Insects, bugs, grubs…what have you. They’re not exactly nice to look at, and those pincers and beady eyes don’t look very, er, palatable, either.
Which is funny and a tad bit ironic because insects are consumed by almost 2 billion people all over the world— from Australia to Africa. They also happen to be some of the best protein sources on the planet. Some species come in droves and swarms, too, so let’s just say that you can get them wholesale.
Sorry, was that your gag reflex?
Now, don’t get so squeamish just yet. Bugs can help you bigtime as food sources when SHTF.
In a survival situation when meat is scarce and every little bit of nutrition is precious, you might have to develop the stomach for some creepy crawlies for dinner.
In this article, we list 6 insects that you can eat. How do barbecued larvae or fried grasshoppers sound to you?
Before You Dig In
Now, before you dig into the scrumptious menu, it’s good to know a few ground rules when it comes to snacking on insects.
Rule # 1: Know What Bugs To Eat
Not all bugs are created equal. While some are good sources of protein, other critters are poisonous as all hell. Learn how to identify the good ones from the bad. Brightly colored insects and bugs that emit foul odors are usually poisonous, so stay away from them. Insects like ticks, mosquitoes, and flies carry diseases like dengue fever and Lyme disease so they are also a big no-no. Stick to “safe” insects like grasshoppers, locusts, and larvae, which we’ll be discussing further along the way.
Rule #2: Know Where To Find Them
Looking for bugs is not exactly rocket science. You can find most of them hiding under rocks or beneath felled trees and rotten barks. A lot of ant species are edible so find the tell-tale anthill and you’ve got some crunchy munchies. Grasshoppers, crickets, and locusts can be found in tall grass and meadows.
Rule # 3: Don’t Do A Bear Grylls
Nope, eating insects raw will not give you cool points. If anything, it might only give you diarrhea or some other nasty ailment. As a rule of thumb, always cook any bug you catch. And remove their stingers while you’re at it.
Rule # 4: When In Doubt, Try A Tiny Bit First
Some people may be allergic to insects. If you’re not sure about insect hypersensitivity, you can take a tiny cooked morsel and eat it. Wait for a couple of hours and check for any allergic reactions. If you have none, they are probably safe to eat.
Now that we’ve established those ground rules, here are 6 edible insects that you can catch for dinner:
Going to a game? Why don’t you ditch the hotdogs and beer and trade it in for something like, I don’t know, grasshoppers perhaps?
In Oaxaca, Mexico, grasshoppers are popular at sports games. Known as chapulines, these bugs are toasted, seasoned with garlic and lime and served at various matches as snacks. Sometimes they’re served in taco shells with some guacamole, and patrons swear they love its crunchy, potato chip-like taste.
These bugs are packed with as much protein and fat as a roasted chicken breast and contain significant amounts of carbohydrates.
Grasshoppers are usually found in areas with tall, dry grass. They’re pretty quick on their feet, so catch them early in the morning when there’s still dew out— they are less active during that time of the day.
A net can come in pretty handy for actively collecting grasshoppers, but you can also build a trap using jars and a bit of bait. Place your jar on its side and put some bait inside. Molasses work great as bait, but they can drown the grasshoppers. If you want to catch them live, stick to fruits or dry leftovers. After a day, you should be able to catch more than a handful.
Some people prefer to catch their hoppers live so they can feed the insects with cornmeal or water to clean out their digestive systems. Some people also feed them with herbs and spices the day before cooking to improve the grasshoppers’ taste. The entire insect is edible, but the head, entrails, legs, and wings are usually popped off before sauteing or pan-frying since their textures can sometimes be rough. Either way, grasshoppers provide good nutrition and don’t taste half bad. Here’s a neat grasshopper recipe you might want to try.
There are thousands of known ant species on the planet and most of them are edible.
The most popular species for human consumption is arguably the hormigas culonas or the “fat-bottomed ants” of Colombia. These winged ants can grow as big as cockroaches and have butts engorged with eggs. Considered the Colombian version of caviar, they are hunted in the spring and are a local delicacy. Other edible ant species include giant weaver ants, carpenter ants, and honeypot ants, to name a few.
Ants are usually roasted until crunchy. Then they’re salted and eaten as snacks. To harvest them, you’ll have to find their nests or anthills and use a stick to collect them. You can rig a similar trap that can also be used to catch grasshoppers.
