Bugs You Can Eat
fast food, farms, or even wild game, insects fed prehistoric hunter-gatherers
all over the planet. A near taboo in the Western world, entomophagy (insect-eating) is still practiced by
millions of people in traditional societies—and by us, a couple of
gastronomically adventuresome Western journalists. It began simply enough with
witchetty grubs in Australia, but before we knew it, we were caught. Below, explore just a few of the stops on our journey to becoming
gourmands of all things creepy-crawly.*—Peter Menzel and Faith
Although many insects are edible, entomophagy poses some risks. If you are
allergic to shrimp, shellfish, dust, or chocolate, never eat an insect. Even
the non-allergic, unless in a survival situation, should never eat a raw
insect. Certain insects store compounds that make some people sick; some are
poisonous; others may be carcinogenic. Be as cautious with insects as you would
be if you were gathering mushrooms. Know your insects!
Faith: I tend not to like the taste of fatty foods, and
this thing looks like a living, squirming, pasty-white piece of fat, which, of
course, it is. But even thinking about this presupposes that I put this grub in
the category of "food," which I don't. Or at least
Peter: The [fire-roasted] worm's skin is crispy
and light; the flesh is creamy and delicate. Witchetty grub tastes like
nut-flavored scrambled eggs and mild mozzarella, wrapped in a phyllo dough
pastry. … This is capital-D Delicious. Maybe my idea of circling the
globe seeking out cultures that eat bugs isn't so crazy after all.
Faith: By the time I work up the courage to put anything
in my mouth, the food is cold. I grab a silkworm pupa with my chopsticks along
with a piece of green pepper. The pupa pops in my mouth rather unpleasantly and
has the consistency of rubber, but the taste isn't too bad. As I wash it
down with a mouthful of green tea I realize that it might have tasted alright
if I'd eaten it hot.
Peter: When they are hot, the deep-fried ones are
incredibly tasty. Each one pops in my mouth when I bite down, releasing a rush
of flavor not unlike what I imagine a deep-fried peanut skin filled with a
mild, woody foie gras would taste like.
Peter: The [restaurant] manager puts [live scorpions]
into a small bowl of water. The scorpions aren't happy about
this—they start thrashing about. A good sign, I decide. If we are going
to eat live scorpions, let them be very alive. With chopsticks, the manager
removes the scorpions from their bath and drops them in rice wine for a few
minutes. The scorpions stop struggling and go into a coma. The chef then
scissors off the tail stingers and poison sacs and arranges the scorpions on a
plate. … We've been in China a month and so far my taste buds have
been assaulted more times than the Great Wall. I brace myself, but the
experience isn't so bad. It's very chewy with a gutsy, almost fishy
Faith: If one must, it's advisable to begin by
eating insects that crisp up well when roasted. I wouldn't suggest
starting with anything too chewy, like a worm, or too fleshy, like cicadas. You
want to ease into the experience while not making a total fool of yourself.
It's helpful if the people with whom you are feasting are under the age
of ten. They will be paying more attention to the meal at hand than to you.
… Stink bugs fit the category of crispy insect. … The taste
experience is rather like eating a bitter sunflower seed, shell and all,
without salt. I chew quickly.
Faith: Although chicken replaced dragonflies on his
dinner table years ago, [our guide] Darsana taught his children how to hunt the
insect using a slender strip of palmwood dipped in the sticky white sap of the
jackfruit tree. … Standing in one paddy, Darsana shouts encouragement as
his 8-year-old daughter, Ni Wayan Sriyani, slowly extends her bamboo pole as
far as she can reach. A dragonfly approaches, zig-zagging over the rice. Like
an expert fly-fisher, she flicks out the end of her pole and catches the wing
of the first dragonfly of the day. … [Later] the family returns home to
fry the cache of dragonflies in coconut oil and pop them in their mouths like
Peter: A researcher who brings her work home, [our
friend] Julieta has a refrigerator that is a science project in
itself—dozens of containers of live and dead insects. The insects are
part of a cookbook project with dozens of bug recipes she has collected or
concocted herself [including this one]:
lb. roasted yellow mealworms
1/4 cups water
tablespoon sunflower oil
oz. dry spaghetti
tablespoons pine nuts, finely chopped
sprigs parsley, finely chopped
lb. purple basil, finely chopped
lb. ricotta cheese
cup whole pine nuts
water, add sunflower oil, salt, marjoram, thyme, bay leaves, and onion. Add
spaghetti. Drain when done. Melt butter in sauté pan. Add spaghetti.
Salt and pepper to taste. Mix basil, parsley, ricotta, oil, and chopped pine
nuts with the spaghetti. Heat, but do not boil. Top with mealworms and whole
Peter: [T]he grasshoppers we found on [our] second visit
to Mexico are daily bread. … They are especially popular in the southern
state of Oaxaca.
cloves garlic, minced
ripe avocados, mashed
tortillas (corn or flour)
medium-sized grasshoppers for 10 minutes in a 350° oven. Toss with garlic,
juice from 1 lemon, and salt to taste. Spread mashed avocado on tortilla.
Sprinkle on grasshoppers, to taste.
Peter: The tarantulas are greasy, but good. The legs are
crispy and each big hairy body is a decent-sized chewy bite that tastes like
… deep-fried tarantula. Faith asks me what they taste like, but in the
English language there are no words to describe it. If day-old deep-fried
chickens had no bones, had hair instead of feathers, and were the size of a
newborn sparrow, they might taste like tarantulas.
Faith: I break off a leg—it's two inches
long, but seems like twelve. … Peter makes it very clear to everyone that
I'm a lightweight in the Tarantula-Eating Hall of Fame. Big deal.
In Uganda, snacking on termites
is like raiding the refrigerator in the U.S., except that raiding a termite
mound is more work.
Faith: First, hack into a waist-high termite mound to
expose tunnels; second, cover the tunnel entrances with a cloth; third, wait
while soldier termites attack the invading cloth; fourth, yank away cloth, pick
off insects, and eat them.
Not bad—crunchy and
nutty—but the bites are too little to get a fix on the taste. This snack
is not for the squeamish.
Faith: Catching mopane worms is messy and hard on the
hands. The worms have thornlike points on their backs that are sharp enough to
slice unwary fingers. … Julie [a local woman] grabs a handful, and
holding them tightly at one end, she squeezes out the insides from the other
end. Bright green and yellow juice spurts out—instant death for the
caterpillar—and then the worms are tossed into the bucket [to be stewed
later as seen here]. The guts smell like freshly crushed leaves, which is
exactly what they are. The cycle—pick, squeeze, toss—happens over
and over, filling the buckets to capacity as the day heats up.
Peter: The palms here are smaller than those in
Indonesia or Uganda, but the grubs are the same size. The real difference is in
the way they are eaten—uncooked. Raw, raw, raw—that's the
spirit! But not for me. After we return to [our host's] house, the bowl
of grubs sits out in the sun for about four hours. By the time people eat them,
the white, wiggling worms are no longer white and no longer wiggling. I
photograph everyone else sucking out the insides but I pass.
Faith: This is the only place we've been where
Peter hasn't said he wants to eat the whole bowl of insects.
& Faith: According to Larry
Peterman, founder of the HotLix candy company, most Americans have two
reactions to eating bugs: disbelief and disgust. In fact, he says, they buy his
company's insect-related sweets and snacks because they think they're unbelievable and
disgusting. [At right, the Cricket Lick-It, a real insect in a sugar-free
crème de menthe-flavored lollipop.]
and quotes excerpted with permission from Man Eating Bugs: The Art and
Science of Eating Insects by
Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio (Ten Speed Press, 1998).
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