Could Air-Fried Cicadas be Iowa’s Next Cool Cuisine?


If you’ve ever had a hankering to taste Iowa-fried cicadas, you’ll have your chance later this summer.

Ginny Mitchell, education program coordinator at the Iowa State University Insect Zoo, says one popular element of their annual “Insect Village” event next month is edible insects. Mitchell recently collected hundreds of the 13- and 17-year cicadas which she plans to air-fry, sprinkle with seasoning, and serve to visitors on the Ames campus.

“Entomophagy, or the eating of insects, is something that has been around since the beginning of humankind,” Mitchell says. “In most countries, the population there eats insects as a daily part of their diet. It’s no different than us going to get some chicken nuggets or making popcorn for a snack.”

Are insects “meat”? The issue of eating insects is subject of debate among vegetarians. Those who refuse to eat meat because of environmental reasons see the very small impact raising and eating insects has on the planet, so they may choose to consider insects as -not- meat, while other more strict vegans disagree. Whatever you call it, Mitchell says making a meal of insects can be extremely healthy.

“Insects are a complete amino acid, which means it has all the amino acids that your body needs,” Mitchell says. “They’re also full of protein. There’s way more protein in insects than there is in any of the meat sources that Americans typically eat. Also, it’s full of calcium, which is important.”

While many of us may be hesitant to put an air-fried cicada in our mouths, no matter what sauce is on top, others are more adventurous. Mitchell has been studying — and eating — all sorts of insects for years and will plan to plate up a variety of cicada delicacies during the August event.

“I’ll be cooking both the adults and the nymphs, and this is important because once an adult emerges, its exoskeleton is really hard and they’ve got those long wings,” Mitchell says. “Some people might not find those as appetizing as the nymphs, which are a softer-bodied insect and they also don’t have wings.”

In the past month or so, two broods of cicadas emerged in eastern Iowa (and across the Midwest) that had been slumbering underground 13 and 17 years. That simultaneous emergence only happens once every 220 years, so Mitchell took a four-day road trip to bag up hundreds of specimens of the six-legged creatures.

“People all over the country are cooking cicadas and eating them,” she says. “There’s several breweries in Illinois that are brewing beer with cicadas. There’s also a fancy restaurant in Illinois that’s made ice cream with the cicadas.” Others are using cicadas in tomato sauce over pasta, or even as a pizza topping.

ISU’s Insect Zoo will hold its Insect Village event on the Ames campus on Saturday, August 24th. In addition to the edible insects, there will be a Bug Costume Contest and more than 150 species of living arthropods on display, with many available for hands-on inspection.

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