Dragonfly Entomophagy

dragonfly

Eastern pondhawk dragonfly (Erythemis simplicicollis)

I wrote a post about entomophagy, people eating insects, a while back that talked about a few new ideas about eating insects, including one that has been pushed heavily by a group in the Netherlands: commercially farming insects for human consumption as a replacement for our current meat sources.  I am intrigued by this idea, though I also don’t personally eat insects and I’m not entirely convinced that it is going to work.  But, I’ve already written about that topic and I don’t want to rehash things I’ve already done.  Today’s post is going to focus on a specific type of entomophagy: dragonfly entomophagy.  Yes, that’s right!  Many cultures eat dragonflies, and today I’m going to cover the importance of dragonflies in cuisine.

Americans aren’t typically big proponents of eating insects, so it’s not surprising that we don’t find dragonfly nymphs or adults for sale in our food markets.  That’s not the case in other parts of the world though!  Dragonflies are eaten by many cultures, though they are most popular in Asian cuisine.  In many countries, especially in southeast Asia and Indonesia, dragonflies are available for sale in markets, intended for consumption by people.  In Japan, a variety of aquatic insects are considered delicacies and can be purchased on skewers to be taken home to eat.  Dragonflies are also popular in Papua New Guinea, where they are either boiled  or skewered and roasted over a fire, and in the Philippines.  In most parts of Asia, both the nymphs and the adults are eaten, typically boiled or fried and often served on rice.

Dragonfly haul on Bali.  Photo by Peter Menzel and made available on the NOVA website.  Click image for source.

Dragonflies seem to be especially popular as food on Bali in Indonesia.  There, some people still engage in a traditional dragonfly hunting method that involves a bamboo pole tipped with a long strip of palm.  The palm is coated in a sticky substance produced by the jackfruit tree and dragonfly hunters catch their prey by flicking the palm strip toward the dragonfly.  If the strip touches the dragonfly, it sticks and the insect can then be transferred to another string to carry it home.  This is, however, a dying hunting method.  With the modernization of Indonesia and other dragonfly eating cultures, many of the traditional hunting methods are being lost.  In the book Man Eating Bugs, the authors Peter Menzel and Faith D’Alusio recount a conversation with one Balinese man who could not convince his children to hunt dragonflies the way he used to as a child.  They had enough money to buy food and had a television, plus it was too hot outside, so the kids couldn’t be bothered to catch dragonflies to eat.

Fried dragonflies on rice

Fried dragonflies on rice. Click on image for image source.

Whether captured by the people who intend to eat them or purchased from a market, dragonflies tend to be cooked in one of a few ways on Bali.  The simplest method is to simply remove the wings and fry the dragonflies, usually in coconut oil.  The same technique can be used on nymphs by popping them into the hot oil as is.  The fried dragonflies can then be eaten plain as a snack, or placed atop rice to be eaten as a meal.  Fancier preparations are made as well.  Boiling wingless dragonflies in coconut milk seasoned with ginger and garlic is said to be especially tasty, giving the adult dragonflies a flavor somewhat reminiscent of soft-shelled crab.  Not surprisingly, the aquatic dragonfly larvae are reported to taste more like fish and are sometimes cooked using the same methods.

squeamish eater

A young girl looks on in horror as her mother samples a dragonfly hors d’oeuvre. Click on photo for image source.

While dragonflies are most commonly eaten in Asia, it’s not the only continent on which dragonflies are consumed.  You can even try dragonflies right here in the USA!  Just head to the Audubon Insectarium in New Orleans, where one cafe is dedicated entirely to sampling insect cuisine.  One dish that has been served there features native dragonflies, eastern pondhawks, fried in Zatarain’s fish fry, settled on top of a sautéed mushroom, and drizzled with Dijon soy butter (on the plate in the image).  You can even occasionally find dragonflies on the menu at the annual Explorer’s Club banquet, an evening of adventurous eating for members that can feature many insect dishes.

