The consumption of insects and spiders is nowhere near as uncommon as you might imagine. It's estimated that up to 80% of the nations of the world regularly eat invertebrates with around 2000 different species disappearing down human throats each year.
In fact, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has officially registered 1900 species of edible creatures with exoskeletons and has suggested that eating the eggs, larvae, pupae, and adult of insects, spiders, and other similar animals may be a partial solution to food shortages in some parts of the world, as well as an answer to the negative environmental impacts of raising livestock.
In an effort to provide greater food security for some areas of the world, there is now the possibility of large-scale insect and spider "farming" on the horizon. Meanwhile, in North America and Europe, where devouring creepy crawlies is generally met with revulsion, a new wave of chefs have begun to experiment with things that wriggle and scuttle, bringing entomophagy - the consumption anthropods - into the mainstream.
If all of that feels like a bit too much, it may surprise you to discover that you have probably already eaten some anthropods, and no we aren't talking about the urban myth that you accidentally eat X number of spiders every year in your sleep. Crabs, lobsters, and prawns are all anthropods, so it is not too much of a leap, biologically speaking, to eating spiders. Psychologically though, that's a different matter. For us, it is a bit of a stretch to think that lobster roll could just as easily be filled with tarantulas.
It an attempt to wrap our heads around munching on crunchy creatures we took a brief trip around the world to look at the buggy foods other people are currently chowing down on.
20 Crispy Cajun Crickets
The Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium in New Orleans has an exhibition called "Bug Appetit" where you can sit down and watch demonstrations by the in-house insect chefs, learn how to make your own buggy foods, and taste the results of the show.
All of this takes place among the insect exhibits so you can discover everything you ever needed to know about what's on your plate before you put it into your mouth. Especially popular are the crispy Cajun crickets which are tumbled after they are fried to remove the legs and wings. This process makes them a little less of a brittle mouthful and leaves you to savor the spicy goodness that is crickets' bodies.
19 Creme Fraiche Topped With Live Ants, UK
René Redzepi is a Danish chef who has created insect-based dishes in restaurants around the world. In 2012 he served creme fraiche covered in live ants at a pop-up eatery in London. In 2015 it was shrimp sushi that received the Redzepi touch, once again sprinkled with live ants, but this time in Japan.
Then he spent two months at Tulum, a restaurant in Mexico where among other items on his tasting menu was a tostada topped with grilled espolon beans and creamy escamoles. The dish is prepared with grilled habanero oil and garnished with beach greens and flower petals.
18 Beondegi In South Korea
Street markets in South Korea are resplendent with the slightly fishy smell of the popular street snack "beondegi." Served in paper cups, with a couple of toothpicks with which to spike them, these silkworm larvae are boiled or steamed with different vendors adding their own particular blend of salt and spices.
Said to be crunchy on the outside and smoothly creamy on the inside, silkworm larvae became popular during World War Two when food was scarce, and these insects were plentiful. If steamed, crunchy silkworm larvae are not to your liking the South Koreans also, very kindly, make a candied version. Although, we are unsure how a candied, fishy tasting bug would be any more palatable than a steamed or boiled one.
17 Waterbugs In Seattle
Many restaurants in the Pacific Northwest have begun experimenting with a variety of bugs, and one of these is Nue in Seattle. Nue's owner, Chris Cvetkovich, first saw water beetles in a street market in Thailand around 20 years ago and had to try them.
Fast forward two decades and the sushi grade water bug - yes that's a thing - is not available on the menu but will be cooked to order if anyone wants to try them. The apple-like flavor of the water bug comes from the pheromones the male beetle produces and this same chemical is extracted and used to flavor sauces on a regular basis in some areas of the Far East.
16 Cricket, Mealworm, and Grasshopper Burgers In UK
In the cleverly named "Grub Kitchen," you can order from the extensive menu that is made up exclusively of bug-based dishes. Maybe you would like to try out their cricket falafels? Generally speaking, crickets don't have a lot of flavor themselves, so a spice-centric dish like falafel is a perfect vehicle for them.
If you need something to wash your food down with, there are bug bellinis, although we couldn't find any reference to bug-based colas. That's a shame because the Grub Kitchen signature burger is made with a trio of toasted bugs. Grasshoppers, crickets, and mealworms to be precise, and we all know that a burger needs to be washed down with a Coke. Perhaps a bug soda is a perfect opportunity for some of you out there to start up your own insect-based business?
15 Scorpions In The UK
Archipelago is an "exotic food" restaurant in London, England which specializes in creating the kinds of dishes that are guaranteed to make you say "What, Are you kidding?" From crispy zebra jerky to python carpaccio, if there is an animal, you wouldn't want to eat they probably serve it at Archipelago.
