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Why eating cicadas is good for you and the environment

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Posted at 12:56 PM, May 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-21 12:56:52-04

The arrival of the Brood X cicadas doesn't just mean billions of big-eyed bugs flying around some states for the next couple of months, it also means a little extra protein in some people's diets.

Jessica Fanzo is one of those who enjoys eating these cicadas when they come around every 17 years.

She starts by harvesting and freezing them to humanely kill them, then they hit the frying pan.

"We boil them for two minutes, and then we just put them in a frying pan with some sesame oil, garlic, chilis, salt and just eat them as little appetizers," she said.

The thought of eating cicadas may be stomach-churning to most, but Fanzo points out how eating insects is very common in other places around the world.

"Mexico consumes grasshoppers. Africa, they consume locusts and termites, it's very common. Asia, [they eat] water bugs."

What people around the world eat is Fanzo's area of expertise. She is a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor at Johns Hopkins University and teaches food policy.

She said eating cicadas is not only a good source of protein, but it can also help cut down on greenhouse gases.

"The system that produces all of our food, moves it around the world and we as consumers make choices about what we eat, that contributes to about 30 percent of global greenhouse gases," she said.

Fanzo said eating smaller animals, like insects, chicken, or fish, creates a much smaller footprint on the environment than other food, like beef.

"We have to start thinking about alternative sources to protein, micro-nutrient, vitamin and mineral-rich foods, insects being one."

While Fanzo doesn't think eating insects will catch on in the United States, she encourages people to give the cicadas a try before they disappear for another 17 years.

"They don’t really have a pungent taste to them, they just kind of taste earthy," she said. "If you were to just close your eyes and pop one in your mouth it would be this nutty, earthy taste and you wouldn’t really know."

Fanzo recommends if you want to try cooking with cicadas, harvest them when they are first coming out of the ground, in the nymph stage. She said they are meatier with no hard exoskeleton or wings. It's best to harvest the cicadas in areas that have not been sprayed with pesticides or other chemicals. And if you have shellfish allergies, Fanzo suggests you avoid eating cicadas.

For adventurous eaters, there is a cookbook with cicada recipes. Cicada-licious was created in 2004 by Jenna Jadin, who was then a student at the University of Maryland. Recipes include cicada stir-fry, Maryland cicadas and chocolate-covered cicadas.

This story was originally published by Megan Knight at WMAR.