Bugfood II: Insects as Food!?!
by Stephanie Bailey
Entomology Extension Specialist
Activities from this unit would make a very interesting 4-H
talk or demonstration to spark interest in a classroom setting.
Discussion #1: Introduction
The thought of eating insects may be very unsettling to most
people in this day and age. However, in many cultures insects
and other arthropods have been eaten as a staple and/or as a
delicacy. Research this topic in groups, finding out what might
be a typical diet for a given culture.
List/Discuss all foods we think are delicacies, and research
some of the ingredients. You might start with caviar (fish eggs), or how
the cacao bean is processed to become the chocolate we love.
some of the arthropods and other invertebrates that are commonly
eaten, such as crab, lobster, shrimp, and escargot (snails). Most
often these animals are marine. Why wouldn't terrestrial
arthropods and snails be just as good? Is it because we can
see terrestrial arthropods living day to day? Put forth ideas.
Discussion #2: Insects as a source of nutrition
In many parts of the world today, insects are a part of people's
diets. Why? (Possible reasons might include: they are a good source of protein, easy to find, take up less
space than cows, etc.) Their nutritional value is equal to if
not better than our traditional meat choices. Which
insect is the most nutritious? Which would be the easiest to
rear? Try rearing mealworms in the classroom, to use in bug
recipes later. Students may also attempt to determine some of
the economic impacts such as time and costs in rearing insects,
labor to catch insects, shipping costs, etc., compared to grocery
prices for other types of meat.
An internet discussion list named entomo-l discussed the
topic of edible insects over the course of a few weeks. There
were several contributors, and unfortunately some of the names
were deleted, but where possible the names are posted as written.
See if this whets your appetite!! (Items are reproduced here
without editorial corrections.)
"I want to share some of my experiences. I'm living in
Ecuador, South America and I tried some wonderful, tastier and
amazing insects here. Near the Ecuador's capital, Quito, there is
a small town called Cotocollao where people cooks the white
beetles (Scarabaeidae: Cyclocephala). They cooks it with some
pork meat and some vegetables. Some people in the Amazonian
region eats the cerambicid's larvae and Cicadas."
"I tried the cerambicid (longhorn beetle) larvae, and I can
guarantee satisfaction. There are some kinds of ants edible here.
One is the lemon ant, that most of the people eats alive (Really
delicious, but hard to keep on the mouth). Another delicious ant
is the "Hormiga Culona," a big ant that is eaten fried."
Gustavo F. Morejon J.
BioBanco - Wildlife Monitoring Centre Project
International Federation of Scientific Societies & Fundacion
P.O. Box 01.01.1135
E-mail: email@example.com (Internet)
Cuenca - Ecuador
"Food Insects Newsletter". This excellent newsletter is put
out by Dr. Gene DeFoliart three times a year. It was free,
originally, but with 2418 copies distributed in 1993, there is
now a $5 fee. Contact Dept. of Entomology, 1630 Linden Dr.,
University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin 53706 (checks payable
to Board of Regents, University of Wisconsin).
"I have tasted several species including dragonfly,
cerambycid larvae, honeybees and termites and have found them all
satisfactory. I DO recommend cooking all insects before eating.
Grasshoppers, in particular, can carry several parasitic worms
that can be passed to humans (so does beef, for that matter.)"
Dave Pehling, W.S.U./SNOHOMISH CO. COOPERATIVE EXTENSION
"In relation to edible insects, certainly in Mexico there is a
great prehispanic tradition in the cuisine of many insects. Just
1. In the south of Mexico there is an ant (Atta cephalotes),
which is consumed in the rainy season, when there is wing
females, these ants have 42% of protein and his taste is
2. In the mexican states of Oaxaca, Guerrero, Morelos and
Veracruz, the people frecuently cook a "salsa," which have as
main condiment crushed "jumiles" Euschistus crenator and other
species of the same genera (Hemiptera:Pentatomidae)[stinkbugs].
These bugs have an aromatic and deep flavor like a mint or
cinnamon. Also these bugs are eaten lives with the traditional
"In has been a long standing tradition (since before the
Europeans came to Mexico) to use a large variety of insect
species in the traditional cuisine of Mexico. There is even a
book on insect edible species written by a mexican entomologist.
My favorite are redlegged grasshoppers (Melanoplus femurrubrum)
marinated in lemon juice, salt, and chile (of course)"
"I have found that some of the local grasshoppers are fairly
tasty when eaten fresh (ie, live). I've enhanced the entomology
education of the neighbor kids by making them fork over a dollar
before I'll let them see me eat one."
From: "Victoria Nations"
"I've tried several recipes out of "Entertaining with Insects"
(available through BioQuip), and have found mealworms to be the
tastiest. However, I've tried to present these dishes at a few
Biology Dept. functions, and was distressed by the disgusted
reactions of my colleagues. I'll admit that getting exoskeletons
stuck between your teeth can be a daunting, but I would think
that biologists would be more adventurous about eating their
study organisms. Alas not."
From: Carol Vervalin
"We have a faculty member in my biology department that brings
cookies/brownies with meal worms mixed in and garnished with one
worm on top before baking. they don't taste bad!"
"We fried moths once (the grey ones) as a survival exercize,
just catch them and place them in the pan with a little hot oil.
Some salt and pepper might help."
"In Australia, Oecophylla are eaten as bush food. Snatch the
ant from its activity and bite off the abdomen ... good! a
mixture of sweet and sour and quite thirst-quenching."
"According to F.H.E. Philippi, (maybe it was E. Perris), 1864,
Zoological Record (I paraphrase, as it's been so long since I saw
it): 'There's a tribe in the Andes of South America, which
collects species of dryopoid beetles, dries them,
grinds them up, and uses them as a spicy additive for
Food Defect Action Levels: How many bugs have you eaten today?