You can order the "Love Bug" salad which is a mixture of seasonal greens topped with a mixture of crispy fried mealworms and crickets, or maybe the "Sumer Nights" which is
pan fried chermoula crickets, quinoa, spinach, and dried fruit. The dessert menu offers up "Bushman’s Cavi-Err" a mix of caramel mealworms, coconut cream, and vodka jelly, chocolate covered locust, chocolate covered scorpions and a dish called "Medieval Hive" which is a brown butter ice cream, honey & butter caramel sauce and a baby bee.
14 Witchetty Grub In Australia
Dig around in the roots of the witchetty bush, and you might come across a thick, thumb-sized, off-white larvae of the cossid moth. This chubby little fella is one of the many foods that are known collectively as "bush tucker" - food that has been traditionally foraged for in the Austrailian outback by the original inhabitants of the island, the Aboriginal Australians.
Now, thanks to TV shows like The Bush Tucker Man, eating a witchetty grub has become a fun pass time for Australiansians and tourists alike. You can even buy cans of witchetty grub soup in some supermarkets. Eaten raw they are said to have a subtle sweet flavor and a liquid center. If you decide to cook them, it should be done over a fire where they will acquire a crispy outer layer, and the inside will turn to a more past like consistency said to be a bit like chicken with peanut sauce.
13 Escamole In Mexico
Escamoles are the pupae and larvae of a particular species of ant that lays its eggs in among the roots of the tequila or maguey plant. A gourmet food of the Aztecs, the "pre-ants" is like an insect caviar, and this status is reflected in the high price you will still pay today for a good dish prepared with escamoles.
You might find them being used in high-end restaurants in tacos or as a topping for omelets. However, they are just as frequently served as a dish themselves rather than an ingredient. If you squint your eyes, you can fool yourself that it looks like a dish of rice. Slightly hard, crunchy rice that tastes nutty.
12 Mopane Worms In Southern Africa
They may be called worms, but mopane worms are actually the caterpillar of the emperor moth, which is a little confusing. After all "mopane caterpillars" doesn't sound that much worse than "mopane worms" from a menu item point of view.
In some tourist spots in South Africa mopane worms are on the menu as a way to entice travelers in for a chance to eat something squirmy and receive a souvenir certificate, but in reality, they are more of a bush food and no longer consumed in suburban or urban areas. The eateries may disguise the taste with tomato and garlic sauces which are heavy on the spices and onions, but you can still quite clearly see you have a bowl of hairy caterpillars. Not to mention the fact that the sauce is the primary taste until you bite into one of the mopane worms at which point an unpleasant explosion of damp earth, salt, and drywall dust coats your mouth. Yum.
11 Bottom Of The Bottle Worms In Mexico
This one is a bit of a trick heading because initially there were no worms, no caterpillars, no anything else at the bottom of a bottle of Mezcal. However, there is a moth larva called a gusano de maguey, which is named after the maguey plant on which it feeds, is sometimes eaten in Mexico.
In the 1940's one was added to a bottle of Mezcal by a producer as a marketing ploy to distinguish himself from the brands flooding the American market, and an urban legend was born. In fact, if you were to add a worm, it would be preferable to add a guano Rojo, or red worm as they are considered to be superior in flavor.
10 Bar Snacks In Thailand
Bar patrons in the US may avoid the baskets of snacks because they have read about the high trace levels of urine and feces from other patrons' hands that can be found on the salty nuts. On a trip to Thailand, they might have other worries because in this jewel of the Far East, things that creep and crawl are the bar snacks of choice.
Don't worry though. You don't have to chase your nibbles across the bar top, they are usually deep fried and flavored with a variety of sauces or spices. Most popular are "Jing Lee" which are deep-fried crickets tossed in Thai pepper powder and "Non-Mai Non" a worm found in wood.
9 Stink Bugs In Africa
The giant, shield-shaped stink bug is a much sought-after food item in many of the rural villages of Malawi, Zimbabwe, and South Africa, where they are considered a delicacy.
The stink of the bugs is caused by a toxic chemical which they secrete when in danger. This chemical is known to cause temporary blindness if it is to come in contact with the eyes, so careful preparation is essential. When the bugs are harvested. the dead and live ones are separated. The dead stink bugs are beheaded, and the chemicals are squeezed out through the opening left where the head was. Live insects are dropped into very warm water and stirred. This causes the bugs great distress, and they secrete their chemicals. The water is drained, and this process is repeated until no further discharge can be seen. All of the bugs are then thrown into boiling water for several minutes before being sun-dried, then eaten.
8 Insect Ramen In Japan
A small eatery in Tokyo named Ramen Nagi has become a bit of a hot spot for locals who want to experiment with eating a range of insects.
