BY NORBERT RUG
October 14, 2019, is National Chocolate-Covered Insects Day. Who knew there would be a day dedicated to eating bugs?
I have eaten a few bugs in my lifetime and once you get past the creepiness factor that you are eating insects they aren’t all that bad. People living in Oaxaca, Mexico have been eating fried grasshoppers as a snack for centuries. These are partially cooked in water, then seasoned with garlic and lime and toasted in oil. They’re then wrapped up in a tortilla and eaten. I have eaten fried grasshoppers and found them to have a crunchy, nutty flavor.
There used to be a program on TV called Fear Factor where the participants would have to eat bugs as a challenge. Bugs are deemed highly nutritional and most of them contain a lot of protein. They also contain healthy fats, calcium and iron, are low in carbohydrates and cholesterol. I’ve never heard about an anteater with a cholesterol problem.
The eggs, larvae, and adults of selected bugs, including tarantulas and centipedes, have been eaten by human beings from prehistoric times to the present day. Eating bugs is common to cultures in most parts of the world. The mealworms I ate were rather bland but because of their size and shape would mix well with wild or brown rice to add protein to your diet. A mealworm is the larva of a Mealworm Beetle not an actual worm at all.
As challenges in food production loom, some adults think that an increase in eating bugs is highly likely. The estimated proportion of bugs to humans is around 200 million to one, say Iowa State University entomologists Larry Pedigo and Marlin Rice in their textbook, Entomology, and Pest Management.
***If you are squeamish, you may want to stop here and go right to the last paragraph.***
You may think this is disgusting but you have probably eaten bugs already. The FDA, yes that FDA, the people assigned to protect your food source, allow a certain number of bug parts in many foods. The ground cinnamon, for example, can contain up to an average of 227 bug fragments per ounce.
Bug body parts are also permitted in both ground and crushed oregano. If you choose ground oregano, you might find up to 3,750 bug fragments per ounce. Crushed oregano is allowed to contain 900 bug fragments per ounce.
Chocolate. Everyone likes chocolate. Chocolate is permitted to contain 60 or more bug fragments per 100 grams
Maggots are permitted in a bunch of tomato products, including canned tomatoes, up to one maggot per 18 ounces of tomato juice and tomato sauce. This gives a whole new meaning to “Meat Sauce”
Canned citrus fruit juices are permitted to contain one maggot per 17 fluid ounces, but the good news is that juice that does contain a maggot cannot also have more than four fly eggs.
Canned mushrooms are a very good place to find maggots. If there are “over 20 or more maggots of any size per 100 grams of drained mushrooms” or “five or more maggots two millimeters or longer per 100 grams” the FDA will take a look. If not, gobble them up.
Meat provides a good amount of protein, but most meats contain many more unhealthy fats when compared to bugs besides that bugs contain fiber. Edible bugs have more nutrients and they can taste way better than meat. Many years ago I had chocolate covered ants. For this out of the ordinary snack, ants are first roasted and then they are coated in chocolate. I thought they tasted like chocolate covered raisins.
If two billion people eat bugs for dinner, it shouldn’t be too outlandish for you to include some edible bugs in your diet. In many parts of the world, eating bugs is commonplace and in fact, some bugs are considered delicacies.
Men are more likely than women to eat bugs and younger people are more likely to see the potential of eating bugs. The chocolate-covered crickets I ate tasted just like crunchy chocolate covered popcorn.
In some countries, like China and Thailand, chocolate-covered bugs are considered a delicacy. In Southern Africa, caterpillars are a significant supply of protein for some native groups and who among us hasn’t eaten the agave worm from the bottom of a bottle of Mezcal tequila on a drunken Saturday night?
Bugs are perfectly safe to eat just as long as you are buying them from a trustworthy source or even raising them yourself. You don’t want to collect bugs from the wild to eat because you don’t know what pesticides or other substances they may have had contact with. Another excellent rule of thumb to follow is not to eat any brightly colored, hairy or spiny bugs, as they are apt to be poisonous. As in all circumstances, maintaining a safe, reliable food source means a safe and healthy diet.
Bugs might not be for everyone, but they just might become a very important addition to the global food supply. They’re sustainable, green, and nutritious.
To purchase edible bugs go to Western New York Herpetological Society.
Norb is an independent journalist from Lockport, New York. You can follow his blog here.