Ant aficionados claim that ants have a unique, slightly tangy, even citrusy, flavor. In fact, carpenters from long ago used to eat ants thinking they could help prevent scurvy. This sour taste can be attributed to the acid that ants secrete when threatened. They’ll secrete more if they die, so you have to keep them alive until right before they’re roasted for better flavor.
Earthworms aren’t insects but you get the picture— they’re slimy, they live in the dirt and apparently you can eat it, too. They’re not the most appealing food choice for many, especially since they’re particularly slimy. However, studies show that earthworms are not only good protein sources (they’re 82% protein), they are also rich in iron, magnesium and other minerals essential for good health.
Nothing goes to waste when you’re snacking on earthworms because you obviously don’t have to deal with bones— the entire worm is virtually edible. They’re also found anywhere that has soil. The best time to collect them is after it has rained when the ground is soft and wet. After a particularly strong rain shower, earthworms are also known to crawl out of their burrows so they don’t drown.
Now, before you dig in, make sure you know the difference between an earthworm and other types of worms. Ascaris lumbricoides, or a roundworm, is a parasitic species that may look similar to the earthworm. Here’s how to tell them apart.
To eat earthworms, you’d have to clean them first from the inside by purging them. Otherwise, they’ll retain an unpleasant, grainy texture. You can purge earthworms by submerging them in the water for a couple of hours or feeding them cornmeal for at least a day. Boiling these worms can help get rid of the ickiness. You can also fry, roast or smoke them afterward. Here’s a pretty good recipe that you might want to try.
Here’s another slimy favorite among entomophagists around the world. Grubs are actually beetle larvae and, like ants, most species are edible. They contain as much as 23-66% protein and 40% fat. Most grubs can be found beneath barks of dead trees or on rotting logs. Collect them, clean them, put them on a spit over the fire and you are good to go. Here’s a great video of how to do it:
They might look formidable, but scorpions are actually edible. You can find a lot of them on wooden skewers in China where they’re sold as street food. They are often seasoned and fried until they’re crispy and golden brown.
There are a couple of challenges in eating scorpions:
First, most of them are poisonous, so you have to take extra steps in catching and handling. Ideally, they have to be handled using forceps, but in a survival situation, you can use a long stick to catch some. Scorpions usually dwell beneath rocks and are active at night.
Next, they can’t be eaten raw. Their tails have to be removed first and then they are thoroughly deep-fried or flame-grilled to neutralize the venom.
Lastly, they’re not as easy to find as other insects since most edible species live in arid regions. However, they should come as handy snacks if and when you’re stuck in a desert with nothing to eat.
Another scary-looking creature (that’s surprisingly edible) is the tarantula. Don’t get too put off by it’s gigantic, hairy legs. Back in the 70’s, at the height of the Khmer Rouge regime, Cambodians used to catch these critters for survival. The tarantulas somehow stuck to the menu, so to speak, and are now considered as local delicacies.
Renowned bug chef David George Gordon suggests freezing the spiders first to humanely dispatch them. He then removes the abdomen and burns off the spider’s hair with a torch. They are then dipped in batter, fried like nobody’s business… and voila: gourmet arachnids. In a survival situation, you can do with just roasting them over the fire, adding herbs to taste. When cooked properly, reports say that these hairy spiders taste just like crabs.
Like scorpions, the important part in handling tarantulas is to not get stung. Tarantula venom is not fatal, but it can hurt. Tarantulas are land-dwelling spiders that are also active at night. Once you’ve identified their burrows, you can safely catch them by using a trap.
There are literally thousands of other edible insects that you can eat out there. While we can’t possibly list each and everyone, notable runners-up include:
Of course, some edible insects are endemic to a specific area or are only available at a certain time of year. You can check out a longer list of edible insect species here and here for future reference. It helps to know what kind of bugs are available in your area so when the going gets tough, you’ll know which bugs to have for dinner.
Unconventional as it may seem, gathering insects for human consumption has many nutritional and even economic benefits. Even the guys at UN agree, saying that eating and even farming insects may be the solution to food shortages and world hunger. So, the next time you see a grasshopper or find some grub lurking beneath tree barks, you might want to consider having them on your dinner table. Keep your options open.