Celebrating Entomophagy on World Edible Insect Day
Today is one of our favorite holidays: World Edible Insect Day! We’ve been waiting all year and have some exciting things planned!
To celebrate this special day, we want to draw attention to some of the unique (and tasty) edible insects out there. Although many Westerners see insect cuisine as a novelty, entomophagy is an integral part of everyday life for over two billion people worldwide. And crickets are just one of more than 1,400 species of edible insects! In order to highlight entomophagy’s diversity, we’ve selected six insects to share with you, all eaten in different communities across the world:
Australia: Witchetty Grubs
Witchetty grubs are a major staple of the Aboriginal Australian diet. This particular type of moth larvae found in the Australian desert is an excellent source of protein. The grubs, which are now catching on in high-end restaurants, can grow up to almost three inches in length. They are said to taste like a fried egg when cooked, but are also described as having a nutty flavor comparable to almonds. You can eat them raw (some swear by this) but they’re also delicious when pan-fried or cooked on a skewer over a fire. If you’re ever Down Under, you’ll definitely want to try this delicacy.
Cambodia: A-Ping (Fried Tarantulas)
Although tarantulas have long been part of the Cambodian people’s diet, they became a mainstream part of the country’s cuisine in the 1970s. In fact, tarantulas represent a significant part of Cambodian history. When the communist Khmer Rouge overthrew the nation’s government in 1975, millions of people were forced from their homes and experienced tragic food shortages. Tarantulas, which were plentiful and nutritious, became an essential part of survival and saved countless lives during this dark time.
Tarantulas are now celebrated as an important part of Cambodian culture, and are sold by street vendors all over the country. As large as a human hand, many compare the arachnids to crabs in appearance, and the flavor can be described as “nutty.” Tarantulas are also gaining popularity as a delicacy in western culture—if you want to cook some up yourself, The Bug Chef has an excellent recipe.
Brazil: Içás (Queen Ants)
Içás are a very popular snack in Brazil. Also known as queen ants, they are plumper than most ants found in the US and can grow up to an inch in length. A tradition of indigenous Brazilians for centuries, içás have recently been gaining attention at some of Brazil’s top restaurants.
The ants have a minty flavor, which makes them especially appetizing when covered in chocolate. They’re also often fried and served with other traditional Brazilian cuisine. Unfortunately, queen ants—and those who collect them—have been suffering, largely due to the increased use of pesticides in Brazil. Hopefully Brazilians can work to keep this sustainable and delicious tradition alive.
Kenya: White Ants (Termites)
In Kenya, termites are an important dietary staple. The termites popular in Kenya are of a different species than those found in the US—the Kenyan variety are much larger and fly around with the help of enormous wings. Catching termites is an important part of day-to-day life for many Kenyan families.
The process begins in the evening, when traps are set up around termite mounds. Termites mainly appear during rainy season, so insect gatherers will tap sticks or rocks together to simulate the sound of raindrops, drawing the termites out of their holes. The termites are gathered from traps and the air, and either eaten on the spot or cooked up later on. Many describe them as having a sweet, almost fruity flavor, especially when eaten raw. Methods of termite harvesting vary in different communities, and larger-scale operations have developed their own innovative strategies for collecting the insects. Termites are also eaten in other African countries, including Ghana and Uganda.
Thailand: Maeng Daa (Water Bugs)
Water bugs are technically a species of cockroach, but don’t freak out: they’re actually quite tasty! A delicacy throughout southeast Asia, water bugs are larger and more predatory than the cockroaches found in your first apartment. Maeng da are often used to make sauces, but are also deep-fried and sold by street vendors. Edible insects are becoming a huge draw for tourists visiting Thailand and provide an important source of income for local businesses.
Water bugs highlight an important discrepancy: Westerners are overwhelmingly willing to eat seafood, but most turn their noses up at the thought of consuming an insect. Found in aquatic habitats, with a flavor described as a sweeter version of crabmeat, maeng da truly blurs the line between seafood and insects.
Mexico: Chapulines (Grasshoppers)
Our list of edible insects wouldn't be complete without chapulines. Chapulines are a centuries-old tradition in Oaxaca, a southwestern Mexican state, where grasshoppers are fried and seasoned to produce a chili lime flavor. Locals and tourists alike enjoy this flavorful, crunchy snack, plentiful in local markets. In our experience, chapulines pair perfectly with a cold beer on a hot summer day.
With Oaxacan cuisine rising in popularity, chapulines are becoming more and more common in the United States. Here in Los Angeles, we’re lucky to have many restaurants that serve the snack, but if they’re not available in your community, you can always make them yourself.
These six foods are just a few examples of what the wonderful world of edible insects has to offer, so we encourage you to do your own research. Do you have a favorite type of edible insect? Let us know in the comments!