Monday, August 8, 2022

Would You Eat an Insect? Maybe You Should Consider it

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that about 2 billion people around the world incorporate insects into their standard diet, so what’s America’s problem with bugs? (Courtesy of Flickr)

NATIONWIDE — Insects… they’re crunchy, they’re abundant, and, most notably, have a poor reputation in the Western culinary world. 

You’re probably cringing while reading this but believe it or not, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), edible insects are considered an invaluable food source for a multitude of reasons.

“Edible insects contain high quality protein, vitamins and amino acids for humans. Insects have a high food conversion rate, e.g. crickets need six times less feed than cattle, four times less than sheep, and twice less than pigs and broiler chickens to produce the same amount of protein,” the FAO states. 

Insects also emit less greenhouse gases and ammonia than conventional livestock and can be grown for either human consumption, indirect recomposed foods, or as a protein source into feedstock mixtures. 

A 2013 paper produced by the FAO, “Edible insects: Future prospects for food and feed security,” estimates that at least 2 billion people around the world incorporate bugs into a standard diet.

Tim McCoy, Extension Associate for the Virginia Tech Pesticide Programs, is part of the team that hosts the annual Hokie BugFest, a festival that highlights the science of entomology, or study of bugs. He was introduced to the concept of entomophagy -the practice of eating bugs- when he was in grad school. 

“The professor cooked mealworms for the class and we ate them,” he said. “You can really make anything taste good with olive oil, cilantro, and garlic.”

Since then, McCoy has the chance to expand his food palate, trying grasshoppers, crickets, and ants. He eventually taught a class at a community college where he prepared beetle larvae for students to eat using cilantro, olive oil, and garlic. 

While McCoy has eaten many types of insects and arachnids, he has yet to try a cicada, an insect that has been drawing a lot of national attention since the emergence of Brood X in the mid-Atlantic region. 

RELATED STORY: 17-Year-Old Cicadas are due to arrive in Virginia

“I have not eaten a cicada before, but I did find a recipe that uses them as a pizza topping,” he said, referring to a recipe from “The Eat a Bug Cookbook” by David George Gordon. 

So what should you know in case you become brazen enough to dine on a creepy crawly? 

According to a June 2, 2021 tweet from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), people with shellfish allergies should avoid eating cicadas because the insects share family relation to shrimp and lobsters. McCoy said its best to avoid eating any bugs if you have a shellfish allergy because insect exoskeletons have a similar protein found in shellfish.

When it comes to harvesting and preparing insects for a meal, never eat an insect raw because they could harbor salmonella and other bacteria or have pesticides on them.

Instead, after collecting the insects, put them in a bag in the freezer to kill them. Afterwards, wash them off as you would produce and cook to your liking. 

A preferred way to cook cicadas is by removing their wings, since they are harder to digest, and sautéing them with butter and garlic. McCoy noted that some Native American tribes would dry roast cicadas similar to cooking kettle corn. 

Or, if the faint of heart don’t feel like foraging for their food, crickets are also a good option. Some grocery stores carry granola bars made with cricket flour, which is essentially dried and ground up crickets. According to McCoy, crickets are an excellent source of protein, making cricket powder an excellent alternative to some protein powders.

“I encourage people to explore it,” McCoy said. “Insect eating is growing in popularity, so the cicada eating trend is kicking off, then that might be why.”

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