Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
6 Aug

Insects: Not Just for Breakfast Anymore

1429097729 9f0c202d88For many of us, it’s the stuff of childhood dares and fraternity hazing. In many cultures around the world, however, they’re considered fine delicacies or just regular daily fare. We’re talking insects or the more vaguely inclusive “bugs”: grubs, worms, grasshoppers, crickets, spiders, scorpions, beetles, termites, worms, ants, and other varieties in the vastly underappreciated gastronomic world of insects. “What could be more primal than eating insects?” you might ask. We would agree. Thanks to reader Tim for the suggestion.

Sure, we know there’s the strong sense of culturally-induced heebie-jeebies. The crunch, the ooze, the unimagined texture of fangs, pinchers, antennae, legs, and wings…. Some of us, frankly, would rather leave it unimagined, thank you very much. (Nonetheless, rest assured that most of the extraneous body parts – and definitely those pinchers and fangs – are routinely removed.)

Still reading? We thought we might lose a couple there. The truth is, when you bring the topic out into the light of day (and out of the Fear Factor gross-out fanfare), eating bugs begins to look pretty rational, surprisingly practical, even fairly convincing. For our part, we’d never turn down a good primal meal

Good primitive foraging it is – Grok at his most resourceful. However, we say, don’t write off insect eating as “merely” primordial scavenging. It’s been part of many a “Golden” age as well. Ancient thriving cultures in Europe, Asia and Africa partook, and in some parts of the world today insects are a cultivated, major livestock economy. (We hear Thailand offers the pinnacle of insect delicacies.) But the idea seems to be catching on even here.

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And for good reason. It seems these critters boast a hefty dose of protein. Insect, pound for pound (or gram for gram), offer a truly respectable, plentiful (and cheap) protein source. Check out these nutritional assessments of edible creepy-crawlies. Nonetheless, we wouldn’t recommend just eating any bug off the street. It’s important to avoid insects that might have been exposed to pesticides and other pollutants (e.g. herbicides). While bugs are a big time crop in certain regions of the world, American insect connoisseurs find good supplies more limited, since insects aren’t packaged and inspected for human consumption in this country. Pet store supplies or raising your own (a whole new take on “ant farm”) are good options. Crickets, we understand, are a common beginner’s crop. Additionally, you can try certain ethnic markets for packaged options or indulge in some true insect culinary masterpieces in one of the insect-serving restaurants opening up in a number of West and East Coast cities.

grub 1

Prefer to forage in the wild? A few tips to the bold and brave out there…. Unless you truly know what you’re doing, it’s best to avoid the exotic: the hairy, the colorful. Stick with the known quantities like grasshoppers and grubs. Some of these little (or larger) guys pack a poisonous punch. Remove any fangs, pinchers, wings and legs. (It will go down more easily.) And it’s best to cook anything you want to eat. (We recommend a good campfire roasting. Talk about primal heaven!) For some insects, cooking is essential, since heating breaks down any natural toxins. Still squeamish? You can always crush them and add them to dishes in a less recognizable form. Protein without the queasiness.

Need more convincing? A few months ago The New York Times highlighted a dedicated (American) advocate of insect eating, David Gracer, and the environmental and cultural arguments that fuel the growing appreciation for insect consumption in the U.S. In the midst of enjoying a decadent caramelized grasshopper, Grace offered, “Insects can feed the world. Cows and pigs are the S.U.V.’s; bugs are the bicycles.” We’d never quite thought of it that way. A sustainable agricultural model. Hmmm.

Yet, perhaps the most intriguing and provocative idea was this little gem, in fact subject of a workshop sponsored this year by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization: “Why douse fields with pesticides if the bugs we kill are more nutritious than the crops they eat?”

Now there’s food for thought. We think they’re on to something.

