Updated: May 12
Insects are enjoyed by 2 billion people around the world.
Travel around the world with us and discover new cuisines, delicacy dishes and insect combinations that are renowned for being delicious. Red Meat, Poultry, Seafood…Insects?
We don’t call the meat we eat ‘animals’, so what are the names for different types of insect? If we know that beef, pork, chicken and fish are our most common meat groups, it’s important to know the various categories in the insect world. The top 3 of most prevalent bug groups are beetles, caterpillars and bees/wasps/ants, which make up 63% of the edible insects around the world. Closely followed are grasshoppers/locusts/crickets making up 13% and smaller categories including cicadas, termites and flies.
So where are these insects eaten? And how are they made into meals? Let’s find out!
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As a big insect-eating country and host of the 2020 Festival of Edible Insects, Mexico is the home to hundreds of bug species (between 300 and 550), which are part of their culinary heritage.
One of the most famous is the chapuline, a rust coloured grasshopper. These are part of an old food tradition as cheap, plentiful protein and are everywhere you look in the state of Oaxaca.
Chapulines are usually served fried and seasoned with chili, lime, garlic, onion or salt. Their texture is pleasantly crunchy and as salty and tangy as a salt-and-vinegar crisp.
The perfect snack!
In the era of Native Americans, insects were not just a means of survival or convenience- they were a delicacy! Experts say that 25-50% of these communities have an insect eating tradition.
In 20th century Cherokee in North Carolina, cicadas were hunted and harvested from the ground. After removing their legs, Native Americans fried them in hog fat as a snack or baked them into pies.
Supposedly, cicadas have been likened to popcorn, bacon and even crab, with the same crunchy texture. Handful of cicadas, anyone?
As one of the most famous countries for insect consumption, Thailand offers a variety of bugs to enjoy like crickets and silkworms, but in particular, the waterbug.
It’s said that the head tastes of crab, with a mushy texture and the body tastes more of scrambled egg. It is also characteristic of this type of bug to taste of black liquorice.
What a variety of flavours!
The witchetty grub is found in the deserts of Outback Australia and can be seen as a fun tourist food today, but they were previously a staple food for the Aboriginal diet.
Traditionally, they’re eaten alive and raw as a nutritious snack. Supposedly, they have a slightly sweet flavour and liquid centre.
Beyond this, witchetty grubs can be found on the barbeque until the meat is white and the skin crusty. Served as an appetiser, this form tastes more like chicken or prawns with peanut sauce.
In the modern day, they can even be found in canned soup form!
Insect consumption is specific to the different locations of Africa and the mopane worm is the most popular choice in Zimbabwe.
Found in mopane trees and harvested late in their larval stage, these worms are often seen in bags in local markets, either dried or smoked. Fresh mopane worms are also a seasonal delicacy and they can also be sold in cans.
Some say they taste of chicken or biltong; others say they’re more leafy. These are often served with tomatoes, onions and garlic and when fresh, their texture is less chewy.
What a healthy addition to dinner!
France has become well-known for their escargot (no, they’re not strictly insects, but they’re still going in our list!), with 40-60 thousand tons of it being eaten every year.
Served as an appetiser, these snails are bred in one of France’s 200 snail farms or over in Greece and loved for worldwide for being tasty and satisfying.
After being removed from their shells, they’re cooked in garlic butter, chicken stock or wine and served either with bread or placed back in their shells on an escargot plate.With their tender texture likened to oysters and their ‘clean and woody’ taste, they are a true French delicacy.
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The frying and eating of queen ants dates back centuries in the town of Silveiras in Brazil and are still a popular snack in urban areas today.
They’re collected by spring rains driving the ants out of the ground and non-locals drive hundreds of miles to buy them for their protein, natural antibiotics and even as an aphrodisiac.
Such a sweet treat!
In the province of Kampong Cham, an insect market called Skun holds a wide variety of edible insects, including the regional delicacy of tarantulas. What used to be a poor dish, eaten out of necessity, is now part of the culture’s mainstream cuisine.
It’s been noted that the tarantulas taste like soft shell crab, with the body being more bitter in the middle.
Maybe tarantulas aren’t so scary after all?
Often seen in alongside street vendors, scorpions are kept in buckets ready to be served on skewers to those wanting street food throughout Beijing.
With 324 insect species, China love edible insects because they’re abundant, easy and cheap to raise, and require little space, so even poorer farmers can make a profit.
Some eat the scorpions alive, some only when coated in a Chinese liquor called baijiu. Despite its slightly scary appearance, they have a crispy, fried-chicken-style texture and a taste similar to french fries- except much healthier.
Don’t worry: the very hot oil removes any poison instantly!
Across at least 10 states around India, over 300 insect species are staple foods to tribal communities. Among the Khond and Sora tribes, both the date palm worm and red ant eggs are important to their diet.
The date palm worm is harvested from the roots of date trees, sautéed and eaten with rice. The red ant eggs can be mixed with ragi powder and also eaten with rice, but can also be made into chutney.
Likened to ‘ant caviar’, red ant eggs are mixed with red chillies and ginger to create a healthy, spicy delicacy. It was even described at delicious by renowned chef, Gordon Ramsey. So, it must be tasty!
Why Not Join Them?
If 2 billion people love eating insects as part of their cuisine, then it’s definitely worth a try!
Still worried about the ‘ick factor’? Forget that taboo!
These communities are an inspiration for insect cuisine and so many more countries are joining their entomophagy adventure. They don’t eat them out of necessity, they eat them because they’re delicious!
So why don’t you give it a go? Join those 2 billion people worldwide who love eating insects:
If you haven't already, check out part 2—we explore more countries where bugs are seen as a delicacy.
By Lucy Godber