If dragonflies sound completely delicious to you, let me offer a few suggestions for cooking your own!  In her book Creepy Crawly Cuisine, Julieta Ramos-Elorduy recommends using dragonfly nymphs in mecapale tamales.  The tamales are made by layering masa, a tomato salsa, and dragonfly nymphs (or predacious diving beetle larvae, hellgrammites, or stonefly larvae), wrapping the contents in banana leaves, and steaming them.  This is a style of tamale that people still eat in some parts of Mexico.  And how can you go wrong with dragonfly tempura?!  A recipe featured on the website World Entomophagy offers the following technique for preparing your dragonflies (edited slightly as there are a lot of typos in the original):

Dragonfly Tempura
Serves 2

7 ounces dragonflies (about 12 large nymphs or 12 adults)
1 egg, beaten
1 cup flour
1 cup ice water
salt and pepper to taste
vegetable oil for frying

Heat oil to 340-350 degrees F.  Meanwhile, rinse the dragonfly larvae or adults and remove the wings from any adults being prepared.

Make the tempura batter by mixing the egg, flour, ice water, salt, and pepper.  Whisk together until smooth.

When oil is hot, lightly flour the dragonflies and dip them into the tempura batter.  Drop them into the oil immediately.  Cook until brown and crispy.

Serve promptly with soy sauce or Siracha.

I personally think that if you’re going to eat tempura dragonflies then you should dip them in the tempura sauce made from soy sauce, mirin, dashi, and sugar that you get at Japanese restaurants.  It is super tasty!  Although I’m unlikely to sample dragonfly tempura any time soon myself, I imagine that tempura sauce would pair marvelously with this dish.

I am sure there are more cultures that eat dragonflies and preparations I have missed, but this should provide a basic overview of dragonfly entomophagy around the world!  So, who’s hungry for dragonflies?!

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Congratulations to my contest winner, Dave Stone of Things Biological, for suggesting this fun topic.  Congrats Dave!  A hearty thank you to everyone else who participated in the contest too.  Even if you didn’t win this time, you might still  see the topic you suggested here in the future.  There were several excellent topics proposed, and I had a hard time making a final decision.  Dave, I will contact you to get an address where I can send your loot.  For everyone else, I’ll have another contest soon!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth
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Friday 5: Edible Insects

I wrote a post last year discussing why I don’t eat insects.  It’s not so much that I’m disgusted by the insects specifically, but invertebrates in general.  I find the texture of invertebrates of any type to be incredibly awful.  It makes me nauseous.  However, and if you follow my Twitter feed you already know this, I am absolutely fascinated by the idea of entomophagy!  While I have a hard time stomaching the idea of eating a bug for textural reasons (though I will fish an insect out of a drink or off my plate and continue eating with absolutely no hesitation), I am thrilled that other people do.  I love reading articles about edible insects and I am a proponent of the recent push to start farming insects as a sustainable source of protein.  I will probably try to eat some insects at some point, but for now I appreciate the people who are out there trying to make entomophagy a reality.  So, today I give you 5 edible insects that you can try if you want to be one of the trailblazers on the bandwagon o’ entomophagy!

ants

ants

Ants

Now I don’t know if you can eat all ants, so I am not going to recommend that you head out to the sidewalk and harvest yourself a snack, but a lot of people eat ants.  Ant researcher Mark Moffett is featured in a fantastic video about people who eat ants in Cambodia that’s well worth watching and shows one traditional Cambodian preparation for ants – and the fabulous responses of nearby tourists when Moffett tries to get them to sample!  If you want to try ants yourself, I recommend heading to your nearest Asian food market for canned ant larvae.  I hear they’re good mixed into omelettes.  Or, you can have a can of dry roasted big butt ants, popular in South America, delivered straight to your door by ThinkGeek.com.  The toasted ants will probably feature heavily in my first insect-eating experience because the icky texture I can’t handle won’t be a problem in a dry roasted insect.  I imagine them to taste “nutty.”

