Chocolate-coated bees are a very popular delicacy in Nigeria. In Colombia, ants are roasted with salt (crunchy salt-and-vinegar ants) and eaten at feasts. During the rainy season, people in the Central African Republic eat an average of 42 caterpillars a day. Can entomophagy (the practice of eating bugs) help to solve the issue of world food security? According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), more than 1,900 insect species are consumed as part of traditional diets of at least 2 billion people worldwide, mostly in Asia, Africa and South America. Markets of insects can be found in many parts of Thailand and China; some insects, like meal worms are already harvested for commercial marekets and are used in pet food and recreational fishing; and others, like rice cooked with cruncy wasps, make it to the family dinner table of royalty such as the late Emperor Hirohito. Of these species, the most consumed are: beetles (31 percent); caterpillars (18 percent); bees, wasps and ants (14 percent); and grasshoppers, locusts and crickets (13 percent).
Why eat insects? Before you get the heebie-jeebies, consider that insects are incredibly nutritious and contain high levels of protein and good fats, are high in calcium, iron and zinc. For example, beef has an iron content of 6 milligrams per 100 grams of dry weight, while, depending on the species, the iron content of locusts varies between 8 and 20 mg per 100 g of dry weight. For protein-loving body-builders, grasshopper could be a valuable addition to your diet, as 100 g of grasshopper contains a whopping 20 g of protein and a mere six g of fat – as compared to beef’s 29 g of protein with 21 g of fat.
Additionally, farming insects emits up to 10 times less greenhouse gas than farming livestock, says Belgian entomologist, Arnold van Huis. Because insects are cold-blooded, they don’t use energy from feed to maintain body temperature. On average, insects use just 2 kg of feed to produce 1 kilo of insect meat, whereas livestock like cattle require 8 kg of feed to produce 1 kg of beef. Many scientists and food security experts suggest that insects provide a nutritious food resource, and the FAO’s book, Edible Insects: Future prospects for food and feed security looks to insect farming as a source of employment and cash income that requires less impact on the environment than farming livestock, and with the potential to cut up to 33 percent from average food prices in most countries.
Have you caught the bug? If you add these 10 insects to your own diet, your family will surely say to you, “rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub!”
1. Ants: Have you ever really tried “ants on a log”? There’s no time like the present! To harvest ants, try putting a stick on an anthill (literally, “ants on a log”), wait for the ants to crawl up and cover it, and then shake them off into a container. A lid container should suffocate them, and will cause them to secrete a sour, vinegar-tasting acid, which happens when they feel threatened. Roasting them right away will kill them more quickly and prevent this. Chocolate-covered ants or ants roasted with salt mixed in with trail mix will make a delicious hiking snack!
2. Caterpillars: These treats contain as much as 30 mg of iron per 100 grams, as well as high amounts of potassium, sodium, phosphorous, magnesium, zinc, manganese and copper. They should be caught and eaten in the larval stage, and are generally boiled in salted water, then sun-dried. This dried form can last for several months without refrigeration, and work as a beautiful garnish or substitute when you’re making a salad and out of sun-dried tomatoes.
3. Crickets: A simple trap for crickets requires only a Mason jar and some bait. Dig a small hole in the ground of a cricket-inhabited area, put the jar into this hole and move the soil back into place around it or simply put the jar on its side on the ground. A piece of bait is then placed in the jar (a slice of apple, carrot, bread, lettuce, try what you have). Check back periodically for your crickets, and once they’re inside put a lid on the jar if you want them to die. A lid with holes poked will keep them alive, if you want to save them for later. In Thailand Jing Leed, or deep-fried cricket seasoned with Golden Mountain sauce (similar to soy sauce) and pepper, is one of the country’s most popular snacks. However, after eating be sure to floss, as the legs could get stuck in your teeth.
4. Dragonflies: In Indonesia, dragonflies boiled in coconut milk with ginger are a much-appreciated delicacy. Some chefs choose to fry them and mix them in with butter and mushroom slices. They should only take a few seconds on each side, and is said to taste like soft-shell crab.
5. Earwigs: Earwigs can be caught by filling low-sided cans with a half inch of vegetable oil and placing on the ground, as they will enter in and drown themselves. Once caught, earwigs can be strained, toasted, and served, or prepared like termites.
6. Grasshoppers: These insects can be caught using the same methods as described for crickets. Once captured, grasshoppers make for some delicious appetizers. Try dry roasting them, or adding butter to them and sauteeing with onions for a side dish. Or, mix them in with popcorn for a trip to the movies. While waiting, remember to channel your inner Karate Kid sensei: Patience, young grasshopper.
7. Mealworms: Mealworms are raised in the Netherlands for human consumption, as they thrive in temperate climates and contain high amounts of copper, sodium, potassium, iron, zinc, and selenium. Compared to beef, they have similar amounts of protein but a greater number of healthy, polyunsaturated fats. This recipe suggests adding worms to tacos!
8. Scorpions: Scorpions are found in virtually every terrestrial habitat, except for Antarctica. Once (very carefully) caught, they can be frozen for a few days and deep-fried. If you plan to eat the stinger, heat is said to de-nature the proteins in the venom when frying, but consumption should be at your own risk. Emperor Scorpions are often eaten, because of their low venom content, but Desert Hairy scorpions are said to have a less thick and tough exoskeleton.
9. Spiders: If you like seafood and it’s not crab seasons, spiders may be the choice for you. Tarantulas are said to have a chewy body armor, with much meat in the legs. Try throwing them in a salad or dipping them in butter, the way you would a lobster!
10. Termites: Termites are high in proteins, fats and oils, and as in Ghana, can be treated as nutrition, rather than nuisance. Before you call pest control, consider killing them with your frying pan and roasting them in butter. You can also sun-dry, smoke, or steam them, if you’d like to keep them around the house for longer!