How Entomophagy Works


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Welcome to Stuff You Should Know from howstuffworks.com.

Josh Clark

Hey, and welcome to the Podcast. I'm Josh Clark. Guess who's with me?

Chuck Bryant

Michael Douglas?

Josh Clark

No. Chuck Bryant even better than Michael Douglas! A less intense, a little more laid back.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

How you doing, Chuck?

Chuck Bryant

I'm doing well.

Josh Clark

We're a pair of writers here at howstuffworks.com. We got some stuff to share with you. As I understand, in most other parts of the world, people actually pay for the bugs to go in rather than it being the worst thing in the world that they're coming out. Have you heard of entomophagy?

Chuck Bryant

I have and try every part of the world except Europe, Canada and the United States basically.

Josh Clark

That's so weird to me that we see things so differently. I wouldn't eat a bug. I've actually considered it. I've read your article and I was thinking this would be an awesome cool dinner party to have, like, have some normal food but also have, like, fried crickets, something like that and the more I thought about the, the more I was, like, there is no way I'm ever going to do this.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, you know, I almost ordered some for the article just because I could basically and I didn't.

Josh Clark

Wow, that's a hell of a story, Chuck. Great one! So, let's get into this, shall we? Let's talk about this. You said Europe, America and Canada are the only places. So, in Mexico, I didn't notice anyone eating bugs in Mexico. It's big there?

Chuck Bryant

Oh, yeah.

Josh Clark

Okay.

Chuck Bryant

Sure.

Josh Clark

So, but I imagine that there's regional differences based on the - or is anyone importing bugs I guess or do people just generally eat locally?

Chuck Bryant

You eat locally and its one reason people eat bugs and actually, we should call them insects I guess, all over the world is because they're everywhere, they're cheap, they're nutritious and they prepare them to where they enjoy the taste.

Josh Clark

Well, I know - bugs are - I'm sorry, insects are definitely plentiful but I would imagine it would take a lot to fill up, like, I can eat a side of beef in a sitting. How many caterpillars would it take to fill a man like me up? I've been described as beefy, by the way, for fact or fiction listeners.

Chuck Bryant

Right, I don't know how many caterpillars it would take to fill you, Josh but I imagine it's more than 10. That would be my guess.

Josh Clark

I would imagine, too, but as you said, they are plentiful so -

Chuck Bryant

They are. Well, before we get into the whole modern entomophagy, is that how you pronounce it, we should talk a little bit about the history because they did that all throughout the bible and, the Greeks and Romans ate Beetle Larva and Locus and even Aristotle ate Cicadas.

Josh Clark

So, what I noticed that I found strange was that in the bible, there are some foods that are off limits. Plenty of bugs are perfectly fine to eat, Locus especially I saw recurring over and over again when I read the bible last night and there was some that was off limits like rabbit.

Chuck Bryant

Rabbit, pelicans, interestingly was on the list.

Josh Clark

I think yeah, okay.

Chuck Bryant

Rabbit you said, pigs, mice, weasels and turtles.

Josh Clark

Yeah, I probably wouldn't eat a weasel. I'd eat a turtle. Turtle soup is not bad.

Chuck Bryant

This is all - we should say this is all Old Testament stuff which I know people that subscribe the bible and its teachings would tell you that the Old Testament isn't really where it's at.

Josh Clark

Well, it depends. If you're of the Judaic persuasion, I imagine that you put a lot of stock in the Old Testament.

Chuck Bryant

That's a good point.

Josh Clark

You know, also called the Torah.

Chuck Bryant

Right.

Josh Clark

Sure.

Chuck Bryant

But you can't eat those things according the Old Testament and Leviticus but you can eat locust and grasshoppers and beetles, it's recommended and I know John the Baptist famously lived for months on locust and honeycomb.

Josh Clark

Famously, yes, sure.

Chuck Bryant

So, people have been doing this a long, long time. Aborigine's in Australia have been doing it for a long time and continue to eat grubs and apparently grubs taste like roasted almonds.

Josh Clark

I used to build ponds many lifetimes ago and there was this kind of ongoing challenge -

Chuck Bryant

Coy ponds?

Josh Clark

Yes.

Chuck Bryant

That kind of thing.

Josh Clark

There was this ongoing challenge, anybody who ate a grub while we were digging became the onsite tough guy, never saw anybody actually eat it -

Chuck Bryant

So, you were never tough guy?

Josh Clark

Oh, no, no, never. Never. I saw one guy pretend to but that was it so that's the closest brush I've had with entomophagy.

Chuck Bryant

Right. I still can't believe that story. So, yeah, these days, people eat bugs - like I said, they're plentiful and by plentiful I mean more than 1,400 edible species of insect.

