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Hungry? Cicadas are on the menu as Brood Xs arrival has some foodies buzzing

4 min read
https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2021/05/18/eat-cicadas-recipes-stir-fry-stew-rhubarb-pie-cookies/5135915001/

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Simon La Bozetta typically forages in nearby wooded areas for wild mushroom varieties to eat or sassafras herbs to put in tea. But in the coming weeks, he’ll add another item to his search list.

It’ll add some crunch to his diet, but it’s something he’s been waiting years to try – 17 years to be exact.  

With Brood X cicadas expected to arrive by the millions in 16 states this month, La Bozetta and others with adventurous palates will savor the rare opportunity to taste the little buggers, which some have been hailed as the shrimp of the dirt for their seafoodlike flavors.  

Simon La Bozetta

He’s not holding his breath, however, that it will taste like buttery shrimp scampi.  

“For me, it’s the novelty of the experience,” said La Bozetta, a 48-year-old Columbus, Ohio, resident who has been foraging since he was a child. “I love to have new experiences, to travel, to see things. The curiosity is there.” 

And the desire to eat the insects might also be about saving face on social media, too, where he’s mentioned more than once that they’re edible.  

‘Kind of like the taste of the forest floor … but not in a bad way’

But who isn’t talking about cicadas on Facebook and Twitter these days? 

From artisans making jewelry out of the loud-winged creature,  to scientists trying to predict when they’ll arrive (typically when temperatures average 64 degrees), social media is abuzz with all things cicadas.

And yes, that also means people are swapping cicada recipes, including Asian-inspired cuisine, a gumbolike dish, chocolate-covered varieties, and even a version of rhubarb pie. Some describe their taste as nutty or similar to that of chicken.

Andrew Zimmern, creator of the Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods” franchise, said the insects have a bold flavor.  

“They’re earthy, loomi (sour),” Zimmern said. “They’ve been living in the ground for 17 years – kind of like the taste of the forest floor. It’s a strong taste, but not in a bad way. It stands up to the big flavors of garlic and ginger.” 

Andrew Zimmern

And he should know: Those are two of the ingredients in his recipe for crispy wok-fried cicadas that he made in 2013, when Brood II came to the East Coast.  

He said that although the whole creature is edible, people should remove the wings (if they’ve matured). It’s the chef’s choice whether to leave the outer shell, or carapace, depending on if they want an extra-crunchy addition to their dish.

Brood X:The Indiana Jones of cicadas prepares for their arrival

Overcoming the ‘ew’ factor

The best cicadas for cooking are those that have newly hatched, because their shells will be softer, according to “Cicada-licious: Cooking and Enjoying Periodical Cicadas,” a mini cookbook created by Jenna Jadin, who was a graduate student at the University of Maryland in 2004.   

The manual advises that early morning is the best time to catch the bugs emerging and to “simply go outside with a brown paper bag and start scooping them in.”  

Adventurous chefs can cook with them immediately after cleaning them and removing any unwanted parts, or refrigerate them.  

For Zimmern, the purpose of making the stir-fry-inspired meal and eating it was not really to entice others to duplicate it, but to show cooks that they could create the dish and, more importantly, that there are different ways of thinking about food sources.  

“It wasn’t a gimmick but a serious attempt to show people that bugs are food,” said Zimmern, of Minneapolis, who currently hosts “AZ Cooks” on Instagram each Thursday. “They’re food for millions of people. American eaters need an open definition of what food is.” 

That’s what Srilatha Kolluri tries to get students in her food science classes at Ohio State University to ponder when she teaches them about entomophagy or the practice of eating insects.  

With more than 2,000 edible species of insects globally, she said many cultures dine on ants, locusts and meal worms, Kolluri said, especially because they are so high in complete protein (60% to 65%). Cicadas are no different.  

“A lot of people worry about the ‘ew’ factor,” said Kolluri, a faculty lecturer who allows her students to taste protein bars made from cricket flour. “But whatever you’re used to –  your culture – that dictates your preferences. If in another part of the world, you grow up eating it, it’s not ‘ew.’” 

And if Americans can get over the initial disgust, eating insects is a sustainable resource, she added.  

La Bozetta has eaten insects, such as crickets, in the past, so he doesn’t think these will be too different. 

He plans to try them a few different ways, including in a pesto sauce and sautéed in butter and garlic like shrimp, and he’ll document his feast for all his followers, he said with a chuckle.  

“If I get one down, I’ll probably have had my fill,” La Bozetta said. “But who knows? That’s the great thing about trying new foods. I might find a new favorite.” 

However, if he does find a new favorite dish, he’ll have to wait another 17 years to eat them again.  

Follow reporter Allison Ward on Twitter: @AllisonAWard

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