Your reactions? Arguments, anecdotes, jokes, reviews, and recipes? We know the subject has us “buzzing.” (Couldn’t resist.)

uclatommy, Michael Sarver, lierne Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

How to Eat Enough Protein

Rule #1 of The Primal Blueprint: Eat Lots of Animals, INSECTS and Plants

The Migraineur – Omnivory: Eat it All!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Don’t forget about the fat! Grubs are packed with fat and fat-soluble vitamins. Weston Price found that certain insects were rich sources of vitamin K2 (“activator X”), the very important vitamin that was abundant in hunter-gatherer diets but is rare in modern diets.

    I have to admit though, there’s not much that turns my stomach but the thought of eating grubs definitely does.

    Sasquatch wrote on August 6th, 2008
  2. I’m actually completely fine with eating grasshoppers (though not worms. Worms, no. No.). But catching them myself? Seems like the ratio of time spent to actual food harvested could be quite discouraging.

    McFly wrote on August 6th, 2008
    • You should visit Wyoming about every three years. You could net a weeks worth in a small backyard in under an hour!

      awtnm wrote on September 2nd, 2009
  3. Great post. You don’t have to eat bugs to get good protein, fiber, fat etc. but it is nice to know that you can. Our ancestors were probably quite used to the act of eating bugs. It is sort of odd that we don’t eat insects these days.

    32Simon wrote on August 6th, 2008
  4. I have always heard that insects pack a lot of protein and are considered healthy. I tried a chocolate covered grasshopper a while ago and it wasn’t bad. I think the chocolate had a lot to do with that though. I do like the analogy of cows and pigs being the SUV’s while bugs being bicycle’s, I think it will take an opened minded human to really consider the latter.
    Fun read!!

    bill wrote on August 6th, 2008
  5. I think this is more along the lines of.. “if you’re stranded in the wilderness and are afraid of breaking your PB lifestyle” ;)
    Not for me, methinks, although I’d be game to try some cooked and de-winged/de-legged grasshoppers. Much of anything else? Not so much, unless an absolute necessity (see above wilderness scenario).

    Apparently those uh.. greyish/beige things pictured in the hand above taste quite woody.

    romesaz wrote on August 6th, 2008
  6. Hmm… Wish I could edit the above comment.. I meant to say ‘earthy’ instead of woody :\

    romesaz wrote on August 6th, 2008
  7. I almost threw up in my mouth, and not because Mr. Pukie was exercise induced. I’ll stick with the SUV, please!

    Justa wrote on August 6th, 2008
  8. whatever is in that second pic is HUGE! You just might need a fork and knife…

    Ryan Denner wrote on August 6th, 2008
  9. One word: Blech!!

    Conny wrote on August 6th, 2008
  10. This reminds me of an excellent movie I saw ages ago with Steve McQueen, “Papillon,” where he was jailed in isolation for many, many years and kept fit by exercising in his cell and eating all the insects that has the misfortune of entering his space. I suppose we would do likewise if pressed long enough.

    kateryna wrote on August 6th, 2008
  11. Poisons don’t just come from the bugs themselves or something sprayed on them: Bugs can safely digest plants that are poisonous to everybody else. As a result, the bugs have a good dose of poison in them, which protects them from birds, animals, and us. If you’re going to forage in the wild, get to know the poisonous trees, shrubs, and other plants around you. Don’t eat bugs feasting on Oleander, for instance.

    That said, my favorite bug recipe is for cicadas. Go out early in the morning during a big emergence, and you’ll find a whole bunch of pale cicadas that have just emerged from their shells. Collect a whole bunch of these in a container, add some soy sauce, maybe some hoisin, and pop them in the refrigerator until dinner. Fry them up as the meat in any stir fry, and enjoy!

    Josh wrote on August 6th, 2008
    • Do you pull off the wings and legs before cooking or leave them whole?

      Jenny Lee wrote on June 1st, 2010
  12. Just for the record…

    Potato bugs do NOT taste like potatoes.

    Trust me.

    http://www.potatobugs.com/articles/images/pbug_parts.jpg

    DR wrote on August 6th, 2008
    • Any idea what Dung Beetles taste like?

