How to Eat Insects

A protein rich meal

By on December 20th, 2007 19:06 GMT
The entomophagy or insect eating is considered disgusting in western societies, even if the Europeans eat all kinds of crustaceans and mollusks. But in the diet of our ancestors, they could have had an important place, judging from the diet of the chimpanzees.

Other cultures do not reject insects at all, as they are an easy and accessible source of proteins and fats. Eating insects for food is common throughout the world and dates back thousands of years. In a Thai or Chinese market, many sectors will be filled with insect and insect product piles.

Toasted termites, scarab beetles, crickets or locusts are extremely appreciated in the African countries. Movie theaters in South America sell roasted ants as snacks and in Japanese supermarkets you will find aquatic insect larvae. In Brazil, ants are eaten salted, while in Thailand they come seasoned with curry.

In Thailand, too, crickets and grasshoppers are fried in banana leaves. Dragonflies are appreciated in Indonesia. Palm worms (beetle larvae) are considered a delicacy by the Guarani Indians of Northern Argentina and by the Australian Aborigines.

Bees, caterpillars and flies are eaten in many places. Silk worms in Europe may be employed just for getting silk, but in Korea and Thailand they make a delicious food. Chocolate-covered insects are common in some countries, like chocolate-covered crickets.

In Europe and US, stink bugs are considered just agricultural pest insects, because these hardy insects can create large populations, sucking plant juices and damaging crops. Unlike other insects, bugs are endowed with a stinky secretion as a main defense. Still, giant water bugs are eaten fried in Laos and Thailand and stink bugs are famous in the Indigenous Mexican cuisine.

The Mexican comestible bugs are called jumil or chinche de monte (mount bug). They belong to the Pentatomidae family and the most appreciated species are Atizies taxcoensis and Edessa mexicana (called chumil). These bugs are small (less than 1 cm/0.4 inch; females are bigger than males) and they are eaten especially in the states of Morelos and Guerrero. The consumers say they have a specific cinnamon flavor coming from the stems and leaves they feed upon, others say they have a bitter medicinal flavor, probably due to their high iodine content. They are also rich in vitamin B2 and B3. Jumiles are used for making a specific sauce or as taco filling. As taco filling, in Taxco and other regions of Mexico they are eaten alive, as jumiles can live up to one week after the cooking process, including beheading and toasting. Scientific research showed that jumil has analgesic and tranquilizing qualities.

Jumil was discarded by the Mexican "high cuisine", following European standards, being falsely regarded as having "stinky bug scent" and representing the last resort in case of food shortage.

In the US, many people enjoy... cicadas! These alien looking insects spend 17 years underground as larvae, sucking sap from tree roots and spend just one summer singing as adults. These insects contain the same protein amount as red meat (pound per pound), and many vitamins and minerals, being low in fat and having no carbohydrates. The plant-based diet gives them a green, asparagus-like flavor, especially when raw or boiled.

The best cicadas are those freshly hatched from nymphs (tenerals), before their exoskeletons turn black and hard. These are best collected in the early morning hours, just after the insects emerge from the ground but before they crawl up the trees. If tenerals are missed, the next best item are adult females, with bellies filled with nutritious eggs. Adult males can be discarded as their abdomens are hollow, making room for their tymbals, the organs that emit the cicadas' songs.

Cicadas are mainly deep fried and dipped in a sauce like a hot mustard or cocktail sauce. They can be also boiled or blanched. Roasted cicadas have a "nutty" flavor.

In Singapore, ants are consumed as a medicine against rheumatism; cicada larvae against ballooning, aphthous fever and measles while wasp nests are employed against parasites. Other invertebrates too are employed as medicines, like scorpions (which have a gummy meat) against nerve pain and headaches and dry earth worms against pain. Ants are said to have an acid taste (like vinegar) due to their content of formic acid.

The main concern with eating insects is the place of collecting them: it must be far away from crop fields where pesticides and herbicides are used.