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Cicadas: The Potential Benefits of Eating Insects

Are you ready to try entomophagy?

Culinary Medicine

cicadas - eating bugs

Cicadas! For the first time since Thomas Jefferson was President, two broods of cicadas, a 17-year and a 13-year brood, are emerging together this year. Buzzing, flying, falling cicadas are overwhelming much of the southeastern and midwestern United States.[1]  While some consider the cicadas a nuisance, others see them as a potential meal. Racoons, birds, fish, and even bears feast on them.  Cicadas and other insects are also enjoyed by humans, primarily in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.[2,3] Though not particularly popular in the United States, you can buy a bag of “mixed bug” trail mix on Amazon or a cup of savory chili-lime salt grasshoppers at a Seattle Mariners game! It turns out that edible insects are a highly nutritious and environmentally friendly option for addressing the global food crisis.[4]

Who Eats Bugs?

Entomophagy, the scientific term for eating insects, has been practiced by humans for millennia.[3] Today there are more than 1000 insect species that are eaten by some 2 billion people worldwide. The most commonly consumed are ants, crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, termites, cicadas, dragonflies, and grubs.[5] In many regions around the world edible insects make an important nutritional contribution to the local diet. [6] In fact, to help meet the planet’s rising demand for food, the United Nations has recommended increasing insect farming and consumption. [4] Insects can be eaten whole or processed into powders, pastes and granules used in snack foods like protein bars and cookies and in additives used to enhance the nutrient content of other foods.[2] For most of us raised in Western society, insects are seen as disease-carrying pests, rather than appealing snacks. But many more of us may be eating many more of them as as farming methods and marketing strategies improve to increase their appeal.

Nutritional, Health, and Environmental Impact of Edible Insects 

While nutrient content varies with the species and stage of development, generally insects provide a readily absorbable source of high-quality protein along with healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.[7]  Cicadas, for example, provide more than twice the protein as an equivalent serving of beef and are a great source of fiber.[6,7] Insects are comparable to meat in terms of niacin and thiamin content and are higher in vitamin C, vitamin E, and riboflavin. They contain small amounts of vitamin B12, a concern for vegans, but insects are animals so are not included in a vegan diet. [8] Insects also provide more calcium, zinc, copper, and manganese than meat.[9]  As with other foods, how they are prepared can impact their nutrient content. [6] For example, frying insects in animal fat will add saturated fat and boiling them can cause the loss of some vitamins and minerals.

Insects also contain bioactive compounds (the equivalent of phytochemicals in plants) that have been shown in both animal and in vitro studies to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, hypotensive, antimicrobial, and immunomodulatory properties.[10] These are properties that have the potential to promote human health, but clinical trials are needed to confirm any roles in preventing or managing chronic disease in humans.

Obviously, a meal made from cicadas collected from your yard has a small ecological footprint, but even insects farmed for human consumption are far more environmentally friendly than producing other protein sources. Insect farming requires little land, energy, or water. Production is rapid because insects have short growth cycles. If fed food scraps insects can reduce other wastes, and their excrement is used as fertilizer for plant crops.[ 6,11] Insect farmers domesticate insects to increase their yields and ensure future crops. Farming increases sustainability because catching wild insects can lead to overharvesting, reduce biodiversity, and even advance the risk for extinction.[12] Even large-scale insect farming can have a low carbon footprint when its processes are planned with attention to all stages of feeding, breeding, and harvesting the insects.[7]

Safety is always a concern

The safety concerns associated with eating insects are similar to those of more common protein sources.  Allergic reactions are possible. Individuals with a shellfish allergy may also have an allergic reaction to insects due to cross-reactivity between insect and shellfish proteins. [13] Physical hazards, such as cricket legs, can pose a choking threat and have the potential to cause injuries to the mouth and gastrointestinal tract of the consumer. Greater concerns are chemical or microbial contamination of the insects or the products made from them. Chemical contamination can occur if insects are exposed to pesticides, heavy metals, and environmental contaminants such as dioxin. Contamination with microbiological hazards such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites can occur at any point during the process of capturing, raising, and processing insects for consumption. To avoid these issues, large-scale producers are often subject to the same food safety regulations that apply to other food manufacturers. [7] 

