Finding my gateway bug
May 15th, 2013
11:45 AM ET
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I ate bugs for lunch. This time it was on purpose.

By some experts' estimates, the average person inadvertently downs about one pound of insect parts a year, in foods as varied as chocolate (which can contain 60 insect components per 100 grams by law in the United States), peanut butter (30 insect parts per 100 grams) and fruit juice (up to five fruitfly eggs and one to two larvae for every 250 milliliters).

In light of the United Nations' recent plea for increased insect consumption, I decided to take the insects by the antennae and join the 2 billion people worldwide who deliberately make creepy, crawly creatures a part of their regular or special occasion diet.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization's report released Monday at a press conference in Rome, the planet would be a lot better off environmentally speaking, not to mention more cheaply, safely and sustainably fed if more people incorporated locusts, beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, worms, grubs and the like into their meal routines.

The big problem as the researchers see it: the ick factor. As Americans, many of us are geographically separated from the source of our food. It's often much easier to accept lab-created, industrially-formed X-Treem Cheez-O Blasters or highly-preserved, artificially flavored, over-salted microwaveable entrees as viable snack and meal solutions, over creatures we're conditioned to swat away, zap with garden pesticides or crush with our shoes. Frankly, I wasn't entirely sure I could do it.

I'm an adventurous eater. I down cow heads, bull balls, and squirrel stew with great relish. But I can't pretend I didn't have a visceral, emotional resistance to the notion of consuming creatures I'd been conditioned to think of as dirty pests and would be unhappy to find inhabiting my kitchen.

chapulines tacos

Boy, am I glad I sucked it up, because otherwise, I'd have missed out on the piquant and crunchy glory of grasshopper tacos. Chapulines (cleaned grasshoppers toasted with salt, lime and chile) are an ideal gateway bug for nervous, first-time insect eaters: their well-balanced, salty, spicy, tangy flavor is reminiscent of some of our nation's finest and most familiar snacking products, and fried or toasted exoskeleton makes for killer crunch.

The grasshoppers in the tacos I so mightily enjoyed at chef Julian Medina's Toloache restaurant in New York City had a minor, meaty pop after the initial bite, not unlike a well-crisped shrimp. Perhaps it's because I don't have any real metric against which to measure, but there was nothing discernibly "buggy" about the meal I enjoyed, and plan to again soon.

It's a small and silly victory over squeamishness, but one that's whet my appetite for the next insect adventure. Here's a handful of restaurants and vendors serving bug-based dished around the United States. Maybe I'll see you there, across a bowl of silkworm pupae soup or an ant egg omelet.

Where to eat insects in the U.S.:

Audubon Nature Institute – Bug Appétit
423 Canal St., New Orleans, Louisiana (504) 524-2847
– Bug buffet of exciting treats like six-legged salsa and chocolate chirp cookies

Dan Sung Sa
2775 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, California (510) 663-5927
– Spicy chrysalis soup (beondegi): vegetable soup with boiled silkworm pupae

Don Bugito Prehispanic Snacketeria
Food cart, San Francisco, California
– Wax moth larvae tacos, crispy toffee mealworms over ice cream, crispy mix of potatoes with wax moth larvae and agave worm salt

La Oaxaqueña
2128 Mission Street, San Francisco, California (415) 621-5446
– Jumbo Grasshopper (Chapulines) Tacos and chapulines by the bag

Mezcal
25 W. San Fernando St., San Jose, California (408) 283-9595
– Chapulines: sautéed grasshoppers, with garlic, lime and salt, served with a side of guacamole and tortilla chips

Mok Maru Jong Sul Jip
222 N. Western, Los Angeles, California (323) 465-6803
– Spicy silkworm cocoon soup

Oyamel
401 7th Street NW, Washington D.C. (202) 628-1005
– Chapulines: sautéed grasshoppers, shallots, tequila and guacamole