Many foods we eat have insects or insect parts in them, that
we don't see. The Department of Health and Human Services has
set a standard called the Food Defect Action Levels, which (to
quote a publication) "are set on the basis of no hazard to
health... These levels are set because it is not possible, and
never has been possible, to grow in open fields, harvest and
process crops that are totally free of natural defects."
"The alternative to establishing natural defect levels in some
foods would be to insist on increased utilization of chemical
substances to control insects, rodents and other natural
contaminants. The alternative is not satisfactory because of the
very real danger of exposing consumers to potential hazards from
residues of these chemicals, as opposed to the aesthetically
unpleasant but harmless natural and unavoidable defects."
"Defect action levels do not represent an average of the
defects that occur in any of the food categories (averages are
much lower). They are the limit at or above which FDA will take
legal action against the product and remove it from the market."
Portfolio topic(s): How do you feel about FDAL's, and the
idea that some of your food may be contaminated with insects or
other defects? What are the tradeoffs? Do you accept the
tradeoffs, or do you believe in zero tolerance, even at very high
prices and environmental pollution? What about your tolerance to
pesticides that are used?
Determine FDAL's for a few common foods (such as hot dogs, flour,
noodles, etc., some examples are listed below). Convert these
values into pounds per package bought in a grocery store, e. g.
per 5 pound bag of flour, 12-ounce can, etc.
|Are Bugs A Part of Your Diet?|
|Apple butter||5 insects per 100g|
|Berries||4 larvae per 500g OR 10 whole insects per 500g|
|Ground paprika||75 insect fragments per 25g|
|Chocolate||80 microscopic insect fragments per 100g|
|Canned sweet corn||2 3mm-length larvae, cast skins or fragments|
|Cornmeal||1 insect per 50g|
|Canned mushrooms||20 maggots per 100g|
|Peanut butter||60 fragments per 100g (136 per lb)|
|Tomato paste, pizza, and other sauces||30 eggs per 100g OR 2 maggots per 100g|
|Wheat flour||75 insect fragmnets per 50g|
|Source: The Food Defect Action Levels: Current Levels for Natural or
Unavoidable Defects for Human Use that Present No Health
Hazard. Department of Health & Human Services 1989.|
Buy a few of these products (generics and/or brand names) and use
a microscope to examine the products for parts of insects, rodent
hairs, etc. How many, if any, are found? Do they exceed the
action level? What would YOUR action level be?
Discussion/Activity #4: The Bugfeast
If the class and teachers are adventurous, perhaps a real hands-
on way to get to know insects is to eat them (I had a zoology
teacher who once said studying helps but you never forget what
you eat!). Teachers will probably want to send home a form for
parents to sign, allowing students to take part. Activities
surrounding the bugfeast may include:
- Creating a menu of bug delicacies (real or imaginary dishes)
- Shopping for the bugfood and other supplies
CLEANING AND PREPARING THE INSECTS
-taken from Entertaining with Insects
Insects, like lobster, are best if cooked while alive or fresh
frozen. In contrast to beef, lamb, and poultry, postmortem
changes rapidly render insects unpalatable. To facilitate meal
planning, many species of insects may be kept alive for several
days in the refrigerator. In fact, refrigeration before cooking
is advised for the more active forms because it slows down their
movements and facilitates handling.
Mealworms and crickets are easy to obtain from bait and tackle
shops, or from distributors. If mealworms came packed in
newspaper, they need to be changed to bran meal or corn meal or
starved for 24 hours, to purge their guts. To separate mealworms
from any attached food, waste material, or other debris, place a
handful of them in a colander and gently toss. Remove any dead
worms, and wash the remaining live insects under cool water.
Place the worms on paper towels and pat dry. The mealworms are
ready to be cooked or frozen for later use. Crickets should be
placed in a refrigerator before attempting to wash them, to slow
them down. If, before they are completely washed, they become
very active, put them back in the refrigerator. You may want to
remove the legs, wings, and ovipositor of crickets after dry
PREPARING DRY-ROASTED INSECTS:
-taken from Entertaining with Insects
Take cleaned insects out of the freezer. Spread them out on a
paper-towel covered baking sheet. Bake at 200 degrees Fahrenheit
for 1-2 hours, until the insects can be easily crushed with a
Alternatively, go to gourmet shops, or ethnic shops and buy canned
insect treats such as chocolate-covered insects.
Dry-roasted insects can be included in most any recipe that
could include nuts, such as cookies, breads, brownies, Rice
Krispie Treats (a.k.a. Crispy Critter Krispies), etc.
Invite other classes to sample the bugfood
- Taylor, Ronald L., Entertaining with Insects Or: The Original Guide to Insect Cookery, Salutek Publ. Co.
- Ramos-Elorduy, Julieta and Peter Menzel, Creepy Crawly Cuisine, Park St. Press, (1998)
- Naylor, Phyllis R., Beetles Lightly Toasted, Yearling Books, (1989) (ages 9-12)
- Manes, Stephen, Chocolate-Covered Ants, Apple Publ.(1993)
- Holt, Vincent M. Why Not Eat Insects? E. W. Classey Ltd.,Hampton, Middlesex. 1967 (1885).
- Taylor, R. L. Butterflies in my Stomach (or: Insects in Human
Nutrition). Woodbridge Press Publishing Company, Santa
Barbara, California. 1975.
- The Food Defect Action Levels: Current Levels for Natural or
Unavoidable Defects for Human Use that Present No Health
Hazard. Department of Health & Human Services 1989.