In some parts of the world, don’t complain to the waiter if you find a fly in your soup. The chef may have put it there intentionally. Many cultures consider insects, larvae and other creepy crawlies to be a delicacy, dietary staple or casual snack food. In fact, a U.N. report says over 2 billion people around the globe regularly consume bugs, and that’s not a bad thing. Most are low-fat, high-protein, fiber-rich and eco-friendly munchables full of vital micronutrients like magnesium, copper, iron, selenium and zinc. Some are surprisingly appetizing, or will at least give you that smug sense of satisfaction for being a daring consumer. So don’t turn your nose up when you see these little critters on the menu or on the table when you travel. Open your mind, prepare your palate (perhaps plug your nose) and give these a try. Once you get over that initial yuck bias, you might actually like these edible bugs.
1. Chewy Witchetty Grubs
This is a classic delicacy of Aussie aboriginal bush tucker, and one that adventurous gourmands can sample on tours in the Outback. High in protein and fat, these chewy larvae can be eaten raw or can be roasted over a fire. They have a rather bland taste like scrambled eggs but with a slightly nutty note. Doesn’t a rubbery peanut butter omelet sound appealing?
2. Sweet Honey Ants
This edible bug is another favorite among indigenous Australians, and a sweet treat you might want to try yourself. As the name implies, the abdomen of this ant swells up with a honey-like nectar which other ants can feed off like a self-sustaining community larder. Try to get over the ticklish fact that you’re eating a live insect, as a freshly dug-up honey ant (also called honeypot ant) is like a bug candy with a sugary squirt of flavor.
3. Crunchy Hormigas Culonas
This leafcutter insect roughly translates into “big ass ant” as their butt segment is particularly plump. They are a seasonal snack food in South America, often sold like popcorn or peanuts at movie theaters in Columbia. They are usually toasted in oil and salted into crunchy little nuggets that taste kind of like bacon wrapped pistachio nuts – if you use your imagination a bit. Hormigas culonas are full of protein and B-vitamins too, so consider it a relatively healthy nosh.
4. Salty Crickets, Grasshoppers, Locusts and Cicadas
A fashionable snack with the Ancient Greeks, these winged jumpers are protein powerhouses and some of the most popular edible bugs around the world today. Fried, sauteed, roasted or boiled, you’ll often see them around markets and bar tables in Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, Japan and Mexico. Like salted peanuts, these crunchy insects are mindless munchies that go well with a cold beer and a warm patio. In Mexico they’re called chapulines and are particularly tasty with a dash of chile and lime.
5. Cheesy Casu Marzu
Maggot cheese anyone? This traditional Sardinian cheese is made from sheep’s milk that is digested and fermented by the cheese fly larvae, Piophila casei. It’s called formaggio marcio in Italian, which aptly translates to “rotten cheese” – perhaps not the best marketing moniker. You can actually see the little maggots squirming around in the soft pungent wedges. Some people prefer to pick them out before popping it their mouths, while others just consume them outright. Sardinians use the maggots to determine if the cheese is fresh or not. Live maggots, good to eat. Dead maggots, throw it out. Considering most cheese is intentionally bacteria-laden, perhaps this is not so bad after all.
6. Munchie June Bugs
These little beetle-like morsels are officially called Phyllophaga and can be consumed as larvae or as adult bugs. Native American Indians used to roast them over fire like a popcorn snack. They have a vaguely buttery walnut-like taste.
7. Crispy Cockroaches
Before you turn your nose up at la cucaracha, these hard shell insects are actually one of the cleanest bugs around as they primarily eat a fruit and veggie diet. Best not to eat these crunchy critters raw, as the texture is better when they’re toasted, boiled, sauteed or fried. Word is they taste like chicken, so maybe we’ll be seeing Kentucky Fried cockroaches someday soon.
8. Snappy Dragonflies
You’ll find these relatively palate pleasing insects around Indonesia and China. In Bali, you’ll see kids catching dragonflies from the air by waving around a reed dipped in sticky sap. Wings are usually plucked off and then they are fried or grilled over charcoal. Sometimes they’re boiled in a ginger garlic infused coconut milk, which can make just about anything taste great.
9. Yummy Dung Beetles
Unfortunately, this one doesn’t sound too appetizing just from the name alone. Yes, they spend their lives inside cow patties, but those vegetarian bovines are mostly ingesting organic grass so it’s not as off-putting as some other species’ outputs. Nevertheless, commercial food-grade dung beetles are properly cleaned and dehydrated before sold. Apparently they’re one of the tastiest insect morsels around, crunchy and and chock full of protein. You’ll see them on the menu in South America, often mixed in to a hearty vegetable and pork stew.
10. Scrumptious Scorpions
Edible arachnids are all the rage in some Asian countries. Cambodia, in particular, has a thing for deep fried hairy tarantulas (shudder). Somehow scorpions seem a little easier to sample, but they are more of a tourist dare than an authentic delicacy. You’ll see scorpion skewers on street stalls around China and Thailand, surrounded by backpackers trying to build up the nerve to take a bite. There’s nothing good, bad or distinctive about the flavor. They really just taste like the oil and seasoning they’re fried in, although some liken them to crab legs. Sweet scorpion lollipops are popping up in North American candy shops too.
11. Delicious Bees and Wasps
Bees and wasps are prized both for their taste and their medicinal qualities – but don’t eat them raw or the stinger might get your tongue. Ground bees are often used as a tonic for sore throats in China, sold alongside royal jelly and pollen products. Other cultures eat them roasted, baked, fried or sauteed in butter. Some describe the larvae as having an earthy mushroom flavor, while others describe it as shrimp-like with hints of caramel. Mexico prefers them dipped in chocolate, an approach which can make just about anything seem delectable. Wasp crackers have recently become a novel delicacy in Omachi, Japan, with the visible stripey fellows baked right into the cookie.
12. Succulent Silk Worms
These larvae are a prolific byproduct of the silk industry, so selectively bred for this purpose they no longer exist in the wild. Once they go through their metamorphosis and release their silky threads from their cocoons, what else are you going to do with all those leftover critters? Eat ’em! Hence, silk worms have become a popular edible delicacy throughout Asia. They are rich in protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals and are perhaps the most sustainable domesticated food creatures in the world. The South Korean dish peondegi is made of these edible bugs, seasoned and boiled in big cauldrons on the street. The Chinese and Vietnamese prefer their silk worms fried. How about you?