Cooking with cicadas: MoBot turns ‘crunchy sky raisins’ into tender morsels (2024)

Cooking with cicadas: MoBot turns ‘crunchy sky raisins’ into tender morsels (1)

CHESTERFIELD — Give a man some cicadas, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to cook with cicadas, and — well, it can at least come in handy every 13 years, when trillions of the insects emerge from the ground across the St. Louis region and beyond, as they have this month.

Cooking with cicadas: MoBot turns ‘crunchy sky raisins’ into tender morsels (2)

For some, the long-awaited emergence of the bugs comes just in time for dinner. Such is the case for Tad Yankoski, an entomologist with the Missouri Botanical Garden who hosted a small educational event Monday as an apron-clad bug chef, showcasing culinary uses of the cicadas now omnipresent in parts of the region.

Before an array of cameras and reporters, Yankoski made two cicada-based dishes. The first was cicada scampi, served in bruschetta form. He followed that up with some cicada tempura, served in a special sauce.

People are also reading…

Both were delicious, tender and — if eaten blindly — would not have raised any suspicions of cicada consumption.

“They’re pretty tasty,” he said, wrapping up the batch of scampi. “These are surprisingly tender and juicy.”

The botanical garden is holding public demonstration sessions Friday at 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. at its Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House in Chesterfield. Seating is limited, and because of high demand and food regulation rules, samples of the cooked cicadas won’t be available — but other insect-based snacks and cicada recipes will be.

In nature, the “crunchy sky raisins” represent a protein source that experts say will reverberate throughout the food chain and lead to a baby boom for the wide-ranging predators that are gorging themselves on the bugs.

But examples of cicada consumption by humans are fewer and farther between.

“The biggest thing to overcome is the 6 inches between your two ears,” said Yankoski, explaining that, to many people, the first bite is the toughest sell — at least in the U.S.

“For many people around the world, this isn’t ‘eating bugs’ — it’s ‘eating dinner,’” said Yankoski, describing other cultures that don’t harbor the same taboo. And he added that, pound for pound, cicadas offer slightly more protein than pork or chicken.

Cooking with cicadas: MoBot turns ‘crunchy sky raisins’ into tender morsels (3)

Cooking with cicadas: MoBot turns ‘crunchy sky raisins’ into tender morsels (4)

And the fresher, the better, he says, as it’s best to collect them as close as possible to their emergence, especially before the bugs’ new exoskeletons harden and before they take on a less-pleasant and more tannin-heavy flavor in their adult stage.

The wings also get unpleasant with time, Yankoski warned.

“They get stuck in your teeth and things like that,” he said.

But some resistance also comes from red tape and regulations that restrict the ability to serve the insects to the public — at least in traditional business settings.

“Restaurant owners can’t just go outside and harvest a bunch of cicadas and start cooking them up to serve to the public,” said Sara Dayley, a spokeswoman for the St. Louis County Department of Health, in an email. “In general, food products used in food establishments must come from an approved source.”

Dayley said that means food must be acceptable based on “conformity with principles, practices, and generally recognized standards that protect public health” — a definition that evidently doesn’t extend to creatures that crawl out of the soil every 13 years.

But legal definitions and regulatory restrictions haven’t stopped cicadas from appearing on plates and in recipes in some places, whether at the Missouri Botanical Garden’s cooking event or elsewhere, including private dinner parties.

Sparky’s, an ice cream shop in Columbia, Missouri, sold a limited amount of cicada ice cream during the brood’s last emergence in 2011 — attracting not only business but a stampede of media attention and headlines around the globe.

But after the flavor’s wildly successful launch, Sparky’s soon had to pull the plug on it, thanks to local regulators.

Cooking with cicadas: MoBot turns ‘crunchy sky raisins’ into tender morsels (5)

“Your backyard is not an authorized source for food ingredients,” said Tony Layson, the general manager at Sparky’s who also worked at the shop during the last round of cicada mania.

Yet even after cicada ice cream was erased from its offerings, business at Sparky’s was never the same. The limited run marked a positive “turning point” for the shop and a lasting boost in foot traffic, he said.

“‘These are our weirdos, we want to support them,’” said Layson, describing the perceived response of the community. “That little bug, I don’t want to say it made the shop, but it definitely helped it. ... We’ll never besmirch the name of the cicada.”

Besides changing the trajectory of the business, the cicada ice cream left another legacy.

“The owner jokingly put a sign on the door 13 years ago, saying, ‘Come back in 2024,’” said Layson.

And right on cue, people — and reporters — have emerged, asking if the flavor would return along with the bugs.

But despite some selling points, some consumers and chefs just aren’t interested in eating cicadas.

“We might fish with them, but I don’t think we’ll put them on the menu,” said Kevin Willmann, the chef at Farmhaus, in St. Louis’ Lindenwood Park neighborhood. “We’ll stick with crawfish for now. That’s as close as we’ll get to a bug.”

