Eating Cicadas Is Great Until You Taste Them

And lo—the spread before me was truly something to behold. Air-fried cicadas! Cicadas covered in vegan chocolate! Skewers of grilled cicadas licked by charcoal flames! Roasted cicadas, rolling around a lasagna tray like gumballs in the world’s most quarter-starved dispenser! To the left were all the condiments you could ever ask for: Barbecue sauce, cocktail sauce, malt vinegar, ketchup, Italian dressing, spicy cashew dressing, Soyaki, and more.

Air-fried felt like a safe place to start, especially once I noticed the flurry of Old Bay seasoning being sprinkled onto each batch. I grabbed a set of two on a toothpick, declining the extra roll in even more Old Bay (I’m at work here). The cicadas, once pale, were now golden and browned, their signature eyes turned black from the heat. I popped one into my mouth.

Not bad! Certainly not buggy. The entire critter crackled in my mouth like a piece of earthy popcorn. I caught a subtle nuttiness underneath the crunch, almost reminiscent of a roasted chickpea. By the fourth or fifth chew I was almost starting to like it, until I swallowed and realized that a teeny-tiny leg was lingering on my tongue. The toothpick went into the trash, along with the other cicada.

Skewered cicadas on a charcoal grillHaley Weiss

Next up was a chocolate-covered cicada, which by comparison felt like cheating. Thanks to the thickness of the coating, I was easily able to pretend that I was eating a large chocolate-covered raisin. From there, it was all downhill. My third and fourth cicadas, which were grilled, tasted like smokier, chewier versions of the air-fried one, with a slightly meatier flavor that made it clear why cicada eaters compare them to shrimp.

Nowhere was that shellfish flavor more evident than in the oven-roasted cicada, though I was quickly distracted from that thought by the realization that the bug had exploded in my mouth like a Gusher. My tongue awash in bug guts, I reconsidered all the choices I’d made in my life that had brought me to that moment.  

It turns out that cooking technique is everything. The roasted cicadas hadn’t been blasted with enough heat to properly dry up the squish. Other attendees I consulted agreed with me: the crunchier, the better. When deciding what cooking methods to highlight at Cicadafest, Tas told me, they had consulted foragers before embarking on a series of test runs. Tas and the other volunteers had learned to harvest the cicadas at dusk on the very same day that they’d emerged from their shells, ensuring that their adult exoskeletons (and massive wings) wouldn’t develop. Loading them into the freezer right away served the dual purpose of preserving them and killing them gently. When it came time to play in the kitchen, sautéed cicadas were quickly ruled out for being “too buggy,” and a shrimp-boil-inspired experiment was abandoned following disastrous results. “My brother decided to try boiling them with beer and Old Bay,” Tas explained. “He put one in his mouth and spat it right out all over the place.”

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