Pocha 32
15 W. 32nd St., New York City (212) 279-1876
– Bundaegi: silkworm pupa

Sake Bar Kirakuya
2 W. 32nd St., New York City (212) 695-7272
– Sauteed silkworm ("for beautiful skin")

Sticky Rice Thai
4018 North Western Avenue Chicago, Illinois (773) 588-0133
– Ant egg omelet and fried bamboo caterpillars

Toloache
251 W. 50th St., New York City (212) 581-1818 and 166 E. 82nd St. New York City (212) 861-4505
Chapulines tacos: Oaxacan-style dried grasshoppers, onions, jalapeño

Tu Y Yo
858 Broadway, Somerville, Massachusetts (617) 623-5411
– Tacos De Chapulines: deep fried mini tacos stuffed with grasshoppers and served with avocado sauce
– Empanadas De Chicharron De Chapulin: corn flour turnovers filled with fried grasshoppers

Typhoon
3221 Donald Douglas Loop, Santa Monica, California (310) 390-6565
– Silk Worm Larvae: stir-fried, soy, sugar, white pepper
– Singapore-Style Scorpions: shrimp toast
– Taiwanese Crickets: stir-fried, raw‍ garlic, chile pepper, Asian basil

Where to buy insects for home cooking and snacking:
Fluker Farms
Hotlix
Rainbow Mealworms
Thailand Unique

People who care an awful lot about entomophagy:
Girl Meets Bug
Insects Are Food
Mini Livestock

Did we miss your edible favorite bug vendor? Give them a shout out in the comments below.

Previously:
Eat insects, save the world says U.N.
The case for eating insects
Health department bugs out over grasshopper tacos
I scream, you scream, we all scream when there are cicadas in the ice cream



soundoff (59 Responses)
  1. JJ

    cant wait to start cooking with cricket protein, just ordered a pack from The Farmed Insect co. http://www.thefarmedinsectcompany.com/

    April 17, 2014 at 3:04 am |
  2. Raine

    If i ever had to like in a survival situation then perhaps, but naturally to people at first sight would be disgusted by the thought of it. Even though supposely from a book I have read.
    It saids, that the FDA allows certain levels of bugs to be present in various foods.

    For instance, up to 60 aphids in 3 1/2 ounces of broccoli, two to three fruit fly maggots in 200 grams of tomato juice, 100 insect fragments in 25 grams of curry powder, 74 mites in 100 grams of canned mushrooms, 13 insect heads in 100 grams of fig paste, and 34 fruit fly eggs for in every cup of raisins.

    It also mentions have much more nutritional value that insects have in comparison to beef and fish.

    May 20, 2013 at 5:20 am |
  3. CountryGirl

    Honestly bugs arent that bad i mean they taste good almost as good as snakes.

    May 19, 2013 at 11:05 pm |
  4. Meynerdgkrebbs

    As a cunning linguist, i entertain new ideas with relish. On reading this piece, my 1st thought... Give it to Mikey, he will eat anything.

    May 18, 2013 at 5:58 am |
  5. BB

    Notice the countries where the 2 billion bug eaters come from? The greatest source of our immigration!
    Think they like the food better here? Just sayin is all.

    May 17, 2013 at 10:21 am |
  6. KieranH

    Mmmmmm crunchy!!!!

    May 17, 2013 at 7:35 am |
  7. JMK

    The article talks about the "ick factor" as if it were irrelevant. Truth is, the "ick factor" is often there for a very good reason. Whether instinctive or culturally transmitted, it keeps us from eating/drinking/doing things that are dangerous to our survival. What would the fallout be from widespread bug-eating? Who knows. But somewhere back there, in time out-of-mind, there were very good reasons it became taboo in our culture to eat bugs. Just because we have forgotten the reasons doesn't mean they don't exist.

    May 16, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
    • Little Herds

      If you look back thousands of years, you see that people all over the world have been eating bugs since the dawn of history. Most people in the world still do, and anybody who buys groceries in a supermarket still does as well, they just don't realize it. You talk about the wide-spread fallout from bug eating...I hate to break it to you but it already is widespread and has been for thousands of years, and people continue to do it. Why? They're cheap, healthy, and tasty when cooked right. Does a chicken cooked poorly or served raw have an "ick factor"? I hope so.

