Entomophagy is the consumption of insects as food. It derives from the Greek words éntomon for “insect” and phagein for “to eat.” Some 2 billion people, including 36 African countries and 23 in the Americas, are entomophagous, eating insects regularly. And as recently as May of 2013 the UN Food And Agriculture Organization is urging a shift to eating insects as the primary food source. But beyond the usual guffaw from westerners not yet ready to get on board the insect eating trend, there are surprisingly more than a few crispy critters that have ultimately been found to please the palette.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization points out that there are some 1900 edible insects which populate the earth. And a healthy portion of that sum are already a part of the daily meal in a number of countries. One general attribute insects have in common are high levels of protein, which in an economy where the price of beef and poultry continues to rise, is a good thing.
Mealworms are actually the larvae form of the Darkling Beetle aka Tenebrio Molitor and they usually reach about 2.5 cm. However mealworm farmers, capitalizing on the popularity of the insect as a food source, have been known to infuse hormones into the feeding process to keep the mealworms in the larval stage. In this state, much like chickens injected with hormones, they can reach a larger size.
In terms of nutritional value, mealworms rival fish for protein, vitamins and minerals. They can be grilled or added to oatmeal and bran to give what sources claim to be a nutty and moist texture to a breakfast meal. Sometimes they’re soaked in tequila, not to be confused with moth larva used as “tequila worms;” for a candy snack. They are often paired with carrots or apples.
Mealworms are a plentiful food source, easily farmed and easily prepared. If roughing it in the wilds of the forest, campers usually roast them on a spit and eat them. Or they can even be eaten raw. They’re often sold in bulk and coupled with oatmeal.
Grasshoppers are yet another plentiful food source that is hugely popular. Deriving from the insect species Caelifera, the grasshopper is not to be confused with the cricket or katydid. However its cousins who change color are locusts.
Grasshoppers offer a significant source of protein and are popular dishes in Africa, China and Mexico. In Mexico for instance chapulines, as they are called, are flavored with onions, garlic and other spices. They usually are boiled or fried and added to numerous dishes. Similarly in the Middle East, they are baked in the sun and make for a popular snack. In China, they are typically skewered and marinated in a sauce. If searching for grasshoppers while visiting China, they can usually be found in one of the street markets. And in Africa they are eaten in soups.
The most popular incarnation of the grasshopper has been chocolate covered ones often served as a dessert snack or fried grasshoppers usually served in tortilla dishes.
Dung, june and long-horned beetles are among the most popular form of beetles digested for dinner. The adult insects are the most widely eaten of the insect kingdom. They are vastly popular in the Amazon as snacks and in Africa and other regions where the environment offers a dense forest and underbrush. Dung beetles offer 17.2 grams of protein per 100 gram serving.
Yet what might be surprising to westerners is that many foods common to the western home may contain beetles as ingredients. In some instances they are used for food coloring. The FDA now requires companies to list beetles as ingredients if they have been used in production.
Ants, of which there a multitude of varieties, reportedly have a sweet, nutty flavor. They are typically served in salads and main dishes. So popular are they that restaurants in London and Copenhagen have taken them on board as menu items. Some are served drizzled in a lemon citrusy sauce atop a bed of lettuce and vegetables. Archipelago, Ento, and The Edible Shop at Selfridges Food Hall in London and Noma in Copenhagen have all infused their menus with insect cuisine.
Not only are ants popular with restauranteurs, they offer quite a punch when it comes to nutritional value. 100 grams of red ants for instance pack 14 grams of protein, 48 grams of calcium, multiple vitamins and minerals and less than 100 calories. That’s a lot more on offer than what eggs can boast.
Belgium is known for its fries, ice cream and chocolates. Coupling Belgian chocolates with Leafcutter Ants has resulted in a hugely popular snack reputed to boost energy and the immune system. Chocolate covered ants, just like chocolate covered grasshoppers, are a tremendous hit with foodies as candy snacks or full on desserts. In Columbia the Guane Indians collect the Queen Leafcutter Ants as they emerge from their nests, toast them in a clay pot over a fire and eat them as a delicacy. Now westerners can enjoy the Queen Leafcutters covered in chocolate.