Bottom Line 

Are you ready to try entomophagy? Rationally it makes sense to use this food source. But Americans don’t want to eat insects! [14] One reason is what has been called the “ick” factor; insects don’t fit with our view of what we consider food.  Another is the concern for safety. However, when raised using safe production methods and managed with appropriate regulations, insects may carry fewer risks than other foods in the American diet.[6] If dining on insects is still a reach for you, maybe you could start by slipping some cricket flour into your pancakes. Or perhaps you’d rather just leave them for the birds. 

Authors’ note: Usually, we provide a recipe to go along with our nutrition updates but in this case, we will leave it to the cicada experts at the University of Maryland Cicada-licious’ Cooking.[15]  Check out their recipes for Shanghai Cicadas, Maryland Cicadas, and Chocolate Covered Cicadas.


[1] Djajapranata C. Biologist Explains Everything to Know About This Year’s Cicadas. Georgetown University. Published May 3, 2024. Accessed May 13, 2024.

[2] Li M, Mao C, Li X, et al. Edible Insects: A New Sustainable Nutritional Resource Worth Promoting. Foods. 2023;12(22):4073. doi:

[3] Raheem D, Carrascosa C, Oluwole OB, et al. Traditional consumption of and rearing edible insects in Africa, Asia and Europe. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 2018;59(14):2169-2188. doi:

[4] Arnold Van Huis. Edible Insects : Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security. Food And Agriculture Organization Of The United Nations; 2013.

[5] Insects That Are Regularly Eaten Around The World. WorldAtlas .

[6] Li H, Chumroenphat T, Bunyatratchata A, Boonarsa P, Wrigley C, Siriamornpun S. Chemical composition and nutritional profile of cicada (Meimuna opalifera Walker) at different developmental stages: Implications for functional food applications. Food chemistry X. 2024;21:101081-101081. doi:

[7] Conway AJ, Jaiswal S, Jaiswal AK. The Potential of Edible Insects as a Safe, Palatable, and Sustainable Food Source in the European Union. Foods. 2024;13(3):387-387. doi:

[8] Elorinne AL, Niva M, Vartiainen O, Väisänen P. Insect Consumption Attitudes among Vegans, Non-Vegan Vegetarians, and Omnivores. Nutrients. 2019;11(2):292. doi:

[9] Orkusz A. Edible Insects versus Meat—Nutritional Comparison: Knowledge of Their Composition Is the Key to Good Health. Nutrients. 2021;13(4):1207. doi:

[10] Aguilar-Toalá JE, Cruz-Monterrosa RG, Liceaga AM. Beyond Human Nutrition of Edible Insects: Health Benefits and Safety Aspects. Insects. 2022;13(11):1007. doi:

[11] Zhou Y, Wang D, Zhou S, Duan H, Guo J, Yan W. Nutritional Composition, Health Benefits, and Application Value of Edible Insects: A Review. Foods. 2022;11(24):3961. doi:

[12] Piña-Domínguez IA, Eliel Ruiz-May, D. Hernández-Rodríguez, Zepeda RC, Guiomar Melgar-Lalanne. Environmental effects of harvesting some Mexican wild edible insects: An overview. Frontiers in sustainable food systems. 2022;6. doi:

[13] Husain S. Shellfish Allergy: A Complete Guide Food Allergy Institute. Food Allergy Institute. Published June 25, 2022. Accessed May 14, 2024.

[14] Zulkosky C. Are Edible Insects the Future of Alternative Protein? The Food Institute. Published November 7, 2023.

[15] “Cicada-licious” Cooking. Maryland Today. Published April 23, 2021. Accessed May 13, 2024.


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