In the kitchen

Bug out!

Written by Gretchen McKay on

With this week's temperatures soaring in the high 80s, it shouldn't be long now before billions -- that's billion with a "b" --  of cicada nymps emerge from the ground en mass, scaring the bejesus out of insect phobics with their bulging red eyes, and threatening to ruin June brides' outdoor weddings with their deafening daytime singing, which can hit a buzz of 90 decibels (the sound of a motorcycle at 25 feet).

If you're adventurous, and can get past the ick factor, we have a solution.

Eat them.

Considered a delicacy in ancient Greece and Rome, the stick-legged bugs were staples for Australian Aborigines and American Indians. In modern-day Asia, fried cicadas still are enjoyed as a crunchy summer snack. 

Here in the U.S., TV personality Andrew Zimmern, who's in town next week to film a Pittsburgh episode of "Bizarre Foods," likes to stir-fry the shrimp-sized bugs (de-winged, of course) in peanut oil with a little minced garlic, ginger, lemongrass and chile. "My go-to #cicada #recipe," he tweeted on Wednesday. But regular folks are fans, too.

Bun Lai, chef/owner of Miya's Sushi in New Haven, Conn., plans on steaming this year's crop, Maryland crab-style, with ground spices and herbs. And in D.C., mixologist Dan Searing has concocted the Brood 2 Rickey for his customers at Room 11: Dancing Pines bourbon infused with cicadas (females taste best, he says), lime juice and soda water. 

bug dishFeeling queasy? You're not alone. Bugs tend to have that affect on people's appetites. (What if their tiny legs get caught in the back of your throat? Or -- my particular fear -- they squish juice when you bite into them?) 

But it may be time to get over your aversion to eating creepy-crawlies.

The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization last week released a 171-page study arguing that everyone -- not just the food insecure -- should have more bugs in their diet. Here's why: 

One, insects are a surprisingly nutritious and healthy food source with high fat, protein, vitamin, fiber and mineral content. Two, farming them is kinder to the environment (and cheaper) than raising animals. And three, they're really easy to mass produce, so raising/harvesting them can provide a livelihood for even the poorest segments of society, including women and the landless.05232013eatabug

Bug aficianodos (they're called entomophagists) say cicadas have a green, asparagus-like flavor that lends itself to any number of dishes -- in "Cicada-Licious: Cooking and Enjoying Periodical Cicadas," a free digital cookbook by scientist Jenna Jadin, you'll find recipes for everything from dumplings to pizza to tacos to (gulp!) cicada-rhubarb pie. But you better act quick: After crawling from the ground, cicadas only live for about a month, which means they'll all be dead by the Fourth of July. (Though you always could collect and freeze them.)

The insects also can be candied, pickled or covered in chocolate. 

Rather test your mettle on bugs you can find year-round?  "Bug Chef" David George Gordon's upcoming release, "The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook" (Ten Speed, July 2013, $12.45), cooks up 40 ways to turn grasshoppers, waterbugs, spiders, centipedes and other wigglies that make (some) girls scream into dinner.  You can find his recipe for grasshopper Sheesh! Kabobs (above left) in the July/August issue of Sierra magazine. Marinating the orthoptera overnight, notes the tester, "helps reduce the chitinous crunch."  (The dish has not been PG tested.)

chapul-cricket-barFinally, for sporty types, there's two new all-natural energy bars from the Kickstarter-funded Chapul. Inspired by the flavors of the American Southwest and Thailand, both derive their protein from crickets ground into a fine powder. The Chaco is made with dates, peanut butter and dark chocolate sweetened with agave nectar; the tropical Thai Bar boasts a mix of coconut, ginger and "a tangy hint of lime." A sampler pack of six costs $16.99. plus tax and shipping. 

I know the finely ground flour doesn't include any hair-like cricket legs. But I still suggest a cold Singha to wash those puppies down. 

Photos (from top): Post-Gazette, Sierra magazine, Ten Speed Press, Chapul

Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.