Many cultures around the world regularly eat insects as part of their daily diet and have for thousands of years. It’s not uncommon for people to consume bugs as a means for protein, fiber, healthy fats, and other necessary micronutrients. In fact, many insects and bugs are higher in these than traditional American meat sources such as beef and chicken. This is especially common in tropical climates where bugs and insects grow larger and exponentially with predictable harvest times. Not only can men easily gather bugs, but women who in some cultures don’t hunt and have the role of ‘gatherer’ are easily able to gather bugs for food. Entomophagy (eating insects) is actually quite normal around the world in many places except America and some parts of Europe. This is thought to be because in Europe and America, farmers more so grow crops that bugs and insects eat. This makes them a negative pest that these cultures frown upon and have no interest in, assuming insects are good for nothing. But they’re actually quite delicious and beneficial! So, what cultures really eat what insects?
Native Americans typically ate bugs before colonization and European immigrants such as June Bug Beetles, cicadas, crickets, and Witchetty Grubs. June bugs were eaten roasted over coals like popcorn. Cicadas often taste like seafood and were cooked in garlic or salt. Witchetty Grubs are similar to that of fatty tuna and were dug up for harvest. Lastly, crickets were often driven into traps and eaten roasted. Insects were often eaten as snacks or sides. In Native American cultures, gathering and harvesting insects was something women could do while men hunted larger game in the woods.
In ancient Roman and Greek cultures, they ate beetle larvae, cicadas and cicada eggs. The beetle larvae were fed flour and wine to make them taste better, making them a delicious delicacy. Cicadas can be eaten fully mature and roasted or in nymph form. Typically, Roman and Greeks ate male cicadas but then discovered females tasted better after copulation because of the eggs, which add more flavor. This interesting information came to us from a first-century Roman scholar named Pliny. He wrote the book Historia Naturalis which described these events taking place.
In African cultures termites, yes termites, are eaten raw straight out of the ground. It’s said that they can taste like regular nuts or mint, depending on the species. They are also harvested and fried, roasted, converted into oil for frying, or ground up and made into bread. Either way, they have an abundance of protein and every essential amino acid the human body needs. Some Africans also consume Locusts as a consistent food source. They are gathered in the morning, boiled, cleaned, and salted. The legs are often separated and added to peanut butter and salt for spice and flavor. These can be an essential part of a daily diet!
Chinese and Asian cultures also eat bugs as a part of their diets like bee larvae, dragonflies, and silkworms. Bee larvae are harvested from the hives and eaten as snacks. Dragonflies are de-winged, boiled in coconut milk, and then eaten as a delicacy. Silkworm Pupae are seasoned with chili and garlic sauces and then served like tofu. These traditional snacks are sold in street markets and are not hard to get your hands on if you wanted to try some.
Mexico is home to over 500 edible insect species, which are regularly cooked and part of a Mexican diet such as grasshoppers, ant eggs, Agave worms, and more! The most popular delicacy in this category is the Chapuline, a delicious roasted with line and chili spices grasshopper. Often times they’re added to tacos and served. Ant eggs are called Escamoles and are reported to have a creamy and nutty taste. Lastly, have you ever heard “there’s a worm in the bottom of my tequila glass”? Well the Agave worm is a symbol of quality in Mexican alcohol as the worm will be perfectly preserved if the quality is high enough. These worms are also roasted, fried, and canned. Mexico is by no means a stranger to Entomophagy and can be considered a leader in eating insects!
There are numerous delicacies and ways to cook insects that aren’t included in this article, simply because there are so many from different cultures. Insects actually aren’t uncommon, disgusting, rare, or unthought-of for daily consumption. It’s just not popular in the US yet. But why? Why, if the rest of the world eats these tasty and nutritious creatures, are we missing out? Why not try them? Could this be the new secret to your diet? Your new favorite snack? Your new energy boost trick? You never know, you should look into it!