Yuck! Gross! How can you even say bugs are for dinner? Entomophagy, or the act of eating insects, is frowned upon in American culture. But about 80% of the world’s population have cuisines that include bugs. Did you know that in Columbia Big-Butt Ants are considered a delicacy? They are roasted, salted, and eaten like peanuts. It is such a delicacy that per pound, they are worth nearly ten times more than Columbia’s biggest export…coffee. In the Mexican province of Taxco, jumiles, or stinkbugs, even have their very own festival every fall. But why would someone want to eat bugs?
If you are in a survival situation, you may not have much choice. However, the likelihood of that happening is rare. On the other hand, you could be one of those adventurous folks who like to expand their culinary fare. You could be a traveler attempting to dive, head-first, into the culture of the place you are visiting. Including bugs in our diet can put a significant ease on our already stressed ecosystems around the world. Many first-world countries are assembling research on just how much impact encouraging people to eat more insects could reduce costs and improve the environment. Let’s face it; bugs are plentiful. Many have short growth cycles compared to the cattle, livestock, and other farm animals that we currently eat.
There are plenty of health benefits to eating insects as well. The first, and likely most important is the reduced cost to produce edible quantities. But insects are also a great source of many essential nutrients. Bugs are high in protein, low in fat, and low in calories. Many people lack sufficient amounts of nutrients in their diet like calcium, fiber, B-12, and Omegas, all of which insects are high in. It is tough to find foods rich in all nine essential amino acids also, but bugs happen to be packed with them. Bugs produce far less methane compared to cattle, so there is the environmental aspect also. Insects can be much more easily mass-produced without costly equipment. In addition to a more natural production process, bugs reduce the load on our already taxed ecosystem. Farm production of insects requires far less water and food to produce consumable amounts. Another benefit for our health-conscious diners: bugs are organic and non-GMO.
There are a few basic rules to insects as a food source. The first is never to eat brightly colored bugs. The bright color warns predators to stay away, so you should too. Secondly, steer clear of stinky bugs. These are usually toxic to humans, not to mention they probably aren’t pleasant tasting. Remember not to eat insects with hair either. In some instances, the hair can irritate your skin or internal organs. In other cases, it can be toxic. Finally, the most crucial thing to keep in mind is never to eat a bug you are unsure about. If you can’t remember, don’t chance it. So, what kind of bugs are we talking about eating here? Does one have to eat them raw? Most importantly, do they have to look like bugs to eat them? Let’s see what’s on the menu.
Crickets & Grasshoppers
Grasshoppers are best caught early in the morning, while the cooler temperature makes them more sluggish. Crickets are best caught at night when they are more plentiful. Both can be found in grass, in shrubs, and on trees. If you have access to wool or flannel fabric, you can lay these out in the grass. As the bugs go about their daily business, their feet will get caught in the material, making them easier to grab. To eat them, remove their wings, legs, and pull off their heads and the entrails that go along with it. You can roast them in a pan, or over an open flame. Do not eat any brightly colored species, like the eastern lubber, which is found in some southern states, as these can make you ill. The good news is that if you want to tread cautiously into the world of bugs for dinner, crickets are one of the most popular insects on the market. There are multiple products available for sampling, but the most common to try first is cricket powder. It bakes like regular grain flours and has a slightly nutty flavor. You can also use it as a substitute for your daily protein powder. You can try some here:
Ants are both easy to find and easy to collect. The best method is to follow the line of marching ants back to their anthill and then jab a stick into the nest a few times and wait for the swarm. Once they begin to accumulate on the branch, dunk it in water to drown them. You will want to boil them for about 6 minutes or so to reduce the acidity in their bodies. Just remember, do not eat fire ants. Follow the rule of not eating brightly colored insects, and you will be okay. That is, once you get past the fact that you are eating bugs voluntarily.
Termites are far less likely to carry parasites than other insects. Termite queens are considered a delicacy in West Africa. Look for termites in dead and decaying wood. As luck would have it, termites, like ants, are found in large numbers, so collecting enough for a meal is simple. These insects are packed with over fourteen grams of protein for every one hundred grams eaten, meaning a small amount can go a long way.