      Only western nations in the past few hundred years have shied away from eating them. The bible even discusses John the Baptist living on honey and Locusts, and there are 8 different species of locust considered Kosher by Jewish dietary laws.

      Should we eat any and every bug we find? No, of course not. Some are toxic, some won't taste good. That's like saying "because we don't eat hyenas, cats, or vultures, we shouldn't eat cows, pigs, or chickens." There are thousands of edible species, and untold numbers that we haven't tested or even discovered.

      In today's age, the massive amount of chemicals we use in western agriculture and pest control means it would be harmful to go outside and eat a bug off of the ground. If you grow bugs in a hygienic environment and feed them organic food waste, you get a food source that is better than beef/pork/chicken/fish in almost every way, from cost and resource consumption, to nutrition and protein content.

      May 16, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
      • Trace Adams

        Great, well thought out response! Spot on.

        May 17, 2013 at 9:57 am |
  8. Ching Mang Choo Choo

    Eat bugs and be like Chinese.

    May 16, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
  9. trollol

    If bugs were so tasty to eat, I'm sure it would be mainstream. The only people who eat bugs primarily when it isn't a necessity are people seeking attention.

    May 15, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
    • Little Herds

      People eat bugs in:
      Central America
      South America
      Africa
      Australia
      The Middle East
      India
      Southeast Asia
      China
      Japan

      In addition, there are restaurants you can eat insects in all over the western countries:
      Germany
      France
      England
      USA
      Canada

      So really, the people who get freaked out by the idea are the vast minority on a global scale. In addition, if you shop in the grocery store you already eat them, albeit unknowingly.

      May 16, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
      • Nik without a C

        Thanks a lot I just lost my hunger for that. How about Vodoo dolls for the white folks the far right wing nuts. I just lost my taste buds.

        May 19, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
  10. Hypatia

    And when the bug eaters get god-knows-what parasites, they will be in for some real hell. Just say no.

    May 15, 2013 at 6:56 pm |
    • Little Herds

      Bugs, when raised and cooked properly, have vastly lower amounts of bacteria and other pathogens like Ecoli than other meat sources. Especially if you're comparing them to factory farmed meats. In addition, if you eat anything you buy in a grocery store, you're already eating bugs. The FDA has mandated allowances for all types of food, from bread to canned soup to apples to chocolate. You're already eating them, you just don't realize it. Ever thought about what goes into hot-dogs?

      May 16, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
      • Spence

        Still Nasty.

        May 16, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
        • peridot2

          Missing the point...

          May 18, 2013 at 10:06 pm |
  11. LittleHerds

    We're a fledgling non-profit educating Austin about edible insects. We source our bugs from WorldEnto, a recent startup working closely with the University of Georgia. WorldEnto raises insects specifically for human consumption, and raises them in hygenic environments on organic diets to assure quality. I don't think any of the other vendors mentioned can make the same claims, as most insects are raised for pet-feed or shipped in from other countries. Hit me up if you've got Entomophagy questions!

    May 15, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
  12. popseal

    This piece of brilliance comes from UN bureaucrats? Let those squatting bureaucrat toads eat bugs. I didn't rise to the top of the land based food chain for bugs. Steak, steamed veggies, a nice wine, decadent cheese cake, topped off with a fine cigar and an adult libation for me...bugs for the toads....

    May 15, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
    • Spence

      Amen!

      May 16, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
  13. guyfromVA

    if bugs taste so great, why do they always have to smother them in chocolate or lots of spices, fried coatings, etc? Whenever Bear Grylls or survivor man eat bugs, they have a really nasty look on their face as them swallow it down.

    May 15, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
    • kriss

      animals taste nasty when eaten raw unless you're used to that kind of diet.