cricket

Cricket

Crickets

I consider crickets a sort of “gateway insect” into the exciting possibilities of entomophagy because they are almost always a part of any introduction to edible insects.  Most -people who have eaten an insect have eaten a cricket.  Everyone’s seen those cricket lollypops that people buy and dare each other to eat.  However, Chocolate chirp cookies are a great way to get started in entomophagy.  What can be better than hiding what most Americans consider an unappetizing ingredient in a delicious cookie?  It’s like blending cauliflower into mac and cheese to get kids to eat more vegetables.  Tricky!  Crickets are readily available for sale, so they’re easy to get yours hands on in time for that next batch of cookies.

mealworms

Mealworms. Image from Wikipedia.

Mealworms

The other “gateway insect.”  You can fry these, dry roast them, roast and then dip them in chocolate, grind them use and use them as a flour-like substance – lots of possibilities!  I like the chocolate covered strawberries that Marcel Dicke offered at his TEDxAmsterdam talk (down at the bottom of the post).  They look yummy!  I would probably eat one of those quite willingly, maybe as the dessert after my toasted ants.  Like crickets, mealworms are also very easy to purchase, so there’s no special hunting required.  This is very unlike the dragonflies I mentioned in my post yesterday, which is probably one of the reasons they’re so popular as a food insect.

stink bug

Stink bug

Stink Bugs

Now I have a few friends who have pulled stink bugs off blacklighting sheets, popped them into their mouths, and eaten them live (not recommended by entomphagy proponents), but I have never done it.  I hear that many raw stink bugs are “peppery” with a nice, sharp bite.  I imagine it’s rather like eating a peppery radish, but I could be completely wrong.  Stink bugs are abundant and many species are pests, so a motivated insect eater can collect stink bugs themselves AND help the environment.  (I hear that some stink bug traps are a great way to attract more stink bugs to your area.)  What should you do with them once you catch them?  Why not turn them into stink bug pate?  Julieta Ramos-Elorduy has a recipe for it in her book Creepy Crawly Cuisine.  Perfect for that fancy cocktail party you’ve been meaning to throw!

scorpion

An emperor scorpion

Scorpions

I don’t think I could ever eat a scorpion, but I have it on good authority from Daniella Martin of Girls Meets Bug that they taste fabulous.  Of course, she compares the taste to soft-shell crabs, which I also don’t eat, so they’re probably not for me.  But, maybe you’re more adventurous than I am and are dying to give a scorpion a try!  If so, check out Daniella’s video on how to make a deep-fried scorpion, the recipe for which is on her website.  However, not everyone is going to want to mess with live scorpions before they eat them.  If you fall into that category, maybe you should try ordering a chocolate-covered scorpion instead to eliminate the scary live scorpion steps.

Aren’t you hungry now?  Lots of (supposedly) delicious bugs!  Think I might have to order those big butt ants today…  I really want to try them for some reason.  If I don’t wimp out, I’ll be sure to let you know how they taste!  And if you want to get into cooking bugs yourself, I recommend Creepy Crawly Cuisine (link in stink bug section) and the Eat a Bug Cookbook for some recipes to get you started.  Bon apetit!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © TheDragonflyWoman.com

Dragonflies for Dinner

Just a quick post today!  I came across a page on the NOVA website (hooray for PBS!) written by the authors of Man Eating Bugs that listed edible insects and the countries where they are commonly eaten.  I’ve heard that people commonly eat the giant water bugs I work with, as well as crickets/grasshoppers, mealworms, and various large, fleshy insect larvae.  I come across very few reports of people eating dragonflies though.  Maybe they’re too hard to catch to rely on as food?  But people do catch and eat them!  This snippet comes from the NOVA website linked above (and is described in more detail in the authors’ book), describing how people capture dragonflies for food in Bali, Indonesia:

dragonflies captured for dinner

Dragonfly haul! