Bugs Farm has just launched a new brand of whiskey sour called “Insect Sour” made from the extract of the giant water beetle.
The ideal choice for penalty drinking games, the taste of this new carbonated alcoholic beverage is touted as “refreshing and fruity,” and the source of its unique aroma is from the pheromone scent of males.
Considered to be a luxury food in many parts of Southeast Asia, the giant water beetle can also be sampled as food in select locations in Japan.
While sake or “rice wine” is still considered to be the national drink of Japan, beer reigns supreme in terms of volume. Although microbrews have yet to go mainstream in Japan, the Japanese are fond of many other types of distilled alcoholic beverages including shochu, umeshu, whiskey highball, awamori, etc. Now there is a new challenger on the block, but you may need a little courage to give this one a try.
Bugs Farm, a Japanese online merchant dedicated to food made from insects, has just released a new carbonated whiskey called “Insect Sour.” It is made from lethocerus deyrollei, a species of giant water beetle (aka waterbug). You may find it on the menu in Japan as tagame (田鼈 or 水爬虫). This brand-new alcoholic beverage can be recognized by its provocative label and its unique scent. This “secret sauce” in the smell comes from an extract of a pheromone that aims to recreate the scent of the male giant water beetle. While you may need “beer goggles” to get up enough courage to give this a try, it has been described as “refreshing” and “fruity” (euphemisms right up there with “it’s good for you”).
First, just what is a giant water beetle and why would anyone want to bottle it?
The Giant Water Beetle
Similar to some of the people who are likely to order this drink at a bar, the giant water beetle is a large predator which is active at night. It is one of—if not–the largest water bugs in Japan.
They used to be found all over the country, but, due to the use of pesticides and the increase in outdoor lighting, the population of the Japanese giant water beetle has been drastically reduced. They are now classified as an “endangered species” by the central government, making this insect extremely valuable. There are, after all, rumors that this bug—especially the male—is an aphrodisiac.
Thanks to Bugs Farm, you can now get a taste of this unusual delicacy on the rocks.
Insect Sour from Bugs Farm Now on Sale in Japan
Insect Sour is a whiskey sour with 5% alcohol content. It retails for 638 yen (US $5.62) per 250ml bottle. Bugs Farm sells it online with a minimum order of only a single bottle.
According to the fine print, Insect Sour from Bugs Farm is technically made from Taiwanese giant water beetles. Ah hah! I knew it! Actually, Taiwanese giant water beetles are, apparently, remarkably similar to the Japanese giant water beetle. Will you be able to notice a difference?
The advertising maintains that the drink is “refreshing and has a fruity aroma.” The unique scent is the result of adding an extract of a pheromone of the male giant water beetle. The scent of female giant water beetles is, reportedly, too strong.
It is only a matter of time before Insect Sour, which debuted in Japan on December 1, makes its way into this vending machine in Tokyo that exclusively features drinks made from insects.
Besides Insect Sour, you can also purchase the soft drink Tagame Cider to get a taste of the giant water beetle for those that do not drink alcohol.
Tagame Cider is another refreshing carbonated drink that faithfully reproduces the fruity flavor of the giant water beetle. It contains 0.3% giant water beetle extract but no alcohol.
A competitor to Bugs Farm, Japanese food and drink maker Takeo also specializes in bugs. Their drink Tagame Cider is produced in a “hazard analysis and critical control points” (HACCP) certified plant in Japan using pure, locally-sourced water. A 200 ml bottle retails for 480 yen ($4.25) for a single bottle, but it is also possible to purchase packs of 3 or 24 for a volume discount.
For those who want more than just a drink, it is also possible to get a taste of the giant water beetle.
The Acquired Taste of the Giant Water Beetle
In Japan, meals made from the giant water beetle are still quite unusual, but in Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand and Laos, the giant water beetle is eaten as a luxury food. Some restaurants in Tokyo actually specialize in this type of cuisine–even if for a limited period.
Because eating them raw may cause parasites, giant water beetles are usually cooked by dipping them in salt water and then grilling, frying, boiling, or steaming them.
In some countries, the giant water beetle is said to be an indispensable ingredient on the dinner table and is very much loved as a soup stock or dressing in powder form. The beetles themselves have a high-fat content and are plump to the touch.
Bugsfeed.com described the taste,
The meat is variously described as flavoured like citrus, black licorice, or even bubble gum and jelly beans. Like many arthropod insects, people often compare the taste to sweet shrimp, scallops or crab meat.
Others have embellished the sensation as “rich, savory, and delicious” and “elastic and satisfying.” Hmmm…
Seasonings containing the giant water beetle are popular in Thailand, where the miso-type seasonings go very well with raw vegetables. There is also fish sauce made from the giant water beetle. The Thais are particularly fond of nam prik, a spicy chili sauce that is sometimes made by crushing giant water beetles along with a paste of garlic and peppers.
These dishes can often be recognized by their smell.
Giant Water Beetle Scent Will Spice Up Your Insect Sour
The giant water beetle is a member of the stink bug family. While slightly less smelly than stinkbugs, giant water beetles secrete an odor from a place called the incense sternum. Many people find this smell to be refreshing like mint or banana. Yeah, right!
The scent of female water beetles tends to be stronger than the odor of the male. That is why the drinks available in Japan are made exclusively from the male and why market prices in Thailand are 5x higher for males.
So, ready to give it a try?
While digging into a dinner of deep-fried giant water beetles may be a little much for beginners, Insect Sour from Bugs Farm certainly provides a relatively painless way to try a small portion along with a healthy dose of whiskey. What could be a more appropriate drink for the classic toast “Here’s to the nights we’ll never remember with the friends we’ll never forget?” At the very least remember “Don’t knock it, ‘till you try it,” and you’ll be fine!
Mark Kennedy is a native of Chicago who has spent more than 20 years living, studying, and working in Japan. By day he is Country Head - Business Development, Nexdigm - Japan but becomes a writer after work. Mark is a lifelong student of the Japanese language and culture. He loves to travel throughout the country. Mark also is the author behind the "Real Gaijin" Substack, countryroadsjapan.com, as well as the Country Roads Japan and Coastal Sailing Japan YouTube channels. Photo supplied courtesy of the author who had stopped to check out the free-roaming horses and cows about half-way up to the summit of Mt. Aso, an active volcano in the center of Kyushu.