Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Summer 2021 is going to be unlike any other. End of the pandemic aside, there’s another unusual phenomenon happening: the arrival of Brood X cicadas. These 17-years-old cicadas are starting to emerge from their hidden underground homes, and they’re ready to start flying across the Midwest and East Coast.
Cicadas are a buzzy insect breed, but this year’s crop is particularly special. Every 17 years, this brood appears, mates, and disappears within just three to four weeks. Larger, louder and creepier than your regular summer cicadas, Brood X is one of the biggest groups in existence – and they’re kind of terrifying to see in person.
You aren’t alone if you’re completely grossed out by these unusual cicadas. But there are plenty of people who are totally into them. In fact, these big bugs are poised to be one of the summer’s exploding food trends. Here’s why so many people are starting to snack on the Brood X bugs.
Chefs everywhere are turning cicadas into delicacies
While eating insects isn’t a cultural trend that’s caught on in the US, it’s quite popular elsewhere in the world. Edible insects are culinary traditions in Mexico, Korea, Thailand and Finland, to name just a few places where bugs are big.
And Brood X has become the trendiest insect delicacy you can get your hands on. These cicadas are appearing on pizza, in sushi, as deep-fried or air-fried snacks and dipped in chocolate. It’s taking off across the US, and chefs are at the forefront of the cicada-eating movement.
Chefs like Connecticut’s Bun Lai and New York City’s Joseph Yoon are leading the charge. As Wired reports, these chefs described cicadas (specifically, the Brood X bunch) as similar to nuts and shrimp in flavor – and a bit popcorn-like in their scent. From cicada-centric pop-up dinners to dishes highlighting cicadas, chefs like these two are putting the bug everywhere.
Still think cicadas are a short-lived trend? This year’s May 2021 Cicadafest (which only happens once every 17 years) brought together insect fans and showcased the cicada in all kinds of different preparations. From air-fried to oven-roasted to grilled to covered in sauces and dressings, it presented the opportunity to try Brood X bugs in just about every form. Thanks to their versatility, cicadas aren’t just easy to cook; they’re also available in different flavors, giving everyone a variety to try.
These bugs are packed with protein and other benefits
Still grossed out at the thought of snacking on winged cicadas? With their crunchy exterior, crispy legs and squishy final bite, cicadas are more than just an experience. These insects are also pretty nutritious.
First and foremost, cicadas are perfectly safe to eat. There isn’t a ton of official nutritional data on these particular insects, but they’re similar to crickets, which means they’re high in protein and low in fat. Some chefs speculate that cicadas have as much protein as a serving of red meat (about 100 grams per pound) and contain all nine key amino acids. They’re comparable to crickets, another crunchy bug that packs 43 grams of protein per serving.
Cicadas are also rich in minerals and offer some fiber. They may be relatively small compared to your usual sources of vitamins and minerals, but these bugs pack quite the punch of dense nutrients into one or two bites.
And because they’re everywhere right now, they’re also a wonderfully sustainable food source. Farming insects requires fewer resources and does none of the harm of raising livestock. Less land, less energy, less water – it’s all possible with insects like cicadas. The UN even encourages individuals everywhere to give insects a try because they’re such a great food source.
So, if you do decide to try cicadas, you’ll get a hefty dose of protein and good-for-you minerals. You’ll also be doing a bit of good for the larger environment.
Be cautious with cicadas if you’re allergic to seafood
While cicadas are safe to consume however you’d like them cooked, some people should avoid them. Be cautious of cicadas if you’re allergic to seafood. According to the FDA, cicadas can set off a similar allergic reaction. These insects are related to the shrimp and lobster family, so you’ll want to skip them if you know you’re allergic to these particular seafoods.
Wondering which are the best cicadas to try? Tenerals, which are cicadas that have just molted (shedding their infant skin for a harder adult skin), will deliver the tastiest result. Their exoskeletons aren’t as tough or dry as those of older bugs; they’re still tender and quite juicy when you bite into them.
If you’re dying to try this trend, you can harvest your own cicadas if you happen to live in a region where they’re prevalent. Just make sure to boil them before taking any bites; they’ve been underground for nearly two decades, so they can be covered in inedible material. However, you can also check out local restaurants to ensure you’re getting cicadas that have been properly (and deliciously) prepared.
Are you willing to give these bugs a taste? If you miss your opportunity this year, you won’t have another chance to give Brood X cicadas a try until 2038!
Want to give other “gross” or unappealing foods a try? We’ve got a list of some of the best. If you aren’t as daring as other diners, you can try more widely appealing food trends too, like fizzy kombucha or little-used nutrient-rich ingredients.