      Eric wrote on December 19th, 2010
  13. Has anyone seen “insect goodies” at some of the farmers markets?
    I’ve only came across chocolate covered grasshoppers. (had those, ok, not great, but I have more of a savory taste then sweet)
    If I saw some yummy fried up varieties, I would for sure try it.
    Cool post, Thanks Mark.

    Marc

    Marc wrote on August 6th, 2008
  14. I had termites, ants and crickets quite some time ago in a small town in Mexico, they were GOOOOOOOD, great taste, the good thing about ants and termites is that you can easily manipulate their flavor, rost some ants/termites with some raw cashews into a skillet you are set, great cashew tasting ants/termites!

    adrianFLY wrote on August 6th, 2008
  15. I’d have to be really, really hungry (or really, really drunk) to eat bugs. Even shrimp and crab freak me out unless they’ve already been shelled, because they look so much like big bugs.

    Childhood memory: The boy next door and I (both maybe six years old?) used to talk his little sister into picking up snails and sucking on them. His mom would get so mad at us!

    dragonmamma wrote on August 6th, 2008
  16. Growing up asian, I have no problem with ripping shrimp heads off and peeling them to eat, or eating fish heads complete with eyes. But we never ate bugs… seems icky to me…

    Then again, I’ve always been afraid of spiders.

    Will wrote on August 6th, 2008
  17. Nice food for thought article. They do appear to be rather high in carbs though, for those really trying to cut back.

    A Navy Seal friend said that the easiest survival school he did was the jungle because there was plenty (of bugs) to eat.

    ScottH wrote on August 6th, 2008
  18. Ewww, ewww, ewww! But I bet there’s some good protein there.

    Dara Chadwick wrote on August 6th, 2008
  19. The bug in the picture looks like a leaf!

    I’ve eaten a few insects before (on purpose). The first time was absolutely horrifying, but I had to give in because my parents forced me to. But after a while, I got used to it.

    Crunchier than potato chips!

    Yongho Shin wrote on August 6th, 2008
  20. Living in Japan now…some older restaurants serve locust (inago) covered in a kind of sweet sticky sauce, pretty sure they’re roasted. Not bad, but I still can’t get used to it.

    Denske wrote on August 6th, 2008
  21. it is all cultural huh? sure my gut (pun intended) says ICKYUCK but when Ive lived abroad Ive eating things I thought I never would and knew that had I been born in said locale Id not think twice about it—ever.

    not a shockingly new comment/insight but it’s all about what you know.

    how many of us gag(ged) at the thought of a protein shake initially?

    MizFit wrote on August 7th, 2008
  22. I’m reading this a work so I don’t see the pictures (damn firewall), but I spent a year in northeast Thailand and I can tell you the locals enjoyed their bugs. You could find them picking the bugs off the fence around our security compound at night. I stuck to the fried bananas! :-)

    DaveC wrote on August 7th, 2008
  23. You know shrimp are bugs, right? :) GREAT TOPIC, Mark! We’ll have to get you on my podcast show sometime for an interview…contact me.

    Jimmy Moore wrote on August 7th, 2008
  24. Bears live on ants and berries. Everyone would be a lot healthier if we followed their example.

    Dung Beetle with fried in olive oil with garlic and onions is out of this world. Give it a go!!

    Gramps wrote on September 3rd, 2008
  25. Great article. Very funny (thought you lost me!) and informative. I’ve been meaning to eat grasshoppers for some time now.

    A reader and friend sent me here from a Poor Blog Action Day.

    Steven Smith wrote on October 20th, 2008
  26. Are fireflies (lightning bugs) safe to eat, because I want to try them but I know they are toxic to animals. Please help me.

    Bo Quinn wrote on June 14th, 2009
    • Probably best NOT to eat something that glows. If the animals won’t eat it, you probably shouldn’t either.

      Maddie wrote on April 21st, 2011
  27. I’m living in Thailand where I’ve eaten a number of insects, a scorpion, and some silkworms. I have it on video at my YT channel: youtube.com/thaipulsedotcom if you want to see me eat them. I wouldn’t call them delicious – but, they aren’t horrible either… well, for the most part.

