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 you can get them wholesale.
Sorry, was that your gag reflex?
Now, don’t get so squeamish. Bugs can help you big time 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 edible insects you can munch on when you’re left with no choice. How do barbecued larvae or fried grasshoppers sound to you?
Before You Dig In
Now, before we present our menu of edible bugs, 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’re 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 bugs 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 edible 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.
6 Edible Insects to Fill Your Belly
Now that we’ve established those ground rules, here are some edible bugs 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…we 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 by their crunchy, potato chip-like taste.
These edible 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. These edible insects are pretty quick on their feet, so catch them early in the morning when there’s still dew out—they’re 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 herbs and spices the day before cooking to improve the grasshoppers’ taste.
The entire grasshopper is edible, but its head, entrails, legs, and wings are usually popped off before sauteing or pan-frying since these 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 safe to eat.
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 trap that can also be used to catch grasshoppers.
Ant aficionados claim that ants have a unique, slightly tangy, and 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 these edible bugs 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, you can eat ’em, too, apparently. They’re not the most appealing food choice for many since they’re particularly slimy. However, studies show that earthworms are good protein sources (they’re 82% protein). They’re 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 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’re good to go.
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 must be extra cautious when catching and handling them. 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 you need to thoroughly deep-fry or flame-grill them to neutralize the venom.
Lastly, they’re not as easy to find as other edible insects since most of the safe 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 of the most scary-looking yet surprisingly edible insects is the tarantula. Don’t get too put off by its gigantic, hairy legs. Back in the 70s, 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 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 spiders’ 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 and adding herbs to taste. When cooked properly, reports say that these hairy edible insects taste just like crabs.
Like scorpions, the important part of handling tarantulas is to avoid getting stung. Tarantula venom isn’t 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 using a trap.
There are thousands of other edible insects you can eat out there. While we can’t possibly list each and everyone, notable runners-up include:
Of course, some edible bugs are endemic to a specific area or are only available at a certain time of year. You can check out a longer list of insect species for human consumption here for future reference. It helps to know what kind of bugs are available in your area so that when the going gets tough, you’ll know which bugs to have for dinner.
Unconventional as it may seem, gathering edible bugs 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.