The Art of Darkness

Edible Insects

April 13th, 2011 by Cobwebs

InsectsThe Wall Street Journal recently published this article about edible insects, which rather breathlessly describes the Hot New Trend(tm) of occasionally letting a bug get within sniffing distance of a dinner plate. (On purpose, I mean; we eat bugs by accident all the time.)

I’m rolling my eyes a little bit at the article presenting the speculation that insects could become the Meat of the Future(tm) as though it had never been considered before. It was seriously suggested, with charts and graphs and everything, at least as long ago as 1976 in Robert Taylor’s Entertaining with Insects, a book that had quite a bit of influence on me* and eventually led to a college project wherein I ate crickets in front of 35 people.**

Insects really are an excellent source of nutrition, and they’re already widely eaten throughout most of the world. Grasshopper tacos are popular in Mexico, roasted termites are eaten like popcorn in South Africa, and scorpions are almost the national dish in Thailand. If you’d like to really shake things up at your next party, add a few bugs to the menu.

There are a variety of sources for ready-prepared insects: You’ve probably seen Hotlix scorpion lollipops at novelty stores, but they offer a range of other snack items, including salt ‘n’ vinegar crickets and chocolate-covered ants. A couple of UK-based stores offer mail-order insects: Lazybone has mostly snacky items, but Thailand Unique has a wide range of preserved insects that can be added to other dishes.

If you’re feeling a bit more ambitious, you can also prepare them fresh: Crickets, mealworms, and several other edible varieties can be mail-ordered from companies that raise them as reptile food. If you have access to a garden, meadow, or other open area, it’s easy to harvest grasshoppers and beetle grubs, with a couple of caveats: Collect them only where you can be certain that they haven’t been in contact with pesticides, and make sure that you recognize the species you’re collecting. Quite a lot of insects are unpalatable at best, and some (particularly caterpillars) can actually make you sick.

Wherever you obtain your insects, you should give them at least 24 hours to purge their gut before you prepare them (in case they’ve been eating something bitter), and since mail-order insects usually arrive having noshed on newspaper or sawdust you may want to feed them on flour for a couple of days to improve their nutritional value. Insects should also be cooked thoroughly, since some (particularly grasshoppers) can harbor parasites.

In addition to the Taylor book mentioned above (which is out of print but widely available secondhand), there are several other insect cookbooks, including The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook, Creepy Crawly Cuisine, and Man Eating Bugs. There are also a variety of online resources: Insects as Food has extensive information, and a number of university entomology departments also cover the subject: Iowa State and U of Kentucky are examples. Doing a search on “edible insects” will turn up many additional sources.

Eating insects may seem odd to the western palate, but it’s really no different than eating lobster (another arthropod). If you’re looking for a really unique new dish, give bugs a try.

*I was rather unhealthily interested in a lot of the tree-hugging stuff that came out of the 70s. If I’d been born a decade earlier I’d have probably wound up living in a yurt with kids named Sunshine and Starblossom.

**I got an A, although I suppose it’s possible that the teacher was afraid to give me anything else lest I pelt her with crickets.

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