The Buzz About Eating Cicadas

cicada-052907-wheise
This 17-year Oakwood Street resident
had no comment on whether
people should eat cicadas.
(Photo: Wendy Heise)

Park Forest, IL—(ENEWSPF)— Taking an afternoon stroll down almost any street in Park Forest, it’s almost impossible to miss the sometimes deafening buzz of the cicadas. Hearing reports that some in the area might be dining on the flying critters, a.k.a. periodical cicadas, eNews Park Forest sought some local expert advice on our normally underground neighbors making their 17 year appearance.

Village Parks Superintendent Rob Gunther says cicadas are basically harmless, “They don’t bite.  As adults they don’t really feed that much on anything.  They’re not going to harm perennials or annuals.”

Gunther says that there is a slight chance they could harm young trees, saying that the female inserts eggs under the bark of trees after mating. “If you had a very young tree, you  could get enough splitting to do some damage.” He advises residents who are concerned about this to put cheese cloth around small trees.  “They’ll be gone in probably three, four weeks at the very most,” he says.

Christine Blue, Director of the Park Forest Health Department, says, “There’s a lot of ‘buzz’ being generated about this cyclic emergence of this unusual insect.  They’re big, they’re noisy, they’re ugly, and they’re plentiful.” She shared some thoughts on eating cicadas, beginning with a caveat for those with shellfish allergies, “Aside from the pesticide factors that we can’t know, and aside from people who may have allergies – and they resemble the kind of allergic reactions people have when they consume shellfish, like shrimp or scallops – there was one case that was reported where the man nearly died from an allergic reaction.  I think they’re in the same biological family as shellfish.” She adds, “A lot of times people are not aware that they have [shellfish allergies].  You can eat shellfish for a period of time and then all of a sudden develop an allergy.  And those kind of allergies can be fatal.”

However, Blue says there is ample precedent in history for human beings eating insects, “My granddaughters had gone to a summer Bible class and they came home singing [that] John the Baptist ate bugs for lunch.  I think there is probably a big history of consuming insects.”  She says the practice was common in some cultures, “especially in the Asian culture and Native American culture, long before we were as populated as we are, protein sources were scarce, and people ate the protein that they could find.  Bugs and insects were plentiful sometimes, and easy to catch.”

Blue says cicadas, as a food source, are low in fat and high in protein, saying, “when protein sources were not plentiful, especially before modern weaponry and transportation, when people were running with bows and spears to catch protein, insects were a lot easier to ingest.”

At times during our interview, Blue could not resist an occasional chuckle at the thought of eating cicadas, “In terms of now, it’s a craze.  However, having said that, I can remember when I was in high school people passing around tins of chocolate covered ants.  In a way it’s very much like people getting their 15 minutes of fame in their group.  I don’t think that people in our area eat cicadas or any other insect in the privacy of their own home.  I think it’s something that they go out and tell their friends about.  So, it’s got that kind of attention-getting factor to it.”

“On the other hand, having said all of that, if people are going to take a risk like that, there’s nothing that we can do to stop them.

“I was thinking about how would one cook insects?  I guess you could fry them in a skillet.  I have no clue what they would taste like.  I would think that some of their body parts might be sharp, though. 

“I would not recommend eating them raw, partly because of the potential for some kind of soil-borne illness.  They come right out of the ground.  They don’t have little anti-bacterial showers that they can take,” she laughed.

Jeffrey Carpenter of Palos Heights offered some culinary tips on consuming cicadas, “I’ve found that if you do too much at all the so-called ‘nutty’ flavor of the cicada is masked … unless that is the intention.” Carpenter offers the following cooking advice, “I’ve used “Cajun” spices and grilled them on a fish/vegetable grill implement. Gather as many as you can eat in a sealable plastic bag; put in freezer until bugs are motionless; put Cajun seasoning together with oil and pour over cicadas in bag as a marinade; grill (try them “blackened”). Wings typically crumble into ash with the heat.

“More fuss than it’s worth, but it’s a once-in-seventeen-years novelty, so enjoy.” When asked if his recipe was for real, Carpenter added, “Seriously – they’re good with hot wings sauce, too,” and wondered, “Is this a guy-thing, or do the ladies out there appreciate the unique protein source also?”

The website Cicada Mania, marking its 11th year on the web, gave eNews Park Forest permission to share the following warnings.

Pet related concerns:

  1. Pets can choke on the rigid wings and other hard body parts of the cicadas.
  2. Pets will gorge themselves on cicadas, and possibly become ill and vomit.
  3. Pets who consume cicadas sprayed with copious amounts of pesticide can and will die.
  4. Pets might have an allergic reaction to the cicadas just as people do.

People related concerns:

  1. You could choke on their hard body parts.
  2. You could have an allergic reaction. If you’re allergic to seafood, don’t think about eating them.
  3. Do you really want to eat something that’s been marinating in lawn fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals for the past 17 years.

Source: http://www.cicadamania.com/delicious.html

Park Forest resident Nate Hughes sees other potential for cicadas, “They make good fish bait,” he says. Hughes collected a few for a friend who goes fishing.