Yes, You Can Eat Cicadas...But Should You?

If Brood X has peaked your snacking curiosity, read on.

If you live in cicada country, then you don't need us to tell you what is already audible: Brood X has arrived. After a 17-year spell spent underground, the periodical cicadas have finally cropped up in Pennsylvania and Indiana as well as parts of Tennessee and Virginia. And while many cicada admirers are content to enjoy the hypnotic singing, some see another benefit to Brood X: the opportunity to get creative in the kitchen. A few restaurants have even put the bugs on the menu, including one Ohio eatery that tried out cicadas as a pizza topping. That's why some readers may have noticed recipes online or on social media aimed at helping those so inclined to sample the cyclical creatures.

In fairness, the urge to snack on these summer swarmers is entirely understandable. After all, scientists theorize that cicada broods emerge simultaneously because their survival relies on being tasty and plentiful. When cicadas emerge, they provide a buffet for the birds, reptiles, and other wildlife in the immediate area. Everyone gets full, and there's still plenty of cicadas left to continue the species. Harvested responsibly, that means that there's enough for you to get a taste too.

But before you take your first bite, we've put together a guide that'll help you decide whether cicada consumption is for you. We'll take you through a few things to consider before chowing down, as well as provide some ideas for how to cook up a few cicadas before the summer ends...

So, Cicadas Are Edible?

Cicadas are certainly not an appealing snack for everyone, but they — along with a number of other insects — are entirely safe for human consumption. And if you've already eaten crab or crawfish, then you've already familiarized yourself with other members of the cicada's biological class, Anthropoda. A 2004 guide published by a University of Maryland cicada group notes that historically, various Native American tribes, as well as groups in Australia, New Guinea and Japan have treated cicada as a delicacy. Like other insects, they're generally high in protein and minerals. They're also particularly delectable to dogs, although the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary Medicine notes that animal owners should prevent their pups from eating too many. The crunchy exteriors can irritate the stomach lining of some dogs, especially when eaten in large volumes.

But as with any food, there are always allergy considerations. For example, the US Food and Drug Administration has cautioned that people who are allergic to shellfish or pregnant may want to avoid trying out cicadas, as the insects are related to shrimps and lobsters. Young children and people with gout should also skip the cicada cuisine, according to the Cleveland Clinic. And of course, you'll also want to make sure that the cicadas you catch are gathered from an area where pesticides, insecticides, and heavy chemicals aren't regularly used. Those guidelines should generally be followed whenever foraging is part of the food gathering process.

Brood X Cicadas Emerging In Pennsylvania
MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

OK, But Why Eat Cicadas?

Novelty is, of course, a big reason to try out a cicada snack. Humans are always looking for the next new bite to sample, and bugs are not exempt from our culinary creativity. But if the prospect of trying new dishes isn't enough, eating cicadas is also a worthwhile endeavor because it could slowly remove stigma from entomophagy, or the practice of eating bugs. That increased familiarity with insect eating could come in handy as we continue to figure out how to cope with climate change. Insects are far more sustainable to raise than cattle and can be farmed in much less space, making them an environmentally sound swap for meat. And while periodical cicadas can't become a menu staple for obvious reasons, sampling a few may encourage folks to try out other more common edible insects, like crickets.

For those curious about the flavor, properly prepared cicadas usually have a somewhat nutty taste to go along with their crunchy exterior. They can be eaten fresh or frozen or dry-roasted for later use.

Tips on Cooking Cicadas

To sate your cicada cravings, you'll first want to gather the critters up. According to the University of Maryland's guide to cooking cicadas, that's best done by gathering up the newly hatched cicadas, or tenerals, just after they've emerged. Their new shells haven't hardened yet at that point, which makes them perfect for consumption. Most tenerals emerge in the early morning hours, so you'll want to set an alarm. Once you've found the tenerals, you can scoop them up and store them in a brown paper bag. After you've brought them back to the kitchen, you can freeze the cicadas in a bag to dry-roast later, or you can use them fresh. Just make sure to remove any hard bits before eating them.

Given the cicadas' crunchy exterior, they work great in dishes where some crunch is already expected. For example, they can be tempura fried, or pan-fried fresh and used as the protein in tacos. The University of Maryland guide also recommends covering the cicadas in chocolate, especially after dry-roasting first for 10 to 15 minutes at about 225 degrees. After being dry-roasted, they can also be ground up and added to bread for a bit of a protein boost, or used as a topping for ice cream.

Foraged cicadas might seem like a strange thing to add to the grocery list, but for those who live in the areas where the winged critters are emerging, a cicada snack is worth the consideration. After all, like all seasonal delicacies, they are here for a limited time only.

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