Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Cicadas on the Menu

After 17 years underground, billions of periodical cicadas that make up Brood X – they consist of three species: Magicicada septendecim, Magicicada cassini and Magicicada septendecula – are emerging across the eastern United States. 

These winged insects whose closest relatives are other sap-sucking bugs, like aphids and leafhoppers are a sight to behold. But for one Washington chef, the rare bug invasion was his cue for a cookout.

Bun Lai, an advocate for the sustainable food movement, invited locals for an insect hunt in a city park followed by a taste of his fried cicada sushi. The chef seasoned the cicadas with salt before frying them in a large skillet. Finally, the fried insects were rolled into sushi, getting wrapped in large leaves with rice and vegetables, before being served. BTW, they're a low-fat source of protein.

I read that if you roast them with oil and salt they taste like a crunchy nut. 

“They're kind of like little shrimp once you get over the 'what am I eating factor'”, somebody had noted. “You don’t get the seafood flavor, but you do get that sweetness”.  

According to The Washingtonian magazine, cicada tacos are popular menu items in restaurants just now. Chef de cuisine Tobias Padovano of Cocina on Market that serves "Mexican street food" in Leesburg, Virginia described the flavor profile as “umami grass-like”.

FYI, Brood X, also known as the Great Eastern Brood – the "X" is the Roman numeral for 10 – is the largest group of 17-year cicadas. Other periodical cicada groups emerge on a 13-year cycle. 

Scientists don't know the precise reasons behind the cicada schedules, or why both kinds of periodical cicadas have prime-numbered life spans. Emerging en masse, though, helps the bugs survive predation and mate successfully, as birds and small mammals can only pick off so many cicadas at once. 

These cicadas have been subterranean for 17 years, tunneling and feeding beneath the soil. When they are back above ground, their main task is finding partners. And the loud, buzzing drone comes from male cicadas looking for a mate. 

"It's all boys calling girls", said entomologist Eric Day of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University extension in Virginia. "First you get a few here and there, then what happens is they start chorusing – there's so many of them that the cicada calls all combine in this huge chorus". 

In fact, another entomologist Gene Kritsky, dean of behavioral and natural sciences at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, Ohio said, he once recorded a cicada chorus while sitting in a cemetery below the flight path for Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in Hebron, Kentucky. 

The insects clocked in at 96 decibels, drowning out the sound of passenger jets passing directly overhead. The chorus won't last long, however. Cicadas usually die just four to six weeks after emergence. 

Their next coming will be in 2038.

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