The Salt
3:02 pm
Wed May 29, 2013

Cooking With Cicadas: No Weirder Than Eating Cheese?

Originally published on Wed May 29, 2013 6:18 pm

You knew this one was coming.

Earlier this month, we told you about a U.N. report that makes the case for insects to improve global food security: They're cheap, plentiful and environmentally sustainable. Now, the coming of the 17-year cicadas provides East Coast Americans, for whom bug eating is considered novel at best, with an opportunity to try local insect cuisine.

If you're willing to try cicada cookery, there's a book to guide your way, as NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports Wednesday on All Things Considered. Cicada-licious, published in 2004 and available for free online, features recipes for cicada dumplings, tacos and chocolate-covered cicadas.

Author Jenna Jadin tells Yuki that, before cooking, you should break off the legs and wings — "they kind of tear off pretty easily."

"Then rinse them off," Jadin says, to "make sure all the soil bacteria is off of them."

Back when cicadas infested Chicago in 2007, freelance food writer David Hammond also gave the critters a culinary go. "My goal was to get them right as they were coming out of the ground," he tells NPR. "Young. Veal, if you will. Ha ha."

He realizes Western diners might be put off or grossed out by the idea of eating bugs — but weird is all relative, he notes. (After all, 2 billion people already eat bugs, mostly in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Australia.)

"Cheese is the grossest thing in the world," Hammond says. "You know, it's rotten milk. You eat rotten milk? That's disgusting! Yeah, well, we love it."

Then there's the fact that — hate to break it to you — you've probably already eaten bugs without realizing it.

"Insects are a part of all processed foods," Jadin writes in her cookbook, "from bread to tomato ketchup — it's impossible to keep mass-produced food 100% insect-free. There are regulations stating the maximum amount of bug bits that food can contain and still be fit for human consumption."

Sit back and digest that for a second.

But of course, the big question is: How do they taste? Word on the street is that cicadas are kind of nutty or kind of like asparagus.

Jadin cooked up a batch of the noisy, red-eyed bugs for our intrepid reporter to sample: candied with brown sugar and seasoned with Sriracha, then baked in the oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. The verdict?

"It's kind of like caramel popcorn," Yuki tells us.

You can hear Yuki's story on All Things Considered.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Finally, this hour, a different kind of food. Along the East Coast, it is a banner year for cicadas. Many of us recognize that hypnotic buzzing, while others hear this and think - dinner. NPR's Yuki Noguchi has this story on a growing movement of people in the U.S. who believe bugs belong on the menu.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: It's the cusp of summer and Jenna Jadin is preparing cicadas she gathered, then froze.

JENNA JADIN: I have taken them, I have ripped off the wings. They kind of tear off pretty easily. And then broken off all of the legs...

NOGUCHI: Jaden is a foodie and veteran entomologist, that is a bug-eater. She wrote "Cicada-licious," a 2004 cookbook featuring cicada dumplings, tacos and chocolate-covered cicadas.

JADIN: Then rinse them off, get them really clean and make sure all the soil bacteria is off of them.

NOGUCHI: Denuded of their wings and legs, toasted cicadas look a bit more like almonds than red-eyed bugs. And today, Jadin is making candied cicadas with sriracha hot sauce.

JADIN: Now, we kind of have a mess here of brown sugar and sriracha and some cicadas and we're going to pop it into a 350-degree oven for about 20 minutes.

NOGUCHI: And so, we wait. In the U.S., bugs as food are considered novel at best or revolting. But advocates say they have the potential to become a culinary trend and big business. Consider the world's embrace of sushi in recent decades.

PAUL VANTOMME: Thirty years ago in Europe, eating raw fish was a taboo. And now a sushi bar is as common as a McDonald's.

NOGUCHI: That's Paul Vantomme, a senior forestry official for the United Nations agricultural division. He co-authored a report released this month advocating insect consumption. Vantomme, who is based in Rome, loves locusts.

VANTOMME: In the U.S. you have your cicada boom coming.

NOGUCHI: Cicada, cicada, tomato, tomato. Vantomme says food is about cultural perception. For about a third of the world's people, bugs are already a dietary staple, especially in Southeast Asia, Africa and South America. They're high in protein, low in fat, locally harvested and sustainable. Vantomme says as human population growth squeezes the world's resources, insects become a very cheap and appealing supply of protein.

VANTOMME: We always look at insects as a nuisance, as a pest, as a problem. Why not look at them as an opportunity?

NOGUCHI: But regulation lags. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates the consumption of bugs mostly by capping the amount of insect fragments it permits in what we think of as normal foods. In other words, we already eat bugs unwittingly because varying amounts of fruit fly eggs and aphid parts are permitted in foods such as ground cinnamon and tomato sauce.

Dave Gracer runs Small Stock Foods, a Providence, Rhode Island purveyor of edible insects. It's a small business.

DAVE GRACER: The industry is not at a place yet where there are particular regulations regarding the rearing or processing or storing of insects.

NOGUCHI: Though Gracer gets periodic orders from restaurants and hobbyists, he says demand in the U.S. is still quite low.

GRACER: It's sort of a fringe food group, even lunatic fringe for most people.

NOGUCHI: David Hammond, a freelance food writer, argues lunatic fringe is all relative.

DAVID HAMMOND: Cheese is the grossest thing in the world. You know, it's rotten milk. You eat rotten milk? That's disgusting. Well, yeah, we love it.

NOGUCHI: Hammond cooked cicadas when they infested Chicago in 2007.

HAMMOND: My goal was to get them right as they were coming out of the ground, young - veal, if you will.

NOGUCHI: Which brings us back to Jenna Jadin's Washington D.C. apartment where our snack is just emerging from the oven.

JADIN: Sounds like they're done.

NOGUCHI: Finally, with bugs, there's the issue of taste. Cicadas are often described as having a nut-like taste in addition to, of course, being a little crunchy. Jadin and her boyfriend joined me for my first tasting. All right. Here goes. Spicy. It's like caramel. It could be caramel corn if you really persuaded yourself.

Of course, with enough sugar and spice, everything tastes nice. The cicadas are just optional. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.