Lining them up is not exactly a beauty contest. Yet, something unique about each edible insect type commands our attention.
Some of them grow to full size in a very short amount of time. Others live in boxes, producing silk until we eat them. A few even wait seventeen years eating the roots of trees before appearing.
Let’s face it. There’s a reason why some edible insects are more popular than others.
What are the top 8 insects available on the market?
As a mainstream food source, edible insects are as common to snack on as nuts in many countries like Mexico, China and Thailand. These mainstream Insects have been sold in markets and served in restaurants in these countries for years. Regionally, North America and Europe have remained the exceptions until recently.
A boom in the insect market has resulted in a handful of popular edible insects coming out ahead. They’re earning a much deserved shelf-life in retail shops and online stores. They’re also getting featured on menus.
One of the reasons edible insects are capturing the hearts and minds of nutrition gurus, weight lifters, sustainability thought leaders and fashionable foodies is their high nutritional content paired with a miniscule ecological footprint. WIth so many benefits, what’s not to love?
This overall food efficiency has attracted many innovative pioneers to stake claims in the edible insect frontier.
In this edible insect list, we’ve compiled the eight most commonly consumed insects on the market to give you a sense of this increasingly popular realm of food.
In the past, crickets were mostly raised as feed for household pets like snakes and lizards. Thanks to this, the learning curve for cricket farming is less of a challenge than it is for other insects. Along with grasshoppers, crickets are the most consumed insects worldwide.
This may be because he nutritional balance offered by crickets is truly phenomenal.
Crickets are around 55 to 70 percent protein and they also contain amino acids that easily break down in our bodies.
One of the things that makes crickets so snackable is their nutty, crunchy flavor. They have a familiar texture, and they won’t leave a bad aftertaste. This makes them a perfect substrate for added flavors like spice, lime, curry, peanut sauce and more. Your own imagination is the limit.
Crickets are available in different forms including cricket flour and freeze dried crickets. These products have a really subtle flavor that allows you to supplement your protein and nutrition by adding them to your baked goods. Simply substitute a fraction of your regular flour with cricket flour and your protein intake will skyrocket.
Like crickets, mealworms already have an infrastructure in place for mass-production in the West because they are harvested as a form of bird feed. The transition toward mass human consumption is underway and many companies now offer mealworms as a human food product including Crickster.
Mealworms are a lot like beef in terms of their nutrition, since they have a balance of fat and protein.
The exciting thing about mealworms is they are a popular local edible insect for temperate climates, as they grow naturally in the wild. They are the larva of the eggs laid by darkling beetles which hail from Africa, but are now naturalized in North America.
The flavor of mealworms lies somewhere on the spectrum between seeds and nuts with a hint of spice.
Black Soldier Fly Larvae
These wiggly worm-like insects are a bug harvester’s dream come true. First of all, black soldier flies are very fertile. According to Heilu Farms, They lay some 500 eggs at a time. When these eggs hatch, the larvae continue to live comfortably together in crowded spaces and they grow to be 15,000 times the size of the egg in just two weeks.
Since they eat all kinds of matter, the larvae also present exciting opportunities for simultaneous waste reduction and food production. They love to feed off of farm animal biowaste, which can help minimize pollution.
Thanks to the high fat and protein content of the black soldier fly larvae, they are easy to use in all kinds of culinary dishes. Humans are only starting to catch on to what chicks, pigs, trout and tilapia have known all along: these larvae are nutritious and delicious.
Similar in appearance to a mealworm, the buffalo worm is a smaller insect. Many people confuse the two. And contrary to its name, it is a type of beetle. Buffalo worms also have a shorter life-cycle of a month, whereas mealworms live for two months before they’re ready to be harvested.
The flavor of buffalo worms is a softer, nuttier flavor than that of mealworms. Bugfoundation served samples of buffalo worm burgers that pleasantly surprised customers. Some felt there was enough of a taste and texture likeness for meat substitution.
With over 50 percent protein content per serving, these soft and plump insects provide excellent nutrition along with an inviting size, shape and texture.
For many people, you can’t say grasshoppers without thinking of Mexican cuisine, in which these critters are known as chapulines. They remain an affordable street food that’s especially common in the Oaxaca region of Mexico.
Chapulines are often simmered in mole sauce, tossed into tacos or slathered in guacamole. You can wash them down with a beer at your local cantina, where they’re often served as a bar snack.
Tiny but mighty ants stick together in complex built environments known as anthills. In the wild, you can actually poke a stick into an anthill to lure these diligent followers into a cup or bag before preparing them to eat over a campfire.
