In some cultures, a fly in one’s soup would elicit compliments, not criticism. There are regions where a cricket in the house is not only good luck, but a good snack. Insects that would have someone clambering to the safety of a chair in one country would make stomachs eagerly growl in another. Here’s a look at how people around the world prepare insects to eat – and it doesn’t bug them at all.
According to a Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations report, insects are the ideal food of the future. The Entomological Society of America asserts that insects are an abundant resource, and also contain more protein and less fat than conventional meats. There are an estimated 1,462 species of edible insects, including arachnids. Insects and arachnids that are savored around the world include crickets, grasshoppers, ants, worms, scorpions and tarantulas. Although insect-eating may be regarded by some as a novelty, 2 billion people worldwide would disagree. They consider insects to be a dietary staple – and even a delicacy.
Insect eating, or entomophagy – a somewhat new term – is a word that cannot be found in the Oxford English Dictionary. Its first usage in relation to human behavior may have occurred as recently as the 1950s. Interestingly, there are no words that equate to entomophagy in the cultures that consume insects, because those peoples don’t distinguish between insects and food. Here are a few of those cultures, and the insects they savor.
Insects have been eaten in Japan since ancient times. This custom was probably initiated in the Japanese Alps, which were filled with edible aquatic insects. Thousands of years ago, the area contained a large human population, but lacked sufficient animal protein. However, the area had no shortage of aquatic insects, so they became a vitally important protein source.
The Japanese still use recipes containing insects. A few of these delectable dishes include boiled wasp larvae, aquatic insect larvae, fried rice with field grasshoppers, fried cicada and fried silk moth pupae.
Kwara State, Nigeria, West Africa
People from this region gobble up termites, crickets, grasshoppers, caterpillars, palm weevil larvae and compost beetle larvae. If they collect numerous termites, the critters are sold at local markets. People of any age are permitted to eat the winged, reproductive termites. The queens, however, are delicacies reserved for adults. To prepare them for consumption, termites are roasted over a fire or hot coals, or fried in a pot. After they’ve finished cooking, the wings are detached, and salt is added to taste.
Crickets are removed from soil tunnels they’ve built, and are roasted over a fire or hot coals. Their insides are removed before eating. There are members of the Yoruba Tribe, however, who believe in taboos related to eating crickets. Many worship the iron god, Ogun, who forbids ingesting animals lacking blood. Others feel that eating crickets is merely childish.
Grasshoppers, however, have no taboos related to them, are eaten by people of a variety of ages, and are more prevalent than crickets. They’re prepared and consumed in a manner similar to that of crickets. There are even some farmers who will eat uncooked grasshoppers, providing that the insides have been removed.
The palm weevil larva is a hefty edible insect. It can be four inches long and over two inches wide. Mature larvae, which are collected from palm tree trunks, are fleshy, grublike, high in fat, and are fried in a pot or frying pan. Supposedly, they’re quite delicious.
The compost beetle larvae can even outsize the palm weevil larvae. Home sweet home, to them, is a garbage heap, manure pile or swampy area. The guts, which are contained in the end of the abdomen, are detached prior to cooking. The larvae are then washed and fried.
The Cirina Forda Westwood larva is regarded as the most important and widely eaten insect in certain areas of Nigeria. Often referred to as Kanni, the insect is a caterpillar collected from the shea butter tree. Before it is eaten, it’s boiled and dried in the sun. In this region, Kanni is popular as a vegetable soup ingredient. The most popular edible bug in Africa, it costs twice as much as beef.
Dragonflies and damselflies are the foie gras and caviar of Bali. But since dragonflies are not going to just fall into someone’s hands, techniques have been developed to catch these aerial acrobats. To capture a dragonfly, latex – a sticky juice from the jackfruit tree – is applied to the end of a slim stick. By tapping the stick against a resting dragonfly, the insect sticks to the plant juice. Catching dragonflies by hand can be a bit trickier – you must be very quick and very quiet.
Dragonflies are sometimes cooked directly on a charcoal grill’s grate. Another popular technique involves boiling dragonflies with ginger, garlic, shallots, chili pepper and coconut milk. Prior to cooking, the insect’s wings are removed, unless they’ll be getting charcoal roasted.
Other countries’ customs
In Cambodia, tarantulas are deep-fried, and are a traditional delicacy. Only the head and body are consumed, since the abdomen is filled with a brown muck containing eggs, organs and waste matter. Silkworms in South Korea are boiled and then offered in small cups at street marketplaces. Another marketplace treat consumed in Mexico are chapulines – spicy grasshoppers roasted with chile and lime. They’re also a popular snack served at sporting events.
In Thailand, mealworms, grasshoppers water bugs – and even scorpions – are served roasted, fried or spiced. In Australia, witchetty grubs – that are as long as a man’s palm – are considered to be a delectable tidbit that can be eaten raw or pan seared. And cockroaches – though not the kind you recoil from in your home – can be toasted, fried, sautéed or boiled. They’re said to taste just like – you guessed it – chicken.
So, in the future, instead of getting ants in your pants or a bee in your bonnet – you just might be eating them from your plate. And liking it.