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Larvae of love: Japanese bug candy

By Matt Alt
Nothing says lovin' like a six-legged something.
Nothing says lovin' like a six-legged something.
  • In Japan, women are expected to give men gifts on Valentine's Day
  • A Japanese company has created confections modeled after rhinoceros beetles
  • Author says they're "excellent eating"

(CNNGo) -- Ah, Valentine's Day. Cynics around the world pooh-pooh the so-called holiday as a ploy to sell chocolates and greeting cards. Others swear there's love in the air. It seems everyone has their own take.

But nowhere has tradition been as firmly upended as it has in Japan, where it is somehow the woman's obligation to give chocolates to her man and not the other way around (that comes on White Day).

Now a Japanese company has added a new twist: giving the gift of insects. In 2005, Komatsuya Honten, a bakery and confectionery shop located in Akita Prefecture, debuted a series of cakes and candies modeled on the larval and adult forms of kabuto-mushi -- the massive rhinoceros beetles native to the Japanese archipelago.

"There is a bug festival held here in Yokote city, every year, and I created the insect chocolates to capture the sense of that festival," explains Satayoshi Komatsu, president of Komatsu Honten. "It's very popular with children. I collected kabuto-mushi as a kid myself, so there's a nostalgic aspect, too."

Yeah, but... edible bugs? "Everyone says they're gross," admits Komatsu. "A lot of people buy them as gag gifts for friends." But Komatsuya sells out its limited production runs every year -- sometimes in under an hour.

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Trying out the chocolate bugs

In the interest of getting the full story, I placed an order for one of Komatsuya's sets. Or rather, I asked my wife Hiroko to place it. (This is Japan, after all.) She chose the ¥2,100 "Kabuto-Mushi Cake Lovely Pack," which contains a beetle-shaped cake and two chocolate larvae.

The verdict? Excellent eating even if you aren't into entomophagy (insect eating). The beetles are cake enrobed in a rich dark chocolate, with chocolate-dipped fruit slices used for thin parts like legs and horns. The larvae are milk chocolate with crisped rice mixed in, kind of like a Nestlé Crunch bar, if a Nestlé Crunch bar looked like something out of "Alien" instead of like the monolith from "2001: A Space Odyssey."

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Unfortunately for those stranded abroad, the delicate nature of the confections coupled with customs restrictions prevent Komatsuya Honten from exporting their insect creations outside of the country. So you'll just have to find a way to get your hands on them here in Japan.

Our recommendation for guys: Come next February, start canvassing your local university's entomology department for a suitable date.

Matt Alt runs AltJapan Co., Ltd., a Tokyo-based entertainment localization company that specializes in video games, comic books and other pop culture. Read more about Matt Alt.

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