Eating Insects: Put the Bite on Bugs

An entomologist argues eating insects is a delicious, nutritious, and affordable way to supplement our diets.

| July/August 1981

Once you get past the dietary prejudices brought about by the cultural conditioning that most all of us have undergone, you may well discover that eating insects can do a lot to add flavor and nutrition to your meals. They're an astonishingly good protein source and are free for the finding, often right in your own back yard. Best of all—whether the crawlers and fliers are eaten raw, boiled, fried, or ground into powder—a number of varieties are tasty enough to seduce the most discriminating palate!

There are, of course, times when people eat bugs unintentionally (when something accidentally zooms right into a person's open mouth, for instance), but I first purposely chomped on an insect during a wilderness survival outing in the Sierra Nevada. Our hungry group tore open a rotten log and hit a bonanza: thousands of damp-wood termites, some of them half an inch long. Since I was a squeamish first-time "bug-biter," I decided to begin by sampling the wood borers' whitish, glistening eggs. But when I bit into one and rolled it around on my tongue, I was disappointed. The taste was very bland. That day, I learned my first lesson in entomophagy, the art of eating insects: If you can't wait to bring the catch back to your table, then by all means carry along some herbs to enhance its flavor!

So, Why Not?

Cave drawings and human coprolites (petrified feces) tell us that our ancestors ate insects as if they were going out of style ... which, at least in Western culinary circles, they are. But in China, South America, Africa and some Polynesian islands, many people still put the protein-packed morsels high on their favorite foods list. Even many of the North American Indian tribes were "entomophages," as were pioneer farmers; often, when hordes of grasshoppers cleaned out prairie croplands, the raiders were in turn eaten themselves! Furthermore, it's a safe bet that, as the world's protein crisis worsens, we'll all eventually be consumers of these high-energy tidbits.

And why not? The fact is that most insects taste darn good! Many societies think of them as gourmet treats, comparing their flavor to such delicacies as cashew nuts, pineapples, fish, oysters, crab, shrimp and lobster. Actually, the last three—which are premium-priced creatures that make our mouths water and our wallets shrink—are closely related to insects (they're all arthropods), which may account for the above-noted similarity of taste.

Hunger in the Midst of Plenty

Believe it or not, our "conventional" meats are pretty danged protein-deficient when compared with insects. Chicken, for example, has a protein content of just over 20%—which is higher than that of beef, pork, lamb, or fish—yet some insects contain more than three times that percentage! The ahuatle (an aquatic bug eaten in Mexico) is actually 64% protein, and many spiders (which are arachnids rather than insects) come close to that figure. Therefore, if you were to stuff your mouth once with water bugs or spiders, you'd have to fill it three times with chicken to get the same food value!

Though the time of year during which they're harvested, their stage of development and sometimes even their sex (females are often more nutritious than are males) can account for some variation in the protein content within a particular group of insects, here's how some species stack up:

8/6/2013 5:47:59 PM

I think I am going to try eating the Acanalonia.  They've been on my greenbeans and I can ID them both as larvae and adults.  Pest to plate.  Has anyone tried this?  I know they are small, maybe I'll toss them in the pan with the Kentucky Wonders.

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