In many parts of the world, eating insects is the norm. In Western nations, we tend to cringe at the idea, but the fact is, the main reason for this aversion is nothing more than a lack of cultural exposure to the idea. If you can capture them in large quantities, insects are one of the most balanced, nutritionally-dense, sustainable, and plentiful sources of protein imaginable.
And if you end up lost in the woods or bugging out (there are going to be a lot of unavoidable puns in this article) in an emergency, edible insects can provide a very valuable energy source to help out when hunting and trapping aren’t going so well. This is all the more important because when the SHTF, lulls in your food supply will present an ongoing problem.
Aside from a few general exceptions, pretty much all insects are safe to eat, even without cooking. We’ll divide this guide into types of insects, with tips on preparing each. But the beauty of bug eating (also known as entomophagy) is, their guts are so small that you don’t have to worry about processing them like you would a rodent or a larger game animal. You can just cook and munch away and, if you have some spices, you can even make these crunchy little buggers enjoyable additions to other SHTF-friendly meals.
And sure, eating a big, juicy beetle might take a while to get used to before it starts feeling natural, much less enjoyable. But little guys like crickets, when mixed into a dish such as rice and beans, provide an inoffensive crunch with none of the “ew” factor many Westerners associate with bug eating.
One quick note on winged insects: if they have wings made of a plasticky-feeling material, they cannot be consumed and should be removed before eating.
Sure, you can eat these types of wings — as I demonstrated to a crowd of fellow teens at a house party during my woefully misspent youth, when I gobbled an enormous insect before an audience of gobsmacked friends—but, as I discovered later that night after a few too many drinks when I vomited the wings back up in their whole, pristine state, these parts cannot be digested (sorry, I know, gross story—but one that taught me very important lessons regarding my teenage body’s limited alcohol ingestion capacity and, to a vastly lesser extent, my budding survivalism skills).
Now, let’s get make like grubs and dig into the details.
Cooking with Insects: A General Guide
When it comes to cooking bugs, most can be enjoyed sautéed or fried. However, this creates an end product that still looks like a bug! If you want to ease into it or try more creative uses for insects in food, many can be dried and crushed into dust to create a kind of high-protein flour. Crickets are popular for this, and the popularity of cricket flour and other cricket-based products are even growing in the United States.
Insects can also be crushed and mixed into stews or soups as a thickener. This leaves no visual trace of buggery to induce disgusted reactions, as the insect will be reduced to a powder and incorporated into the meal seamlessly, with none of the psychological resistance that can come from convincing yourself or your family to put something that is clearly a bug into your mouth and crunching it down.
Keep in mind that for billions of people throughout the world, this socialized aversion is seen as completely silly. Insect eating is the rule, rather the exception, for probably the majority of people in the world, where beef and other protein sources are a luxury.
Just think of China alone: it’s a country of 1.4 billion people, and few native Chinese would think twice about buying a spider or centipede snack from a food vendor in their city and enjoying it thoroughly.
Worms, Grubs, Slugs & Caterpillars (Squirmers & Wrigglers)
Pretty much all manner of worm, grub, and slug is fine to eat. In fact, after some roasting or frying, they’ll hardly resemble the soft, mushy wriggler they were when you first gathered them. Mixed into other dishes you’ll know from the crunch when you bite into one, and the gag factor will be non-existent unless, of course, you’re so psychologically opposed to the idea that just the knowledge that a meal contains a wriggly worm sends you into a fit of dry heaves.
One benefit of eating bugs such as grubs is that if you find one, you’ll find hundreds… they never appear in isolation, so you can gather large numbers of them in one place. They’re also easy to contain—you can dump them into almost any type of container and they won’t scale the walls or spread their wings and fly away like many other types of edible insects.
As for maggots, they can be a bit dicey. Although some cultures, such as Italy, enjoy cheese and other foods that maggots have invaded as delicacies, the type of maggot makes a difference.
Since maggots can feast on anything from feces to rotting flesh, you risk ingesting harmful substances if you eat maggots from an unknown source. Small amounts of cooked maggots probably won’t hurt you, but there are likely to be better options. Mealworms, for example, are safe to eat without worry and are easy to cook.
When it comes to eating caterpillars, there are poisonous species. However, the vast majority are perfectly fine to eat. Most poisonous types will cause a rash if you touch them, so if you’re in doubt, you can test it by brushing a very small part of your skin against its fuzz, wait a few hours, and see what happens. Most caterpillars are harmless, but unless you know for sure, there will always be some risk.
Slugs aren’t technically insects, but like snails, they are edible and nutritious. Earthworms, though vile in appearance and texture to most, are also edible.
