After 17 Years, Cicadas Are Back…On The Menu

Image: Sharon Hahn Darlin/Flickr

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

Could the latest food trend be 17 years in the making? That’s right; we’re talking about the Brood X cicadas. Trillions of these odd-looking insects have been emerging from the ground across the eastern U.S. over the past few weeks, and experts say their return presents a perfect opportunity to indulge in some creative and sustainable cuisine.

Insects are a good source of eco-friendly protein and apparently, cicadas taste like shrimp? Or you could opt for cicada bruschetta

Why This Matters: Insects have been a part of human diets for thousands of years, but in the U.S., bugs are seldom on the menu. Instead, Americans find their protein primarily in meat. Meat production, particularly beef, has a massive carbon footprint and often requires clearing large swathes of forests.

A study from the World Wildlife Fund found that moving the American diet away from meat could help reverse biodiversity loss, prevent deforestation and land clearing, achieve negative emissions and optimize crop yields. To reach net-zero emissions by 2035, the nation can’t stop at revolutionizing its energy economy; it’ll have to revolutionize its dinner plates as well.

An Acquired Taste: Brood X has been burrowing underground for the last 17 years, feasting on sap and waiting to hatch. Now, they’re emerging from the ground across the eastern U.S. to make an entrance and a lot of noise. They’ll be around for just three to six weeks, just enough time to find a mate and die. Some “entomophagy” enthusiasts have traveled across state lines to collect some of these crispy delicacies; one Connecticut-based chef plans to make a stunning cicada paella.

Cicadas taste a bit like nuts, as many insects do, but with every bite, my nose is reminded of popcorn, too,” said Chef Bun Lai, a pioneer in sustainable sushi. Chefs like Lai see this event as a perfect opportunity to encourage Americans to incorporate more insects into their diet.

Fresh and Available: One of the best aspects of eating insects is that they’re much easier to cultivate than cows or chickens and require far fewer resources. 

Entomologist Jessica Ware, a curator at the American Museum of Natural History, says that insect farming is a surprisingly sustainable option to bring bugs to every plate. “It takes much less land, much less energy. As people in the northern hemisphere continue to use resources at the rate at which we use them, we’re going to need to make some change. And entomophagy would be a really good one in terms of sustainability.” Despite some interest and moderate commercial success, insect dishes and snacks haven’t taken off in the U.S. yet. But that hasn’t stopped investors from pouring money into the global edible insect market, which researchers predict will reach $4.63 billion by 2027. 

In the meantime, chefs are encouraging home cooks to pick up a few insect-inclusive recipes. Ecologist Jenna Jadin plans to update her now 17-year-old cookbook, Cicada-licious: Cooking and Enjoying Periodical Cicadas, and offers some advice for first-time cicada cooks. “You want to remove the legs and the wings, those aren’t particularly nice.” It’s also worth noting that if you live in an area where pesticides are sprayed on the ground, you may want to reconsider eating an insect that’s been underground for 17 years.


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