Here in Florida, bugs—especially cockroaches, termites, water bugs, and ants—are common pest problems. Like many Floridians, I have hired pest-control people to get rid of these “creepy-crawlies.” Never have the pest-control guys suggested that such bugs are edible. I guess they have never heard of entomophagy (love that tongue-twisting word), the practice of eating insects. Before you have stomach-churning reactions or gag, you might consider the fact that billions of people worldwide consume thousands of species of insects, which include diverse species of butterflies, moths, beetles, ants, bees, wasps, grasshoppers, crickets, cockroaches, termites, cicadas, and dragonflies.
“So what!” you might say. Americans would NEVER eat insects. But they do. They eat banana worm bread, chocolate covered grasshoppers, dry-roasted or candied crickets, grasshopper tortillas with stink bug salsa, and fried bamboo worms. In spite of the “yuck” factor, insect-based foods are available across the United States. You can start off the morning with pancakes made with cricket flower. For a snack during the day you can crunch on macaroons made with roasted crickets or cricket protein bars. For lunch or dinner you can gobble down waxworm tacos or BBQ-dipped insects. Perhaps you’ll get a chance to visit a restaurant and be served black ant guacamole or scorpions with shrimp toast.
At the Typhoon restaurant (closed in 2016 due to triple rent hike) in Santa Monica, California’s airport, the dinner menu included a great variety of Pan Asian dishes from Chow Mein to Mongolian beef to Thai fried rice. Also on the menu were these items clearly marked as Insects: SILK WORM LARVAE, stir-fried, soy, sugar, white pepper, for $10.00; SINGAPORE-STYLE SCORPIONS on shrimp toast for $12.00; and TAIWANESE CRICKETS, stir-fried, raw garlic, chile pepper, Asian basil for $10.00.
There are several other restaurants in California serving insect foods. New Orleans, Louisiana, boasts a restaurant called Bug Appétit in the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium. In Chicago, Illinois, there is a restaurant called Sticky Rice, which serves some meals with deep fried bamboo caterpillars. Sautéed grasshoppers are available at Hugos in Houston, Texas. Another Hugos in Seattle, Washington serves chili lime grasshoppers as a side dish. In short, there are numerous U.S. restaurants that entomophagists would like and they can be found with a quick internet search.
Chef David George Gordon, author of Eat-A-Bug Cookbook (revised in 2013) and The Compleat Cockroach, travels extensively to demonstrate at cooking shows how to create insect-based foods such as scorpion kabobs and orzo with cricket nymphs. At his shows, people try his concoctions and sometimes ask for seconds. He once claimed that one kid at his demonstration had five servings and said the food was better than anything his mother ever cooked!
Whether or not you find insects tasty, they can be good for one’s health. They are low in fat and carbohydrates and high in protein. Nevertheless that does not mean people in the United States have gone wild over edible insects. Bug eating is still a novelty in the United States. Deep-fried crickets and grasshoppers (which are popular in Thailand) do not attract a lot of diners in the United States and Canada, although some Americans are experimenting with such foods. I’m not one of them, but I do wonder what they taste like.
An expert entomophagist who has tested insect based foods says dry-toasted cricket tastes like sunflower seeds; katydid like toasted avocado; palm grub like bacon soup with a chewy, sweet finish. Weaver ant pupae have practically no flavor, while the meat of the giant water bug is like jelly beans or fruit chews. If you have eaten insect food, please let us know how they taste in the comments below.
A word of caution, however, if you plan to buy edible insects to create your own meals. Bugs are safe to eat as long as you purchase them from a reliable source. There is an assortment of online vendors, primarily cricket and worm farms, which you can find online. You can also raise them yourself. But the experts warn do NOT take bugs from the wild unless you understand which insects are safe to eat; insects in your backyard or garden, for example, may contain pesticides or other poisonous chemicals.
Meanwhile if you are an entomophagist or are experimenting with edible insects, I wish you bon appétit!