Rich in calcium and other minerals, such as iron, it’s recommended to boil earthworms two or three times to remove their natural mucus. They can then be crushed or chopped to add to dishes. To improve the taste, keep them for a few days and feed them cornmeal. They’ll taste less earthy—after all, these little fellas eat dirt, so they have a naturally earthy flavor.
Ants, Crickets, Spiders & Beetles (Creepy Crawlers & Hippity-Hoppers)
Ants are a great source of iron and protein. They do contain formic acid, which gives them a kind of tart, lemony flavor, and shouldn’t be consumed in super large quantities, so you can’t rely on them singularly for nutrition. But a handful of protein and iron-rich ants could literally save your life when your game traps just aren’t attracting the squirrels you thought you’d be relying on for food.
Kill ants quickly, and they’ll secrete less acid as they die. To harvest them, make like a monkey and use a stick. Once the stick is covered, shake it into a container. Ant larvae can also be consumed, with none of the acid released by mature ants. And beware of red, biting varieties.
Crickets are a classic edible bug. Raw or cooked, the main limitation with crickets is being able to catch enough of them to make a meaningful addition to a meal. That’s why they’re a popular edible insect to cultivate. We’ll touch on this in more detail in another section later.
Spiders, of course, aren’t insects—they’re arachnids—and can be poisonous. But most aren’t, and non-poisonous varieties are eaten commonly throughout the Asian world.
If you recoil at this, think of it this way: while this may not be technically true biologically, and at best is a gross oversimplification, shellfish such as crabs aren’t really that different from just being aquatic spiders or insects. In fact, the flavor of spider meat is often compared to crab and lobster. Yum!
It helps, for several reasons, if you know whether or not the species you are trying to capture is poisonous. However, to just eat the legs, even a poisonous spider will do. You won’t be eating the venom sac anyway. However, for small and even medium-sized spiders, sticking to only the legs may not provide enough meat to be worth your time and energy.
For bug eaters, beetles are a gem. They tend to be large, which is a major boon when you’re in a survival situation where every single calorie, or lack thereof, either brings you closer to longer-term survival or closer to your demise.
Butterflies, Moths, & Flies (Flutterbugs & Flyers)
Most species of moths are fine to eat. However, select moths and butterflies feed on toxic plants during their larval stage, making them poisonous for humans to gobble. That said, the majority of moths you encounter are fine to eat.
Bees and wasps are also edible and are a delicacy in some regions. Roast them up and their fuzz will be neutralized. Other flying bugs, like the dobsonfly, are edible. But flies resembling houseflies should be avoided. Not only are they hard to catch, but they are often covered in bacteria from interacting with fecal matter.
A Special Note on Grasshoppers
Grasshoppers are big and, if you’re starving, potentially tempting. However, they are one of the few insects that somewhat commonly carry parasites called nematodes, presenting a danger to intrepid entomophagists.
A quick roast will render them edible, however, so as long as you have a heat source, you can prepare them for eating in no time. As mentioned above, just be sure to pluck off the wings, as these are made of a material that cannot be digested and won’t provide any nutritional value.
Grasshoppers are somewhat unique in this way—pretty much all other bugs can be eaten raw. Worms can carry parasites as well, but as mentioned, a little cooking is all it takes to render grasshoppers and other buggers safe to eat! Aside from that, you’ll probably want to cook them regardless to make them more palatable.
Raising Insects for Food
Some insects, particularly crickets, are increasing in popularity as potential food sources for cultivation. Indeed, in a bug-in situation (ugh, there’s that unintentional pun again), crickets don’t take much to raise, although of course, each individual cricket doesn’t provide much energy. However, pound for pound, they’re more nutritious and contain more protein, than beef does. They also contain more vitamins and minerals by weight.
Outside Magazine has a good introductory guide to raising crickets, but it’s really as simple as creating a space where they can live and breed, providing a water source, and feeding them vegetable scraps. You don’t need much space, and just a little practice to make sure you give your crickets the conditions they need to thrive.
Other insects can surely be raised for food as well, but crickets are an ideal bug to start with due to the minimal space and equipment required for cultivating them.
With changing standards of living and the environmental stress of farm-raised meat, the UN predicts that consumption of edible insects will increase, rather than decrease, throughout the world. Knowing how and what to chow down on is great SHTF wisdom, but it can be part of a healthier and more sustainable non-SHTF lifestyle as well.
And the idea of eating bugs takes some time to get used to for those with little or no exposure to it, there’s no better time than the present to start prepping yourself and your family psychologically for the prospect of one day eating insects by necessity.
With that… bon appetite!
Author Bio: Eric is a nature-loving writer, experience junkie, and former Boy Scout who never forgot that time-honored Scout Motto: Be prepared. Aside from camping and survival, he loves writing about travel, history, and anything he finds strange and unique!
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