6. Water Bugs
Water Boatmen, water beetles and backswimmers are a popular dish in Mexico. All three of the breed reportedly taste similarly to scallops. Water beetles are usually stripped of their shells and then fried or roasted. And for an added bit of luxury, the eggs of water boatmen are usually harvested and served like caviar. Typically found on stems of vegetation in fresh and saltwater sources, the eggs are described as having a reported shrimp flavor when eaten as caviar and reportedly a fishy flavor when eaten fresh.
An interesting fact about the water boatman is that besides its 2mm size it is the loudest creature on the planet.
5. Stink Bugs
Stinkbugs, 6 legged insects which usually have an oval shape and cart around a shield on their back, derive from the Hemiptera order. They typically have a foul reputation for their equally foul odor they emit when they feel threatened. Throughout the year they may be found annoying homeowners by finding a means to infiltrate the home.
But for many cultures, stink bugs make an excellent food source. Made into a paste or sauce, they reportedly offer the palette an apple flavor. And they’re a surprisingly excellent source of iodine. In Mexico for instance, on the Monday following the Day Of The Dead children and adults alike hunt the little creatures under logs and stones, bag them, eat them raw or ground them into a paste to be used in salsa.
In African countries such as Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia they are often used in stews. Here they are usually collected in early morning when they are less active. When not used in stews, they are sun dried and eaten as snacks. They can equally be fried and served with spices.
Bees are closely related to wasps and ants. They are known for pollination, producing honey and being of vital importance to the survival of the human race. And when it comes to taste, bees like ants reportedly have a nutty flavor. Unlike ants, bees are usually eaten in their larval or egg stage. Most popular are the stingless variety for all the obvious reasons. And in Japan larval bees can be easily purchased in a can. Hachinoko, a Japanese delicacy, according to sources, have a sweet, piney, smoky taste.
Where are bees a popular food source? Asia, Africa, South America, Mexico and Australia; particularly among indigenous people.
Scorpions derive from the class Arachnida and the order of Scorpiones. They have been found distributed across the globe with the one exception being Antarctica. They are equally as diversified in cuisine as spread out in location. In Beijing for instance, scorpions are popularly served fried, skewered and as a kebab. It isn’t uncommon to see black scorpions in various street markets, fried or grilled and served as scorpion kebab. Fried scorpion as a traditional dish originates in Shandong, China. And for healing purposes, the Chinese have fashioned various wines from scorpions.
For westerners, one can find chocolate covered scorpions in cosmopolitan cities like London. And in California, local scorpions are often encased in candy coating and turned into lollipops. Hotlix Candy Store is particularly famous for this.
To see scorpion kebabs devoured in action check out http://youtu.be/ZaeWrmYIuoM
Termites are derived from the cockroach order Blattodea. And just like cockroaches, termites are vehemently detested in most circles. However, termites provide an excellent food source with a whopping 14.2 grams of protein per 100 gram serving. Indonesia and Africa are particularly fond of the critter.
Typically they’re harvested after the rainy season and served roasted with various spices. When fried, it is generally not necessary to use much oil since the termite body is naturally high in oil. The taste reportedly is a nutty, crunchy combination and they are rich in nutrients.
The caterpillar which later turns into a butterfly not only is magical for its future transformation but equally for its taste apparently. In the Congo for instance where poultry, fish and beef can be expensive, caterpillars provide an excellent alternative.
Harvesting caterpillars is not only popular, it can be lucrative. In fact in southern Africa, harvesting caterpillars has become a multimillion dollar industry. They’re usually boiled in salt water and then sun dried. Once dried they can last refrigerated for several months. And caterpillars are rich in iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, manganese and copper according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.