Not in large quantities, and not usually as the main course, but people have been eating insects for a long time. For subsistence (hunter-gatherer tribes in Africa and the Amazon), because they are traditionally considered a delicacy (as with cricket snacks in Thailand or Mexican mezcal with a worm in it) or, as happens to most westerners, without even realizing they are eating them (up to about 10 ounces a year), in preserved tomato products and organic vegetables.
Insects are more commonly eaten in the Tropics, because there are more of them there and they are easier to harvest. They are eaten both in the adult and the larval form. According to the different customs, they are eaten alive, roasted, fried, smothered in savory or sweet sauces, or chopped up to add protein to soups and other dishes.
The edible insect species
These are the main families of insects eaten by humans:
- Coleoptera (ladybugs, cockroaches)
- Orthoptera (locusts, crickets, grasshoppers)
- Hemiptera (bedbugs, aphids, scale insects)
- Trichoptera (caddisfly larvae)
- Arachnids (spiders, scorpions)
- Diptera (flies)
- Homoptera (cicadas)
- Hymenoptera (ants, bees and wasps)
- Isoptera (termites)
- Lepidoptera (butterflies, moths)
- Odonata (dragonflies)
- Mantodea (mantises)
How insects are eaten in Asia
Thailand is the right destination for anyone who fancies the idea of trying insects as food. Larvae, millipedes, red ants, scorpions and butterflies are used for both sweet and savory snacks. In Japan, boiled wasp larvae are considered a specialty in the mountains, as are the larvae of many aquatic insects.
How insects are eaten in Africa
In Africa too, the ancient tribal custom of gathering insects has become part of the local cuisine. Flying termites fried and mixed into bread dough, moth caterpillars, larvae of the red palm weevil, ants.
How insects are eaten in the United States
The use of insects as food is sporadic. Locusts, crickets and dried grasshoppers were used as currency by some tribes of Native Americans.
How insects are eaten in Latin America
Grasshoppers are widely eaten throughout the south of Mexico, served roasted and flavored with garlic, lime juice and salt. They also eat “insect caviar”, ants’ eggs harvested from the roots of agave plants, boiled or fried in butter, either eating them in tacos or serving them in a bowl with a side of tortillas, making the popular dish called escamoles. In Taxco during the Jumil festival local stinkbugs by the same name are gathered and eaten. In Venezuela the Piaroa indigenous people consider the Goliath tarantula (or migali) a real delicacy: they can grow to the size of a dinner plate, with eight enormous legs which are enough for a large family, and are roasted over the fire. Taste: like crabs and hazelnuts. In Colombia and the Amazon leaf-cutting “bigbutt” ants are eaten toasted like a popcorn snack.
How insects are eaten in Australia and New Zealand
In New Zealand they eat huhu (a type of longhorn beetle) grubs which are harvested by digging into rotting tree trunks, both raw and sautéed. In Australia, honeypot ants, their stomach swollen with nectar to the size of a grape, are eaten raw as candy by the Aboriginal people.