The Buzz

If you can't beat 'em, eat 'em: How to cook with cicadas

A cicada on a green leaf.
(Photo via Shutterstock)

The number of cicadas that will be emerging from underground in Illinois in the coming weeks will total in the billions or even trillions.

Plenty of wildlife will take advantage of this bounty of bugs. Many birds will feast on the cicadas, and so will just about any animal that normally includes insects as part of its diet, according to the Purdue University Extension. You might even find that your dogs enjoy crunching on cicadas, and it's perfectly safe for them to do so as long as they don't eat too many. (They may also get a stomachache because the cicadas' exoskeletons may be difficult to digest.)

If you opt to give cicadas a try, you'll be in good company, because eating insects — or entomophagy — is common practice in many places. People in as many as 80% of the world's countries eat insects, sometimes as a delicacy and sometimes as part of their regular diet, according to the University of Minnesota. And Native Americans historically included cicadas in their diet as well, according to the University of Illinois Extension

Eating cicadas and other insects is also good for the planet. They are low in fat and high in protein and some vitamins and minerals, plus raising insects as food requires less land and water and produces fewer greenhouse gases than other livestock, the University of Minnesota reports.

There are entire cookbooks dedicated to cooking with cicadas. "Cooking With Cicadas" includes recipes such as Cicada Curry and Caramel Cicada Crunch, while "The Cicada Cookbook" bills itself as a culinary guide to cicada cuisine. Similarly, "Cicada-licious: Cooking and Enjoying Periodical Cicadas" features 10 cicada recipes, including Cicada Stir-Fry and Banana Cicada Bread.

Whether you are going to snack on a cicada to say you did it or whip up a five-course meal to take full advantage of the momentous occasion, you might wonder what cicadas take like. Despite the common parlance that any not commonly eaten food tastes like chicken, cicadas don't take like chicken. Instead, they are said to taste nutty, like almonds.

If you're ready to take the plunge and sample a cicada, keep in mind that not just any old cicada will do when it comes to eating these buzzy bugs. They are best when collected just after they have molted their exoskeleton. At this stage, they will be white in color and their bodies will be soft because they have just molted, according to the University of Illinois Extension. 

Look for the newly molted cicadas on tree trunks and branches, but be selective about where you collect them from. Do not collect any cicadas from your yard if you use lawn chemicals, The Ohio State University advises. Also avoid collecting them from around older homes, where there is potential for contamination from lead paint. Also do not take cicadas — or anything else for that matter — from anyone's property without permission. Friendly reminder: It is illegal to remove anything from the forest preserves.

Female cicadas are said to be meatier than males, and you can tell the difference when collecting them by looking their abdomens. Females have a more pointed tip at the end of their abdomen, while the males are more dome shaped at the end of the abdomens, according to the Illinois Extension.

Once you've collected your share, proper handling and preparation are key. To start, you will need to freeze them at least overnight to humanely kill them, the Illinois Extension advises. When you are ready to prepare them, defrost them and then remove the head and wings. Some recipes may also call for the legs to be removed. At this stage, they are ready to be prepared however you choose.

One important safety warning: Don't eat cicadas if you are allergic to seafood, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has advised. Cicadas are related to lobsters and shrimp, and people allergic to those foods may also have an allergic reaction to cicadas.

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