Off the Wall: Waiter, There’s a Cricket in My Cookie!

National Sugar Cookie Day falls on July 9, so break out the flour, sugar, and icing and take part in the time-honored summer tradition of making natural-history themed cookies. I’m personally a fan of insect-shaped cookies. I think I might just be trying to mentally prepare myself for the day when insects become the primary source of protein for the human population—that day might be closer than you think.

Entomophagy, also known as eating insects, has in recent years become vaguely in vogue as a low environmental impact alternative to industrial scale beef and poultry production. A lot of other cultures on the planet are probably asking what took us so long to come around. Folks from around the globe partake in entomophagy. Witchetty grubs, actually moth caterpillars, are eaten by Aboriginal Australians. Some species of locusts (grasshoppers), which are enjoyed by people in Africa, Asia, and the Americas, are kosher and biblically approved in Leviticus. Freshly molted cicadas in China, ant eggs (escamoles) in Mexico, weevil grubs in Papua New Guinea… the list goes on and on.

Before you turn your nose up in disgust, just know that you have been unwittingly entomophagous your entire life. Check out the US Food and Drug Administration’s Defect Levels Handbook to see the allowances for insects in some of your favorite foods. Your frozen broccoli is permitted to have up to 60 aphids per 100 grams. Fig paste can have up to 13 insect heads per 100 grams before it gets tossed.  Beer drinkers aren’t even safe from unintentional entomophagy. But who knows, maybe the 2,500 aphids per 10 grams allowed in hops are responsible for some of the tropical fruit notes in your favorite IPA. And who knows what flavors insects add to coffee when up to 10 percent of the beans can be infested. But those are all cases of accidental entomophagy. What about foods that purposefully contain insects? Enter carmine, an insect-based red food coloring common in yogurts, candy, and fruit drinks. You might recall it from the 2012 controversy amongst vegans who thought that their Starbucks soy strawberry frappe was free of animal products. Yum, red bug juice!

So, it’s all psychological. You are eating insects. Just own it. It doesn’t have to mean picking cricket legs out of your teeth. In fact, put them in your sugar cookies and no one will be the wiser.

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Posted By Vice President of Science and Conservation and Curator of Entomology Michael Wall, Ph.D. .

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