While they do not have a permanent buggy menu, the owner, Yuta Shinohara, has arranged and hosted a number of insect-eating special events, all of which have sold out. For $13.50 you could have a large bowl of noodles topped with a generous sprinkle of deep fried crickets and mealworms. Shinohara had previously arranged a Valentine's Day event at a local bar where romantics could take their loved ones for a water bug and cranberry cocktail and some caramelized mealworms with almonds, topped with beetle innards infused whipped cream. And they say romance is dead...
7 Fried Spider In Cambodia
Many bug foods are part of ancient traditions but not so the practice of eating fried tarantula in Cambodia. It was during the bloody reign of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s that Cambodians were forced to eat any living creature in the desperate hope of avoiding starvation. It turned out that some people actually enjoyed the taste of tarantula and it has stuck around as a treat, albeit an expensive one, to be enjoyed on special occasions.
The hairy arachnids are soaked in a mixture of sugar, chicken powder, salt, garlic, and water, then dropped into boiling oil for no more than 45 seconds. This is to ensure they crisp on the outside but remain smooth and creamy on the inside. Apparently, the legs are the least enjoyable as they are very crisp, a bit like prawn crackers, and the abdomen tastes a little like a crab. If crab was the same as spider innards exploding on your tongue.
6 Queso del Rancho In Houston
Hugo Ortega is an award-winning chef from Oaxaca, a Southwestern state in Mexico, who likes to bring his heritage, with a twist, to his food.
Now the owner of the esteemed Xochi restaurant in Houston, Texas, Ortega serves Queso del Rancho to the lucky guests brave enough to try it. The Queso del Rancho is a cheese which is made in-house and served with chicharrones Nothing too unusual there until you get to the topping of chicatanas, gusanos, and chapulines, also known as ants, worms, and grasshoppers. If that is not to your taste, you could always try the Mole de Chicatana, which is a steak made with a sauce of ground ants.
5 Wasp Crackers In Japan
Senbei is a type of rice cracker in Japan, and while they are in themselves fairly unremarkable, the wasp crackers you can buy in Nagano Prefecture are a little out of the ordinary.
Insects are not generally a big menu item in Japan, but the wasps used in these crackers are raised at a specialist wasp farm where the stinging nasties are "grown" purely for human consumption. More popular than the adult insects are the larvae and pupae, which are often consumed fried with rice. Said to taste a bit like burnt raisins the wasps are said to be not especially tasty but not especially gross either. Apparently, it is the knowledge you are biting a wasp that is the turn-off.
4 Sago Delight In Southeast Asia
The larvae of the red palm weevil, when cooked, is known as a sago worm and they are a sought-after delicacy in much of Southeastern Asia, as well as in Papua New Guinea. Especially popular is "Sago Delight" which is a more appetizing name than "Fried Sago Worms" which is what these actually are.
Sago is a starch which comes from the spongy center of certain palms. It is often rolled into small white balls called pearls, similar to tapioca. However, in this dish, the sago is dried and ground into a flour in which the worms are tossed before being fried. These days you can buy your Sago worms in cans, which is handy for those times you just have to have a dried grub that tastes vaguely of bacon.
3 Black Ant Guacamole In NYC
Between 3rd and 4th streets in New York City, you can find a restaurant that serves foods in the style of traditional dishes from Mexico. It is named The Black Ant and just in case you forget, the inside is a dark monotone experience with a giant image of the scurrying creature on the wall.
It's not just a name though. You can enjoy the black ant guacamole which isn't named after the restaurant but has been flavored with ant salt. Alternatively, if you are watching your fat intake and wish to skip the avocado-based dish, you can go for the Tlayuda con Chapulines. This dish comprises of a crunchy tortilla topped with cheese salsa and sautéed grasshoppers.
2 Wax Moth Larvae Tacos In San Fransisco
In San Francisco, there is a non-profit organization called La Cocina that provides support to budding food entrepreneurs, allowing them to move from foodie idea to fully fledged business. One of the people they have helped is Monica Martinez who was awarded a grant which helped her start up her food truck which she named "Don Bugito."
Martinez raises the wax moth larvae in a specially-designed "bug complex" in her apartment and then fries her "farmed" moth larvae before adding them to some salsa and cheese in a small taco. If you still find yourself a little hungry after your tacos, Don Bugito also supplies some bug topped ice-cream.
1 Bug Tapas In Cambodia
Bugs Cafe in Cambodia has the direct, if not entirely innovative tagline "bugs are delicious" so there is no ambiguity about what you are going to find in the menu and on your plate.
Instead of being asked "Chicken, lamb, or beef?" when you order the skewers, here you are given the option of spiders, giant water bugs, or grasshoppers to go with your grilled vegetables. Of course, there are the feta and tarantula samosas, the flying ant salad, and the pan-fried scorpions to choose from or, if you don't know which delicious bug food to go for you can order a "taster platter" and enjoy a little of everything.