For those not yet familiar with the term “entomophagy,” it’s the word that refers to the practice of eating insects. While this is a relatively new concept in the U.S., it turns out that we are behind the times on this new way of getting high-quality protein into our diets.
There are 1,417 species of edible insects around the world and nearly 3,000 ethnic groups that currently practice entomophagy. Beetles, ants, bees, butterflies, moths, grasshoppers, wasps and, of course, crickets are all heavy hitters on dinner menus for those who have incorporated these tiny but mighty sources of nutrients into their everyday meals.
It might seem bizarre at first, but this is a practice that has taken place in certain countries long before the days where McDonalds became as easy to come by as the common, well, insect.
Though we prefer to take our crickets powdered and in nutritious bars, others take a different approach. For those whose curiosity I’ve peaked, here’s a list of how certain countries have been preparing their edible insect delectables:
- Thailand: Grasshoppers, crickets and woodworms are a favorite in Thailand. The bugs are seasoned and fried in a wok until crispy, then served at local food markets.
- Italy: Thanks to an Italian dish called Casu Marzu, some Italians enjoy munching on maggots, mashed into something called “maggot cheese.” The cheese is made from sheep’s milk and, during the fermentation process, they add maggots. The cheese is often eaten at dessert, believe it or not.
- Cambodia: Fried tarantulas are a delicacy in Cambodia and are typically cooked with fried garlic and spices. The spider is cooked to be crispy on the outside and gooey on the inside.
- Ghana: During the springtime, when food is scarce, Ghanaians rely on termites as their main source of protein. The insects can be roasted, fried or even used to make bread.
- Mexico: In Mexico, bugs are eaten fried, buttered or even dipped in chocolate. But the most renowned method is to drink them. Mezcal, a Mexican liquor (sometimes confused with tequila), is often served with a worm ready for swallowing.
- China: Roasted larvae from bees are a delicacy in China and served in high-end restaurants. At street markets, you’ll also find fully grown insects like water bugs roasted or fried and then skewered into a shishkabob.
- Brazil: Queen ants, or “içás,” were traditionally consumed only by poorer families. Today, these bite-sized snacks are popular for all in the town of Silveiras. Townsfolk claim that these winged bugs taste just like mint.
- Australia: While the Witchetty Grub isn’t technically a species, they’re what the Aussies call fat, white larvae. These larvae—who eventually turn into moths—are cooked over an open fire at some neighborhood barbeques.
- Indonesia: In rural parts of Indonesia dragonflies are a common food group. But instead of eating the dragonflies whole—like many other cultures—those in Indonesia rip off the wings and say it kind of tastes like crab.
- Japan: In different parts of Japan, there’s what’s called a Kushihara Wasp Festival to honor different wasps and showcases different ways you can eat them. The Japanese sometimes grind these bugs up and cook with them, douse them in different seasoning and sauces, or bake with them for rice cookies.
- The Netherlands: The Netherlands, like the U.S., is slowly embracing the idea of eating insects. Johan Van Dongen (head of the meat department for the Dutch food distributor, Sligro) is helping to encourage the Dutch to rely on insects (like crickets) as a source of protein by offering a free taste from a stand on the sidewalk in the city of ‘s-Hertogenbosch.
Here in America, we generally tend to eat our bugs in powdered form and included in protein bars. Sometimes we’ll experiment with a cricket taco or, like Hotlix in Pismo Beach, California, will put the occasional bug in a lollipop to resemble an Amber fossil. But it’s nice to know, no matter what form it takes, that we’re beginning to share a foodie bond with the rest of the world who are veterans in the art of buggy eats.