The Cicadas: Your Next Lean Snack?

Insect a cicada

All summer, if you live in the East coast you may hear a loud buzzing sound that may trick you into thinking your neighbor left the weedwacker on. This is the sound of cicadas, who are returning  after a 17-year-long sleep underground.

And it’s making some people hungry.

Billions of these buzzing insects will emerge from their underground lairs from Virginia through Connecticut. Some of them have emerged already this spring after a 17-year hiatus. Don’t worry! These critters – though very loud and a little creepy – are generally safe. They don’t spread disease (like mosquitos) or intentionally bite or sting you (like bedbugs). Their main intention is to mate with each other and die soon thereafter.

Some are freaked out about cicada season because their presence feels like an infestation, while some are excited to add an extra item on the menu.

Because of their abundance, some have resorted to eating cicadas – after sautéing, boiling or deep frying some of them. Apparently, people have been eating them for thousands of years. Some have made special pizzas topped with cooked cicadas or dipped them in chocolate. One Missouri ice cream parlor whipped up a special cicada ice cream; however, the health department halted the second batch.

This cicada cooking guide details how to safely pick and prepare cicadas in order to retain the flavor and eliminate any soil bacteria. There are even recipes for cicada dumplings, tacos and cookies.

Sound disgusting? Insects have been cited as a good source of lean protein for people, pets and livestock. It may be one of the keys to eliminating world hunger. Some species of bugs, like the grasshopper or some water beetles pack as much protein as lean beef. The exact protein content of cicadas isn’t’t clear, but could potentially be comparable. Some argue that cicadas are arthropods, the same zoological class as lobsters, shrimp or crabs, so eating a juicy cicada is only a step away.  Countries all over the world serve bugs on their menu. In Laos, they have an insect cooking competition. On the streets in China, they sell bugs on a stick like shish kabobs.

However, eating insects aren’t for everyone. I’ll try anything once, but I would personally prefer a handful of cashews, beets, or just about anything else! If eating cicadas don’t tickle your fancy, there are many great lean sources of protein – including greek yogurt, eggs, and lean chicken. Despite the source, we should all aim to get 75 grams per day, which means 25 grams of protein per meal. But if you are the adventurous type who wants to bite some bugs, I recommend you speak to your doctor first. If you have an allergy to shrimp or shellfish, you may have an allergic reaction to cicadas since the animals come from the same species. Plus, these bugs may have come into contact with pesticides over the years.

To prepare for the cicada season, you may want trim the tree branches near your windows or keep your windows closed to keep them from getting inside your house. You may also want to be more cautious if you’re riding a motorcycle. I don’t own a motorcycle, but I’d hate to have them hit my bike helmet or my mouth while riding! Also, it may be a good idea to buy earplugs for the summer! Because these chirpers are so loud, they may throw off your sleep cycle. You should check out our sleep topic page to learn the best ways to rejuvenate your sleep.

When the soil reaches 64 degrees, they start to emerge and feed around the bases of trees, so if you notice hundreds of quarter-sized holes in the dirt, expect to hear the sound of the cicada sometime soon. They first emerge as nymphs, then as they mature and shed their skins, they start their famous mating call. Then after they mate, they lay eggs and die within a few weeks. Experts project they should be gone from your backyards by mid- to late-June. However, how long would they last on the menu at select restaurants?