, so that we could introduce the world to a new dairy alternative – EntoMilk,” Bessa says.

EntoMilk is a leading dairy substitute made from black soldier fly larvae.

The Gourmet Grubb team produces EntoMilk and ice cream at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s Agri-Food Technology Station, through a grant they received from the governmental Technology Innovation Agency’s Seed Fund Programme. Bessa says receiving the grant left them incredibly excited.

“It really validated our idea and attitude towards the product and company. It helps to have a grant to push forward a new and novel start up. The grant did a lot to get us off of the ground, both with financial support and networking”. According to Bessa, most of their products are in development, but they have big plans to bring new dairy-alternative products to the shelves next year.

Chef Mario Barnard's hand-rolled pasta with home-made basil pesto, fresh cherry tomatoes garnished with dehydrated meal worms.
Chef Mario Barnard’s hand-rolled pasta with home-made basil pesto, fresh cherry tomatoes garnished with dehydrated meal worms.

Outside of EntoMilk, Bessa and Louwrens sell their other insect based products and dishes at their concept store, The Insect Experience in Woodstock, Cape Town. Their resident Chef Mario Barnard creates new (and some might say weird!) dishes using a variety of insect-based ingredients to introduce South African consumers to insects in a culinary setting.

Barnard says he chooses to use insect ingredients as a source of protein to make and effect positive change on our planet. He believes that as people become globally conscious they will become more accepting or even start embracing the idea of alternative, sustainable food sources like insects.

“I’m introducing everyone new to the concept by presenting my dishes in such a way as to make them visually attractive as well as through taste sensation by using gourmet style cooking,” Barnard says.

At The Insect Experience, this chef’s favourite dish to prepare is his hand-rolled pasta with home-made basil pesto and fresh cherry tomatoes garnished with dehydrated meal worms for texture and some fresh herbs for additional flavour. “Not that it’s needed” he adds.“

Gourmet Grubb dark chocolate ice cream.
Gourmet Grubb dark chocolate insect ice cream.

“The more I work with the ingredients, the more I see the endless possibilities, and that truly excites me. My task is to help people overcome their inherent ‘mental block’ by serving quality, healthy meat alternative dishes that’s been around for ages,” Barnard says.

Bessa says her all-time favourite Gourmet Grubb ice cream is dark chocolate, and it is much-loved by their customers too. “Dark chocolate is a difficult flavour to beat, but the banana bread and strawberry flavours are not far off.

“Our ice-cream is flavoured with raw honey and natural ingredients, lending itself to a more wholesome, earthy flavour. The natural taste of the ingredients is slightly different to your more conventional ice creams, so it is a slight adjustment, but so far most people love it,” says Bessa.

According to Bessa, Ento comes from the word “Entomophagy” which is the term used for eating insects, and milk gives consumers an indication of the use case of the product.

Through EntoMilk, the Gourmet Grubb teams hopes to redefine the way we think about insects as a food source.

She adds that their gourmet ice cream has all the health benefits, with the added benefit of being sugar, gluten, carb and lactose free.

These trendsetters hope to expand to other dairy alternatives to increase the range of applications for EntoMilk. “Our research focuses largely on the black soldier fly larvae and the inputs from the farming side of it, all the way to how processing affects the functionality and taste of EntoMilk. We’ve built a database through our research which will put us in a position to create optimum products going forward,” says Bessa.