Stinkbugs are the one exception to the “don’t eat smelly bugs” rule. Some say stinkbugs taste like apples, others like iodine and others still say the taste is comparable to cinnamon Altoids. In Taxco, Mexico, there is an annual festival devoted to them. Townspeople roam the foothills in search of these critters and create a variety of dishes with them. To catch them, turn over rocks, logs, and other covered places. Put them in jars and stockpile them for ready availability. While they can be eaten raw, you’ll want to cook them to avoid the “yodo” (urine) that is released when eating them live. To prepare, soak them in water for 5-10 minutes before dry roasting them in a pan.
Potato bugs have a variety of names, including sowbugs, rolly pollies, and pill bugs. Potato bugs are actually wood lice, and they are not a bug at all. Wood lice are land crustaceans. They are said to taste like shrimp; in fact, another moniker for them is “land shrimp.” One can search for them under rocks and logs or in piles of dead leaves. Potato bugs are easy enough to spot as they curl up when disturbed. They do not run away, so they are easy enough to collect in large amounts. They can be prepared just like shrimp too, drop a bunch of them in boiling water, and cook them for a while. These bugs can also carry parasitic roundworms, so make sure to cook them thoroughly before consuming.
You may be thinking that eating grubs or maggots is a line that you would never cross. But what if you hadn’t eaten for days and this was the only thing available? Grubs, or beetle larva, are fat and contain high levels of protein. Maggots are fly larva; they are thinner but also contain high levels of protein. You definitely want to cook both of these, but maggots especially, since they live in rotting meat and vegetation. To make them a little more edible, you’ll want to boil or sauté them to kill any potential parasites.
The cockroaches that live in your home are not the kind you’d want to eat as they carry numerous diseases. However, wild cockroaches carry far fewer diseases. The good news is they are jam-packed with essential nutrients. A handful of roaches will net you over 20mg of vitamin C, nearly 50mg of vitamin A and 65g of fiber in a single 100g serving. According to those that have tried them, they are crunchy and pretty tasty if you can get past the fact that you are eating a roach. In China, a popular way to serve them is fried.
If you happen to be stranded in the American Southwest, scorpions may become a staple of your diet. Just try to avoid being stung by one. Some say they taste a little like crab. You’ll want to stay as hands-off as possible when catching them. The best method for catching scorpions is to dig a hole in front of their den. Use a jar with the lid removed and place it in the hole. Then sit back and wait for them to emerge at night. They will be trapped in the jar, unable to escape. You can then screw the lid on and wait for them to die naturally, or you can stab it with a sharp object. Once your scorpion has expired, pull off the stinger. Be sure to remove some few segments of the tail also, as this is where the venom is stored. It is still possible for some people to have an allergic reaction, so make sure the scorpion is well-cooked before consuming. Roast over an open flame until well-browned. Scorpions are a last resort meal, but if you are stranded in the desert, you may not have much else for selection.
Spiders, in general, are eaten around the world. In Cambodia, a fried spider is considered a delicacy. One might not think that spiders would provide much in the way of sustenance. However, there are many large varieties of spiders that can provide a meal in a survival situation. In North America, spiders might not cross your list of edible insects. Although many southern states (including Florida) and much of the American Southwest do have tarantulas. They are abundant from the Southern United States into South American rainforests (where they are much larger). Tarantulas can provide a decent amount of meat for a snack. Nevertheless, you’ll want to use caution when attempting to catch them as the bite can be painful, and the hairs can irritate skin and internal organs. To eat them, you’ll want to remove as much of the hair on the body as possible. Then drop them in some boiling water and cook for several minutes. You can tell the doneness of the spider by how much the legs curl.
It is important to remember that you should cook most, if not all, of your insect meal. Not only will this help make them tastier, but it will also significantly reduce your risk of lungworm, roundworm, and other parasitic infections. Some of the bugs mentioned have venom; high temperatures will generally cook out any toxins present in the insect. Remember to avoid brightly colored bugs, hairy bugs, and smelly bugs (except for the stinkbug), as these are potentially more dangerous to eat.
If you want to learn more about edible bugs (or tuck a copy into your survival bag), you can purchase this book to help you learn how to catch and prepare them: