Have you ever munched on a mealworm? Snacked on a cicada? Tasted a tarantula? If you weren’t raised in a culture where dining on bugs is common, eating these critters might sound gross. But for billions of people, insects and other so-called creepy-crawlies are tasty treats.
Eating bugs, or entomophagy, is common in parts of Asia, Africa and South America. Some people chow down on ants or beetles. Others enjoy caterpillars, worms or giant water bugs. And this isn’t exceptional. Humans have had an appetite for bugs since ancient times. In fact, this type of grub may have helped early humans and other primates evolve big brains.
Eating insects rather than other kinds of meat may be better for the planet. Such “mini-livestock” require less land, water and other resources than cows or pigs. And bugs are a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals.
But people who didn’t grow up seeing insects on their plates often can’t get past the “ick” factor of eating them. To overcome this barrier, scientists are testing how best to advertise edible insects. And some are even inventing new seasonings to make bugs more mouth-watering.
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If you’re interested in trying edible insects for the first time, great! But don’t start with the bugs found around the house or outside. They might have picked up chemicals or germs that aren’t safe to consume. With a parent’s help, you can order edible insects through the mail or purchase them at many grocery stores.
The first bugs that many North Americans try are crickets, says Science News life sciences reporter Susan Milius. “Some food stores carry them as seasoned snacks or as specialty flours and nutrient powders,” she says. “Someone in the mood for a little adventure could crunch into a spiced snack cricket or add some packaged crickets for variety in a stir fry.” Adding cricket powder to a shake or pastry recipe can also boost the protein content of the final dish.
For more information about how to cook insects, check out this video and other resources from Brooklyn Bugs. And if you’re not ready to taste test real insects just yet, there are plenty of other insect-themed snacks to try.