Pass the Bugs, Please!
Would you like your cicadas fried or broiled? At the central market in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, a woman sells the deep-fried variety. The crunchy snack is considered a delicacy to many of her customers.
Why would anyone munch on insects? In countries like Cambodia, meat is expensive or scarce. So entomophagy (en-tuh-MAH-fah-gee), or the act of eating insects, can provide a critical source of protein for people. By weight, insects contain much more protein, and less fat, than a typical burger. For example, while 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of grasshoppers provide 21 g of protein and 6 g of fat, a burger of the same weight gives you one third of the protein and twice the fat.
Besides being nutritious, insect cuisine can be downright scrumptious. "I have eaten fried cicadas and several other species of insects," says Tom Turpin, an entomologist, or insect scientist, at Purdue University in Indiana. "In general, insects have a taste somewhat suggestive of nuts, such as almonds."
As with most foods, it takes some culinary expertise to prepare a yummy cicada platter. First, Turpin removes the flying insect's brittle, transparent wings. Then, he covers the 10 centimeter (4 inch) cicadas with flour and fries them in olive oil until crispy.
Feasting on bugs isn't isolated to the market in Phnom Penh. "Just about all types of insects have found their way into human stomachs in some part of the world," says Turpin. Example: Termites are eaten in most of Africa. And in Papua New Guinea, people enjoy the nutty-flavored beetle larvae that live in palm trees.
But insect eaters beware: Not all creepy-crawlies are safe to munch on. Some insects, such as brightly colored caterpillars and red beetles, are toxic and should be avoided.
As for the safe variety, who knew that the crunchy insects could make such nutritious, mouth-watering treats?