Josh Clark

That's just the edible kind.

Chuck Bryant

That's the edible kind. And that's just species. It's not like there's 1,400 insects walking around we can eat. I mean, how many millions or billions or trillions of insects are there right now on planet earth that we could just pick up and eat?

Josh Clark

A lot. Beetles, for instance, there's close to 350 kinds of beetle alone that you can eat and eats, bees, wasps, butterflies, moss -

Chuck Bryant

Wait, wait, I'm sorry to interrupt you, Chuck, you said wasps?

Josh Clark

Yeah, people eat wasps.

Chuck Bryant

Dead I imagine?

Josh Clark

Yeah, they generally - with most of the winged creatures, will take off the wings and the legs and prepare them either on a skewer like a roasted wasp or sometimes they're boiled and put in soup, that kind of thing.

Chuck Bryant

But the venom doesn't affect you once it's dead or does it add spice or what's the deal?

Josh Clark

You know, that's a good question. I didn't get to that. If you're just asking for my opinion, I would say maybe if you eat it, it's not bad for you but if it's injected into your bloodstream through a stinger it's probably a different kind of thing.

Chuck Bryant

There's plenty of people out there for us to ask. I notice also that there's about 3,000 ethnic groups around the planet that consume bugs and I think it's telling and interesting that you kind of delineated it that thes

e are ethnic groups that eat this. It's not - it's a cultural thing. We could eat anything at any given point in time unless we consider it disgusting.

Josh Clark

Which we do.

Chuck Bryant

To an extent. Right? Because as you said, crustaceans like - not crustaceans but I'm sorry, lobster, crabs -

Josh Clark

Right.

Chuck Bryant

Arthropods.

Josh Clark

Yes -

Chuck Bryant

But lobsters and crabs are just a cousin of the spider basically and you pay a lot of money for a lobster at a restaurant and lobsters eat nasty stuff. They're kind of bottom-dwellers and they eat a lot worse things than spiders do.

Josh Clark

Like license plates.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, well, Jaws did. I don't know if a lobster can eat a license plate.

Josh Clark

Oh, hey, I can tell you I've seen a couple of lobsters that could've eaten a license plate.

Chuck Bryant

So, yeah, basically, it's in the eye of the beholder. It's a cultural taboo in Europe and Canada and the United States, not so in the rest of the world. They eat - in South America, dude, they eat tarantulas and scorpions.

Josh Clark

And scorpions I've heard of eating; tarantulas I had never heard of that before. I got the impression that it's prepared in such a way that the hair remains on the ingested part of the tarantula.

Chuck Bryant

It is. There's actually a good quote because I wasn't brave enough to find a tarantula or eat one because spiders scare the crude out of me but Peter Mansell, he's the author of a book called Man Eating Bugs and he has a great description about eating a tarantula as a - if day old chickens had no bones, hair instead of feathers and were the size of a newborn sparrow, they might taste like tarantulas.

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

So, he really kind of lost me at day old chicken.

Josh Clark

Day old chicken doesn't sound that bad. It was the hair part that got me. That's just disconcerting I find.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, I think Americans aren't used to eating anything that's hairy.

Josh Clark

No, I mean, have you ever eaten pigskin?

Chuck Bryant

I've eaten the pork rinds, does that count?

Josh Clark

Have you ever found like a hair?

Chuck Bryant

No.

Josh Clark

It's troubling.

Chuck Bryant

But you know what, Josh, it's funny you should mention hair because there's a little book that you may not know about by the food and drug administration. Do you know which one I'm talking about?

Josh Clark

I don't remember the title but I know what you're talking about.

Chuck Bryant

The title really says it all. It's called the Food Defect Action Levels; Levels of Natural or Unavoidable Defects in Foods that Present No Health Hazards for Humans.

Josh Clark

That's quite a mouthful as it were.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, so, basically what this is, it's a big handbook that the FDA puts out that lists an acceptable amount of things like errant hairs, maggots, larva, that are in things that you eat that are acceptable to sell and storage because it won't harm you.

Josh Clark

Acceptable by federal mandate, not necessarily acceptable on a personal level I found.

Chuck Bryant

No, by the fact that it won't physically harm you. So, I've got a few if you want to -

Josh Clark

I am all ears.

Chuck Bryant

- if you can bear it.

Josh Clark

If I gag though, please forgive me.

Chuck Bryant

Frozen broccoli, there can be 60 or more aphids and/or mites per 100 grams in your frozen broccoli.

Josh Clark

See, frozen broccoli in and of itself is bad enough, you throw some aphids in there, it may actually make it okay.