    Great article…

    Vern wrote on August 9th, 2009
  28. Were are inherently insectivores. The earliest mammals actually survived off eating just insects and grubs they could harvest from the tree canopy. Why do you think primates have precision grip? Opposable thumbs are for picking at insects. The truth is grubs and insects are the most complete source of food. High protein, moderate healthy fat, low carbohydrate and all the vitamins you need. Exactly what humans should be eating. Its our original mammalian food source.

    I bet a body builder could bulk on grubs :P I’d love to see it.

    Tamas wrote on February 6th, 2010
  29. The Bible says not to eat the things that creepeth upon the earth. Enough said, for me.

    Wanda wrote on October 27th, 2010
    • The Bible also implies the world is flat and has a firmament seperating the water above from the water below. It states that bats are birds and implies the earth is 6000 years old. Considering this and the fact that most of the dietary restrictions were put in place to distinguish the Hebrews from the other surrounding tribes, perhaps the bible is not the most scientific or reliable source for dietary suggestions.

      I would really like to try bugs–I’ve heard roasted grubs have a nutty flavor. Guess I’m just waiting for a good chef and a companion culinary experimenter willing to encourage me.

      fritzy wrote on October 28th, 2010
    • In the grand scheme of things, doesn’t EVERYTHING ‘creepeth’? Stand out on the balcony of a tall building in any city and look down. The people walking down the street might as well be bugs if we didn’t know any better; just scurrying around, going to work, acquiring food/shelter/a mate (or two)…

      It’s all about perspective. We all creepeth upon the earth. Will that stop you from eating meat? Probably not.

      Maddie wrote on April 21st, 2011
    • …and yet woman still date…

      G7 wrote on May 22nd, 2012
  30. Sorry to be the pedant, but worms, spiders and scorpions are not insects.
    It’s also good that you used quotes whilst calling the whole bunch “bugs”.
    Nonetheless, good article.
    What about eating earthworms? I hear some tribes do it.

    Harry wrote on April 10th, 2011
  31. Being an evolutionary anthropologist I know that grubs are some of the earliest cultivated animals to ever exist. Simply cut down a tree in your backyard, wait for the tailtale sign of rot, then cut away at the airholes they create to breathe. Fry them up, once they start crackling and popping their skins they’re ready to devour! (unfortunately I’ve never done this myself, but I’ve heard they taste like popcorn. Will repost once I’ve been in the feild :)

    Giovanni wrote on July 23rd, 2011
  32. Making the transition from eating crustaceans to eating insects is not a big leap. It also fits my belief that the uglier something is, the better it tastes!

    Buzz wrote on September 28th, 2011
  33. I am no longer positive where you’re getting your info, however good topic. I must spend a while studying more or working out more. Thanks for wonderful info I was searching for this information for my mission.

  34. There is no way. Unless I was literally going to starve. I have a hard time even eating a fish that had a head and guts when I first saw it, or a chicken that had the guts inside it. I have squeamish issues. I like to eat cute, happy foods.

    Lyn wrote on March 7th, 2012
  35. Somehow, my random internet journeys land me on your blog a lot. Barefoot running was one, I think. Also stumbled up on a testosterone post here, I think. And now, entomophagy.

    Personally, I’ve eaten superworms, waxworms, silkworms, bamboo worms, field crickets, mole crickets, and dung beetles. I also have an order of sago grubs, Chinese armor-tailed scorpions, and giant water bugs which should be arriving this week.

    The first one is definitely the hardest, and not because the taste or texture is off-putting. In fact, most of the bugs I’ve eaten have tasted nutty and have had textures similar to potato chips. But the psychological hangups one has when they grow up in a western culture definitely make the first time kind rough. After that, it’s easy-peasy.

    Entomophagy Wiki wrote on July 16th, 2012
  36. I haven’ tried eating any insect yet and i honestly don’t think i can. I don’t know how it feels or how it tastes. Some would say they taste good but just the thought that they are insects, i really can’t take it. But who knows, maybe someday, ill be brave enough to get a taste of these insects.

    Magdalen J. Williams wrote on November 13th, 2013

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