cicada on a leaf

Photo Credit: Julee Stroup, Covington, KY

The chorus of cicada sounds may be quieting in our backyards and woods but the sound of bug “crunching” remains. Seventeen years ago, when the last cycle of Brood X cicadas was populating our yards and sidewalks, the thought of eating them wasn’t top of mind for most of us in America, nor did the Food & Drug Administration need to issue an allergy warning. But times have changed! As we hunt for sustainable protein sources, perhaps what our global neighbors already know about the benefits of insects will become more the norm than the novelty for us. Suddenly, those crickets, grasshoppers and worms move from under our feet as a nuisance onto our plates as nutrition — taking our crush to crunch time!

In reality, insects have been an important source of food, especially protein, for more than two billion people across the globe, including some cultures in the United States. I had my first exposure to insect consumption in 2004 when in South Africa during a People-to-People professional education trip. It was during a culturally focused dinner that insects were prepared as an appetizer and it was only appropriate as the group leader that I would be the first to indulge. Not sure what I ate (probably a MoPane worm as it’s quite popular) but I do remember the crunch and the mild taste.

Edible insects are excellent source of animal protein and recent studies show they may also be a good source of antioxidants. In fact, the water-soluble extract from grasshoppers, silkworms and crickets contained the highest levels of antioxidants. Their antioxidant levels were shown to be higher than fresh-squeezed orange juice!1 As ongoing research studies are diving deeper into the nutritional possibilities of an abundance food source, numerous food products are being made with cricket powder as the main “bug” ingredient due to its protein power. Since 2011, products from bars to beer and chips and cookies to minced meat and a “milk” in South Africa (entomilk and bug ice cream) have appeared on the food scene. For an interesting update on bug-focused products and items to try, check out this list.

If you’re an adventurous eater and there are still cicadas in your area, you may want to serve your next meal with a little extra “good for you” crunch. Food scientists and cooks alike highlight their seafood (and of course, chicken) taste along with the versatility of their preparation. Check out this blog for recipes.

We may not see cicadas again for 17 years but the use of insects will not lie dormant as the food science and nutrition worlds continue to explore the nutritional benefits of our abundant supply of insects — turning our pests into protein power to feed the world and making every bite count.

References:
1. “Dissecting the Health Benefits of Edible Insects,” Food Technology Magazine, October 2019, Volume 73, No. 10.
2. “The Top 4 Most Widely Eaten Insects in Africa; And Why Insect Farming Has Become A Big Business Opportunity,” Smallstarter, by John-Paul Iwuoha.
3. “7 Reasons to Eat Insects,” IFT, February 2, 2017.