Both survival experts and scientists know that insects are a very nutritious and plentiful source of food. So do millions of people around the world who consume insects as part of their daily diet. The habit of eating insects even has its own name; entomophagy. While many westerners find the idea of eating insects pretty disgusting, if you are truly hungry then they will provide you with much needed sustenance.
However, despite what you may have seen on the telly, it is always advisable to cook your insects first as you don’t know what they have been eating or what parasites they might be carrying. Avoid insects that have a strong smell, are very hairy or are brightly coloured, particularly red, orange and yellow, as these are warning signs that they may be poisonous.
Here are just a few commonly found insects that you can turn into dinner.
Ants & Termites
These tiny but fast critters may take a little work to catch enough to make a meal but they are a rich source of protein, iron, calcium and anti-oxidants. Apparently these have a slightly sour vinegary taste to them, due to the formic acid they contain. Ant eggs and larvae are equally edible but less sour as they have not produced so much formic acid as yet.
You can either bait and trap them by leaving something sweet or greasy in a container on the ground or knock the top off their nest with a stick and wait for them to crawl up the stick. As you collect a few, dunk them into cold water which will immobilise them and repeat until you have enough for dinner, then cook them up. The white coloured eggs and larvae will be easy enough to spot if you knock the top off a nest.
Called by many different names depending on which country or region you are from, this little grey land crustaceans can be found almost anywhere, indoors and out, hiding in crevices, under rocks and especially around rotting wood and plant matter. As they are not especially fast movers, they are relatively easy to pick up and collect. Go for the bigger ones and simply drop them into boiling water to cook.
Crickets, Grasshoppers & Locusts
Pound for pound, these insects are said to contain as much protein as beef, with more calcium and iron. They are big jumpers and very fast so can be tricky to catch but worth it. Once caught, either hold them in a secure container or kill and prepare them immediately for cooking as a live cricket or grasshopper is not going to hang around in a hot pan.
Although often seen in long grasses, they can be found in all sorts of environments including under stones. Prepare them by twisting and pulling off their heads which should bring out the innards too. Although the insides are technically edible, they may be hosting parasites that you don’t want to eat. Take off the wings and legs unless you feel your teeth need some flossing and fry, roast or boil them for a crunchy snack.
Snails & Slugs
Snails are farmed and served as fine dining in many countries but us Brits don’t generally look at snails, or slugs for that matter, and think ‘’Now that’s what I fancy for dinner’’. Especially when you consider that snails and slugs happily munch through a variety of toxic plants, poisonous fungi and animal poo.
They are actually very nutritious, containing protein, essential fatty acids and several different vitamins and minerals. But they also take time to prepare and cook. Several days in fact, because before you can eat them, you need to know that the gastropod’s system has been cleaned out, or purged, of whatever unknown delights they have been feasting on before you found them.
Purging basically involves keeping them contained for a minimum of four days, controlling what they eat and rinsing out their container regularly to wash away their poo.
You want to make sure they have only eaten fresh leaves, vegetables or cereals that are safe for human consumption before you start dining on escargot.
They can also host rat lungworm and other parasites that can cause some nasty diseases, so it is essential to cook them properly before eating. Boil them up for at least 15 minutes along with whatever wild herbs and edible plants you may have to hand and you have yourself a nutritious dinner. If you haven’t been rescued already.
Caterpillars and grubs are the larvae or pupae of butterflies and moths. Fat, juicy and full of protein and other essential nutrients such as iron, they are consumed around the world as proper food, not just for the cringe factor on I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here.
Boil, fry, saute or smoke them with whatever flavourings you choose (or can find). Be aware that not all of them make good eating, and unless you know your caterpillars, it is wise to steer away from the very brightly coloured and the hairy ones – they are warning predators not to eat them for a reason!