Compared to other varieties of popular insects on the market, ants taste zesty, spicy and peppery. In fact, they can even be used to sprinkle on dishes for the flavor kick.
In terms of nutrition, 100 grams of red ants has 14 grams of protein and 48 miligrams of calcium.
With an ancient history, silkworms are one of the world’s oldest domesticated insect species for silk production. They are no longer accustomed to the wild. If we don’t consume them after they produce silk, they’ll simply become another form of waste. Eating them is obviously the better alternative.
Silkworms are most commonly eaten whole in the larvae or pupae growth stages. They are especially popular in Asian countries like China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam and North and South Korea.
As an Asian snack served on the street, they have a slightly bitter smell and flavor. Their texture is soft and pudding-like.
Cicadas are a rare sight because they live underground, feasting on tree roots for most of their lives. Some species live there for up to 17 years. Once their cycle ends, they come aboveground en masse for mating season.
Like other insects, cicadas are also high in protein and they taste asparagus-like when dry roasted.
Where can I buy edible insects?
The best place to buy well known edible insects is currently online, since that’s where you’ll find the most options. Yet, you can also try recipes served with insects at many restaurants and a few stores are also creating space for lines of insect snacks.
You can find numerous outlets for edible insects online. For starters, check out our products. Next, we recommend browsing this gigantic list of online shops selling edible insects from Bug Burger. It has a nearly exhaustive range of worldwide products and sites where you can order popular edible insects.
There is this saying in the insect world: “If you see one cockroach, then there hundreds more you don’t see.” I think the same can apply to restaurants serving insects, when you think of how fast the edible insect market is growing. If you’re wondering where to find them, check out Bugsolutely’s nearly definitive list of restaurants serving edible insects.
While some parts of the world still await regulatory approval to sell and market pre-packaged bugs in stores, a handful of stores have already opened their doors to the trend. You can find cute, cartoonish packaging on the shelves in stores in Thailand, where the brand Panitan has launched its packaged edible insects as snacks. For brands working the sustainability angle, checkout Sainsbury’s in the UK. Eat Grub recently launched its packs of roasted crickets there.
How can I prepare the edible insects to eat?
So now let’s say you’ve bought--or caught--your first round of crickets, ants, grasshoppers or cicadas. What’s next? It all depends on what form your bugs have come in.
Whole insects are the kind that require the most preparation. Most of the time, whole insects require blanching, and often you’ll want to remove wings, antennae and legs so they won’t get caught in your teeth.
For larger insects, try skewering them, dressing them with teriyaki, barbecue, or chili-lime sauce and roasting them in the oven or over an open flame.
Another excellent option is to boil your insects and dip them in garlic-butter sauce, just as you would with any other arthropod (think lobster or crab).
Take it one step further towards comfort food and batter your insects and fry them in vegetable oil. Tempura batter works particularly well.
For most bugs, the horizon is wide open. Wrap them into sushi, stuff them into a burger, or glaze them in honey and roll them in sesame seeds. Whatever floats your boat!
Insect Powder or Flour
Insect powder is great to add to fitness smoothies for its nutritional benefits. The great thing about insect powder is that it is gluten-free and nutrient-rich. It’s also excellent for combining with all-purpose flour to use in recipes that use regular flour. We suggest a blend of 1 part insect powder to every 4 to 10 parts all purpose flour.
If you purchase a package with the label “flour” this likely means the insect powder and flour blend has been previously prepared by the manufacturer. All you need to do is follow your favorite baked-goods recipe for cookies, pancakes or biscuits to make them protein-rich and insect-packed.
If you want to understand how the process works from start to finish, try to make your own DIY Cricket Flour. Or, if you prefer to throw an innovative cake into the oven, we sell buffalo worm and cricket flours suited to all baked goods recipes.
Dry Roasted Insects
If you purchased your insects in the dry-roasted form, perhaps with some flavoring, they’re already ready to eat. All you have to do is pop them in your mouth.
What’s next after trying the popular edible insects
After you’ve gone through our list and taste-tested crickets, mealworms, black soldier fly larvae, buffalo worms, ants, silkworms and cicadas, you’ll probably be ready for more, right? Don’t worry, you won’t run out of options soon. There are 2111 known edible insect species to choose from.
These include bees, wasps, beetles, termites, scorpions and even tarantulas. If you get inspired to try all of these too, it may be your healthiest obsession both for the planet and for your diet. Enjoy!