      May 16, 2013 at 3:04 am |
    • Little Herds

      Ever had a bite of raw pork/chicken/beef? Not that tasty either. We cook food to make it taste better and be less likely to make us sick. Same thing with bugs.

      May 16, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
  14. ricke1949

    Time for a wine opinion. Need to have a wine and bug matching event.

    May 15, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      That really does need to happen!

      May 15, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
      • hecep

        A pairing of pupae and a pinot noir would be interesting.

        Mmmm! Entymologic, yet subtly impudent.

        May 15, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
    • Little Herds

      Coming soon to Austin TX :)

      May 16, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
  15. why?

    I will stick with Lion Taco's thanks

    May 15, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
  16. svann

    Hey, people eat hot dogs – why not bugs?
    I tried a hot dog in China, but it was too much dog for my taste.

    May 15, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
  17. svann

    Sure bugs are plentiful and if people ate bugs there would be more food for everyone. But I bet you the price in US supermarkets would not be much less than what people are paying for regular food now. The cost of living never goes down.

    May 15, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
  18. nate

    Nothing like fried ants from Santander, Colombia; they taste kind of like popcorn, but with a formic acid kick.

    May 15, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
    • smackinfact

      lemon maybe??

      May 15, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
  19. Amelia Kay

    Don't we spend billions of dollars in this country buying sprays to kill some of these things? Now I have to eat them?

    May 15, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
    • Bob

      You dont "have" to do anything – including read or comment on the story...

      May 15, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
      • Amelia Kay

        It's called 'tongue in cheek,' Bob.

        But thanks for reaching out, lol.

        May 15, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
      • Pluto

        Blow it out Uranus,Bob !!

        May 15, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
  20. Jamie

    I've had a few different kinds of bugs and other creepy-crawlies, and I liked most of them! Spider is gross, it was like a hairy potato chip. But some sort of caterpillar thing fried with peanuts and spices were the best.

    May 15, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
  21. gmenfan54

    So this guy ate in a Chinese restaurant. Big deal.

    May 15, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      1. Girl. 2. Mexican restaurant.

      May 15, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
  22. iceload9

    Sooner or later someone will think of a way to put it on a bun make it taste as close to a hamburger as a turkey burger a little special sauce and we're in business. They drag the eating bugs chestnut out at least once or twice a year.

    May 15, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
  23. filo bedo

    My guess is if you dine on to many grasshoppers you'll get the Cheez-O-Blasters!

    May 15, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
  24. capnmike

    Why would anybody shrink at eating insects and at the same time devour shrimp? Not much difference, really. Take a GOOD LOOK at a shrimp. A WHOLE shrimp, with the feelers and legs and all..........

    May 15, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
    • Jamie

      agree!

      May 15, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
    • svann

      Because when you squash a bug all you get is bug juice. No meat.

      May 15, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
    • Roscoe Chait

      You are right. And shrimp and lobster are bottom feeders. What do you think they eat? Yuck! And yet we consider them delicacies.

      May 15, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
    • hecep

      There's a cookbook out there written by an ex-mobster, wherein he mentions how he and his mobster friends loved eating "bugs" (i.e. lobsters).

      May 15, 2013 at 2:56 pm |
  25. u

    We really are turning into a third world country !!

    .

    May 15, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
  26. CoughDrop

    Waiter! There's a fly on my grasshopper.

    May 15, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
    • Hazel Iz

      That is hilarious and depending on how the grasshopper was cooked the fly may taste better!!!

      May 15, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
  27. kfromaz

    Seems the 'foodnazis' are alive and well!

    May 15, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
  28. Ann

    I think a taco would be a great way to try grasshoppers – it's easier if you disguise them a bit like that.

    May 15, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
  29. Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

    Kat, you have something in your teeth.

    May 15, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
  30. RichardHead

    For some reason...This article Bugs me.

    May 15, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
  31. Arthur in the Garden!

    Its a much overlooked source of protein!

    May 15, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
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