Cicadas on the menu as anticipation of Brood X arrival has some foodies buzzing

With the Brood X perennial cicadas expected to arrive by the millions soon,…

Cicadas on the menu as anticipation of Brood X arrival has some foodies buzzing 1
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Columbus, Ohio — Simon La Bozetta typically forages in nearby wooded areas for wild mushroom varieties to eat or sassafras herbs to put in tea, but in the coming weeks, he’ll add another item to his search list.

That item will add some crunch to his diet, but more important, it’s something he’s been waiting years to find and try — 17 years to be exact.

With the Brood X perennial cicadas expected to arrive by the millions in Michigan, Ohio and 14 other states this month, La Bozetta and others with adventurous palates will savor the rare opportunity to taste the little buggers, which some have hailed as the shrimp of the dirt for its seafood-like flavors.

He’s not holding his breath, however, that it will taste like buttery shrimp scampi no matter how he prepares the cicadas.

“For me, it’s the novelty of the experience,” said the 48-year-old Olde Towne East resident who has been foraging since he was a child. “I love to have new experiences, to travel, to see things. The curiosity is there.”

And the desire to eat the insects might also be about saving face on social media, too, where he’s mentioned the fact that they’re edible more than once.

But who isn’t talking about cicadas on Facebook and Twitter these days?

From local artisans making jewelry out of the loud winged creatures to scientists trying to predict when they’ll arrive (typically when temperatures average 64 degrees), social media is abuzz with all things cicadas.

And yes, that also means people are swapping cicada recipes, including Asian-inspired cuisine, a gumbo-like dish, chocolate-covered varieties and even a version of rhubarb pie, while news articles describe their taste as nutty or similar to that of chicken.

Andrew Zimmern, creator of the Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods” franchise, said the insects have a bold flavor.

“They’re earthy, loomi (sour),” Zimmern said. “They’ve been living in the ground for 17 years — kind of like the taste of the forest floor. It’s a strong taste, but not in a bad way. It stands up to the big flavors of garlic and ginger.”

And he should know: Those are two of the ingredients in his recipe for crispy wok-fried cicadas that he made in 2013 when Brood II came to the East Coast.

He said that although the whole creature is edible, people should remove the wings (if they’ve matured) and it’s the chef’s choice whether to leave the outer shell, or carapace, depending on if they want an extra-crunchy addition to their dish.

The best cicadas for cooking are those that have newly hatched, because their shells will be softer, according to “Cicada-licious: Cooking and Enjoying Periodical Cicadas,” a mini cookbook created by Jenna Jadin, who was a graduate student at the University of Maryland in 2004.

The manual advises that early morning is the best time to catch the bugs emerging and to “simply go outside with a brown paper bag and start scooping them in.”

Adventurous chefs can cook with them immediately after cleaning them and removing any unwanted parts, or refrigerate them.

For Zimmern, the purpose of making the stir-fry-inspired meal and eating it was not really to entice others to duplicate it, but to show cooks that they could create the dish and, more important, that there are different ways of thinking about food sources.

“It wasn’t a gimmick but a serious attempt to show people that bugs are food,” said Zimmern, of Minneapolis, who currently hosts “AZ Cooks” on Instagram each Thursday. “They’re food for millions of people. American eaters need an open definition of what food is.”

That’s what Srilatha Kolluri tries to get her students in her food science classes at Ohio State University to ponder when she teaches them about entomophagy or the practice of eating insects.

With more than 2,000 edible species of insects globally, she said many cultures dine on ants, locusts and meal worms, Kolluri said, especially because they are so high in complete protein (60% to 65%). Cicadas are no different.

“A lot of people worry about the ‘ew’ factor,” said Kolluri, a faculty lecturer who allows her students to taste protein bars made from cricket flour. “But whatever you’re used to — your culture — that dictates your preferences. If in another part of the world, you grow up eating it, it’s not ‘ew.’”

And if Americans can get over the initial disgust, eating insects is a very sustainable resource, she added.

La Bozetta has eaten insects, such as crickets, in the past so he doesn’t think these will be too different.

The most difficult part, he said, will be finding them as no one is entirely sure when they’ll start arriving or where, because central Ohio is on the edge of where scientists predict they’ll emerge.

However, La Bozetta said he’s sure people’s photos and posts on social media will alert him to the cicadas’ location.

He plans to try them a few different ways, including in a pesto sauce and sauteed in butter and garlic like shrimp, and he’ll document his feast for all his followers, he said with a chuckle.

“If I get one down, I’ll probably have had my fill,” La Bozetta said. “But who knows? That’s the great thing about trying new foods. I might find a new favorite.”

Here’s hoping cicadas don’t become a favorite dish or else he’ll have to wait another 17 years to eat them again.


Fom Andrew Zimmern, creator of the Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods” franchise,

2 cups cicadas

2 tablespoons peanut oil

2 tablespoons minced ginger

1 hot dried Asian chile

4 tablespoons minced lemongrass

1 cup chopped scallions

1 clove minced garlic

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons Toban Djan (fermented bean paste with chiles)

1 cup minced celery

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon cornstarch

3 tablespoons rice wine (or sake)

Collect roughly 2 cups of cicadas, keep them in a bucket (with a lid) with an inch of water inside. Wet wings means they won’t fly off. Dry on a towel, pluck wings and legs and set aside.

Heat a large wok over high heat. Add the peanut oil, and swirl.

Add the minced ginger, hot dried Asian chile (tsin-tsin work great), minced lemongrass, chopped scallions, minced garlic, sugar, Toban Djan (fermented bean paste with chiles, Lee Kum Kee brand is fine) and toss for 15 seconds. Add the cicadas. If you can’t find fermented bean paste, use a few tablespoons of Chinese dried salted black beans instead.

Toss for one minute to cook. Add the minced celery, toss. Mix the soy sauce, cornstarch and rice wine together in a separate bowl, then add the mixture to the wok. Toss, cooking for another minute or so until sauce tightens. Enjoy.


Makes 8 servings

From “Cicada-licious: Cooking and Enjoying Periodical Cicadas” by Jenna Jadin and the University of Maryland

1/2 cup Old Bay Seasoning

2 tablespoons salt

4 quarts water

1 (12 fluid ounce) can beer (optional)

8 red potatoes, quartered

2 large sweet onions, cut in wedges

2 pounds lean smoked sausage, cut in 2-inch lengths

8 ears fresh corn, broken in half

4 pounds large cicadas

In an 8-quart pot, bring Old Bay, salt, water and beer to a boil. Add potatoes and onions; cook over high heat for eight minutes.

Add smoked sausage to potatoes and onions; continue to cook on high for five minutes. Add corn to pot; continue to boil for seven minutes. Add cicadas, cook for five minutes.

Drain cooking liquid. Pour contents of pot into several large bowls, shallow pails or mound on a paper-covered picnic table. Sprinkle with additional Old Bay if desired.


From “Cicada-licious: Cooking and Enjoying Periodical Cicadas” by Jenna Jadin and the University of Maryland

Makes about 3 dozen cookies

2¼ cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 eggs

1 (12-ounce) package chocolate chips

1 cup chopped nuts

1/2 cup dry-roasted chopped cicadas (Place on cookie sheet and roast for 10 to 15 minutes at 225 degrees. Cooking time will vary. They should be a soft, dry consistency, a bit like a nut.)

Heat oven to 375 degrees. In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.

In a large bowl, combine butter, sugar, brown sugar and vanilla; beat until creamy. Beat in eggs. Gradually add flour mixture and insects, mix well. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts.

Drop by rounded measuring teaspoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes.

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