Chuck Bryant

I love broccoli. Your ground cinnamon may have 400 or more insects' fragments per 50 grams.

Josh Clark

Which, fragments, that's anything. That's like the hotdog of spices apparently.

Chuck Bryant

Right. Your macaroni or noodle product can have an average of 225 insect fragments or more and 4.5 rodent hairs per 225 grams. And I know that's not an insect but I thought I'd just throw that in there.

Josh Clark

Rodent hair is pretty bad, and actually, folks, you can thank Upton Sinclair for it being just that small. Had it not been for his - the Jungle, we would be eating whole canned rodents in our canned tomatoes and things like that.

Chuck Bryant

Well, I've got two more. I know this is probably turning off some of our listeners but these two - I just can't pass up.

Josh Clark

I think most of our listeners clicked on another podcast long ago.

Chuck Bryant

No, because they want to hear these two, trust me. You know the nice black and white whole peppercorn that you crunch onto your filet mignon, an average of one milligram or more of mimillion excreta per pound.

Josh Clark

And by mimillion, you mean any mammal.

Chuck Bryant

Mammal poop.

Josh Clark

Does that include humans, we're mammals.

Chuck Bryant

I don't know about that.

Josh Clark

I mean, is, like, Joe down at the packing plant, you know, causing little surprises within FDA standards?

Chuck Bryant

At the pepper packing plant. Maybe so. And the final one, popcorn you enjoy at your movie theater, that popcorn, by law, can have one or more rodent excreta pellet per subsample and they didn't say the size of the subsample.

Josh Clark

The subsample. Wow. Well, thank you very much, Chuck. I appreciate you sharing that with us. I know our listeners do as well.

Chuck Bryant

Sure thing.

Josh Clark

That was great. Do you have any more gross-out stuff to add?

Chuck Bryant

Not gross-out but I think we should just finish up by talking a little bit about the benefits of eating insects.

Josh Clark

Yeah, also I think that's a great way to closeout. I also want to point out that there is a huge difference between eating rodent excreta and eating bugs as far as cultures around the world go.

Chuck Bryant

Right, we're not trying to equate the two.

Josh Clark

No. Of course not! So, go ahead, Chuck, because from what I understand there really are some great health befits to eating bugs. I think -

Chuck Bryant

There are. They're really good for you.

Josh Clark

Yeah, go ahead.

Chuck Bryant

Well, a 100 grams of crickets will give you only 121 calories, 49 of which come from fat and you'll get 13 grams of protein and 75 milligrams of iron and 5 grams of carbohydrate.

Josh Clark

Yeah. What's the one powerhouse insect? If you're really looking to lose some weight but retain muscle mass, that kind of thing, what insect do you go for?

Chuck Bryant

One word, caterpillar.

Josh Clark

Yeah, yes. Okay.

Chuck Bryant

Caterpillar. You can get 28 grams of proteins for a 100 grams of caterpillar, as well as iron, vitamin B1 and B3.

Josh Clark

Yeah, and actually, I looked that up - I looked up salmon and that's on par with salmon actually.

Chuck Bryant

Right which is great for your heart?

Josh Clark

Oh, it's great food, yeah.

Chuck Bryant

It's one of the all-star heart foods.

Josh Clark

So, if you can't afford salmon, go out into your backyard and find some caterpillars but there are some precautions you should take first if you're going to raise your own insects to eat or capture your own insects to eat, right?

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, I mean, if you live in the United States you probably shouldn't go out to your backyard and get anything because chances are they might have insecticide on them or something. But if you did want to collect some, you could capture them and feed them fresh grass for a few days and that cleans out their system in no time.

Josh Clark

Right.

Chuck Bryant

And if you're in a survival situation, obviously you'd want some insects.

Josh Clark

You'd just eat whatever, yeah.

Chuck Bryant

Well, not whatever, buddy.

Josh Clark

Oh, okay. Well, -

Chuck Bryant

Here's where the warning comes from.

Josh Clark

Impart your wisdom.

Chuck Bryant

There's a rule of thumb that's real easy to remember; red, orange, yellow, forget the fellow; black, green, brown, wolf it down.

Josh Clark

Black, green, brown -

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, basically anything that's brightly colored or really pungent, you want to stay away from because that's kind of their warning signal to the world that I'm poisonous and I can hurt you.

Josh Clark

Right, gotcha.

Chuck Bryant

So, stick to worms and grubs -

Josh Clark

Earth tones.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, earth tones.

Josh Clark

Sure. Okay. Cool. And we recommend before you go eat any bugs, read, "How Entomophagy Works," on howstuffworks.com.

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