Cooking with cicadas: MoBot turns ‘crunchy sky raisins’ into tender morsels (6)


'); var s = document.createElement('script'); s.setAttribute('src', ''); document.body.appendChild(s); window.removeEventListener('scroll', throttledRevContent); __tnt.log('Load Rev Content'); } } }, 100); window.addEventListener('scroll', throttledRevContent); }

Be the first to know

Get local news delivered to your inbox!

Cooking with cicadas: MoBot turns ‘crunchy sky raisins’ into tender morsels (2024)


What is the best way to cook cicadas? ›

Borgerson said cooking with them is relatively easy. "You can add them to any of your favorite dishes," she said. "They don't need peeling or extensive prepping, just pan fry them or parboil and toast them in the oven, and then use them like you would any of their crustacean relatives."

What do cicadas transform into? ›

Periodical cicadas are insects that spend most of their lives underground as nymphs, feeding off the sap of tree roots. They emerge to transform into adults and mate. Some periodical cicadas emerge every 13 years and others emerge every 17 years. The males "sing" by vibrating a membrane on the sides of their bodies.

Can you eat a cicada bug? ›

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Whether you call them bugs or even “shrimps of the land,” cicadas are among those insects that are safe to eat. And if you are among those adventurous enough to give them a taste, this is the time to do it.

Are cicadas a good source of protein? ›

Cicadas and many other insects such as ants, crickets and grasshoppers are great sources of protein, hugely abundant and earth friendly. Insects have been delicacies for many cultures for thousands of years.

Can you keep a cicada in a jar? ›

If you plan on keeping cicadas for a few hours, many containers will do. Just keep them in the shade, make sure the container is ventilated (has holes so air can flow in and out), and add a moist paper towel for a source of water & moisture.

What's the difference between a locust and a cicada? ›

Cicadas aren't a “Plague of Locusts.” In some areas people call cicadas locusts, but cicadas can't eat crops like locusts. They only drink trees. Most trees will be fine.

What do cicadas do for humans? ›

Cicadas are not dangerous and can provide some environmental benefits including: Cicadas are a valuable food source for birds and other predators. Cicadas can aerate lawns and improve water filtration into the ground.

Are cicadas healthy? ›

It's safe for most people to eat insects, including cicadas, said Margaret Slavin, an associate professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies in George Mason University's College of Health and Human Services. “Cicadas and other insects contain high-quality protein,” said Slavin.

Did Native Americans eat cicadas? ›

Several types of insects were known to be eaten by the indigenous peoples of western North America, including grasshoppers, Mormon crickets, caterpillars, flies, cicadas, beetles, ants, bees and yellowjackets. Also, insect honeydew and honey were not overlooked as a food source.

What are the disadvantages of cicadas? ›

Bad things: Nuisance problems: Cicadas could be a nuisance in areas of high activity due to their sheer abundance (e.g., covering sidewalks, etc.) and noise (e.g., interference with outdoor events). Plant damage: Damage to trees and other woody plants can occur.

What culture eats cicadas? ›

Today, cicadas are a popular street food and ingredient in countries like Thailand and Mexico, among others.

Are cicadas high in mercury? ›

Keri Gans, nutritionist and author of The Small Change Diet, tells Yahoo Life that cicadas have also been found to be high in mercury. “Women who are pregnant or lactating, and young children should limit mercury in their diet,” she says.

What do deep fried cicadas taste like? ›

"Some individuals describe the flavor of cicadas as nutty, with a hint of asparagus taste to it," Sapna Batheja, of George Mason University, said in a statement. "Others proclaim that they do not have a ton of flavor, so you can add different spices, flavorings or sauces."

What is the best way to preserve cicadas? ›

The cold of the freezer will be enough to kill the cicadas painlessly and humanely. These cicadas can then be stored for up to a year in the freezer, but they should be frozen for at least an hour before preparing them (Gutierrez, 2022).

How do you cook cicadas in a Cajun recipe? ›

Marinate cicadas, alive in a sealed container, in Worcestershire sauce for several hours. Dip them in beaten egg, roll them in the seasoned flour, saute them until golden brown. If eating golden brown fried cicadas doesn't sound good to you, don't worry because there are apparently many other ways to cook them.

How do you clean cicadas? ›

"To clean your gutters of dead cicadas, grab a bucket and carefully bring it up with you on an extension ladder. Once at the top, start scooping out carcasses with a gutter scoop, along with any other debris, into the bucket."

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Margart Wisoky

Last Updated:

Views: 5938

Rating: 4.8 / 5 (58 voted)

Reviews: 89% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Margart Wisoky

Birthday: 1993-05-13

Address: 2113 Abernathy Knoll, New Tamerafurt, CT 66893-2169

Phone: +25815234346805

Job: Central Developer

Hobby: Machining, Pottery, Rafting, Cosplaying, Jogging, Taekwondo, Scouting

Introduction: My name is Margart Wisoky, I am a gorgeous, shiny, successful, beautiful, adventurous, excited, pleasant person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.