So, you’ve decided to eat a cicada.
Maybe you want extra protein or a talking point to help you avoid awkward silences at your next post-pandemic social gathering. Maybe you lost a bet. Maybe you’ve long considered cicadas a delightful snack, and you wish Americans would hurry up and get with the program.
Whatever the case, congratulations. Many lesser folk have gagged at the thought of introducing their taste buds to one of the Brood X beasts shrieking their way through more than a dozen states this spring.
But before you continue on your path to gastronomic enlightenment, here are some things you should know.
1. Don’t eat cicadas if you’re allergic to shellfish.
In a tweet from June 2, the FDA advised people who are allergic to shrimp, lobsters, and similar seafood to abstain from eating cicadas. When you’re allergic to shellfish, your immune system is essentially reacting poorly to certain proteins—and since shellfish and cicadas are both arthropods, they contain some of the same proteins.
As the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations explained in a 2021 report [PDF], more research is needed to determine exactly how insect consumption affects people with shellfish allergies. But the general consensus is that the risk of an allergic reaction to edible insects is higher among people with shellfish allergies, so it’s probably best for them to forgo cicada snacks.
2. Young cicadas taste better than full-grown adults.
With their tough exoskeletons (and possibly some unsavory fungus, too), full-fledged adult cicadas aren’t quite as delicious as their younger counterparts. According to The Washington Post, they’re best served during the teneral stage.
Basically, nymphs will emerge from tunnels in the ground, affix themselves to trees or other suitable spots, and wait to molt their nymphal cases. When they do, they’ll be white and juicy: This is the teneral stage.
Nymphs usually crawl out of their cases at night, so catching them might entail skulking around your neighborhood after sunset, shining a flashlight on building exteriors and tree trunks. Once you’ve gathered a good bunch, store them in the freezer to euthanize them as humanely as possible.
3. You can cook cicadas pretty much however you want.
After your cicadas are frozen, blanching them is a good way to kill off any germs. After that, feel free to roast them, fry them, crush them into a steak marinade, bake them atop cookies, or feature them in any other dish you can think of—there’s probably already a recipe out there for whatever it is.
When Brood X last emerged in 2004, Jenna Jadin, then a graduate student at the University of Maryland, collaborated with her cohorts on a cicada cookbook called Cicada-Licious [PDF]. In it are recipes for deep-fried cicadas, cicada dumplings, cicada tacos, banana cicada bread, and more. Another resource is the Instagram account of Brooklyn Bugs, a New York insect eatery run by chef Joseph Yoon. Highlights include cicada nymph caramel-chocolate popcorn and cicada stir-fry.
4. Cook thoroughly to avoid “Gushers.”
Even if your roasted cicadas look crispy, you might be in for an unhappy surprise when you bite into one. The Atlantic’s Haley Weiss learned this the hard way while sampling an oven-roasted cicada at Maryland’s Cicadafest. It “exploded in my mouth like a Gusher,” she wrote. “The roasted cicadas hadn’t been blasted with enough heat to properly dry up the squish.” Weiss had much better luck with an air-fried cicada, which was crunchy throughout. “The entire critter crackled in my mouth like a piece of earthy popcorn,” she explained.
In other words, if you’re squeamish about insect guts in your mouth, maybe opt for fried cicadas over roasted ones.
5. Cicadas taste like asparagus and might pair well with Merlot.
As for what cicadas actually taste like, that largely depends on how you prepare them. But people often compare the flavor to canned asparagus, according to the National Wildlife Federation. The word nutty gets mentioned pretty frequently, too.
“They have a buttery texture, a delicious, nutty flavor, probably from the tannins, from the roots of the trees on which they fed,” University of Maryland entomologist Mike Raupp told AP News. “And they’re going to be really good with a Merlot.”