Yes, You Can Eat Cicadas: What You Need to Know Before You Take a Bite
The edible bugs aren’t for everyone.
The 2021 cicadas, dubbed Brood X, began surfacing in May after a 17-year absence. Since cicadas were last seen in the United States in 2004, many people are understandably curious about these winged insects.
Part of that curiosity, it turns out, involves eating cicadas. While biting down on a bug for dinner or a midnight snack isn’t for everyone, the seldom-seen insects are currently one of our trendiest foods. However, there’s some pertinent information you should know before you get your kitchen (and your palate) cicada-ready.
Safety is key when dealing with just about any food, and cicadas are no exception. “Cicadas, like any bugs, can carry pathogenic microorganisms on them. That is why it is important to handle them as if you would a piece of raw chicken or shelled eggs,” says Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, FAND, a nutrition consultant for Food Network. “First, purchase them from a reputable vendor.”
While it might be tempting to head outside and catch your dinner, as it were, Amidor advises against that Bear Grylls-esque approach. “Consuming them from the wild (a.k.a. your backyard) puts you at a higher risk for illness,” she explains.
Once you’ve procured your cicadas, you should start by washing your hands and cleaning your prep area. “Use a clean cutting board, utensils and surface, and do not cross-contaminate,” Amidor warns. “This means the cutting board and any utensils touching the cicadas should be washed and sanitized before you use it for something else. The countertop should also be cleaned and sanitized.”
She adds: “As with any raw food, they're more hazardous to eat raw versus cooked. Cooking can destroy pathogenic microorganisms.”
When you’re ready to actually cook your cicadas, Amidor suggests you liken them to a far more popular food group — seafood. “Cicadas have a nutty flavor and shrimp-like quality. They can be cooked like you would cook seafood,” she says. “You can sauté them or deep fry them. Recipes that can be found using cicadas include soups, cupcakes and cocktails.”
If the thought of preparing your own cicadas at home is a bit daunting, you can always head out to a restaurant (or get takeout) and order them off of a menu instead. Miya’s Sushi, a sustainable sushi restaurant in New Haven, Connecticut, serves smoked cicada salad and a cicada-topped pizza made with sushi rice, prepared by chef Bun Lai.
In Leesburg, Virginia, chef Tobias Padovano has taken a slightly different approach at his Mexican restaurant, Cocina on Market. In keeping with the cuisine of his eatery, Padovano prepares dozens of cicada tacos each night. According to the culinary pro, the cicada-filled tacos are a hit with diners.
However, just because we can eat cicadas, doesn’t mean everyone should. “Those who should avoid cicadas include women who are pregnant or lactating, due to the accumulation of mercury in the cicadas,” Amidor notes. “In addition, young children should avoid them due to the mercury content. Lastly, those who are at risk for gout should avoid cicadas as they may lead to gout flare-ups.”
Another group that should say no thanks to a bowl of comforting cicada soup? Those with shellfish allergies. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) even issued a stern warning on this front last month.
“Yep! We have to say it! Don't eat #cicadas if you're allergic to seafood, as these insects share a family relation to shrimp and lobsters,” the agency tweeted on June 2.
“Cicadas are referred to as ‘land shrimp’ and are related to shrimp and lobsters,” Amidor added. “As such, if you have a shellfish allergy they should be avoided.”
Will you be eating some cicadas this summer?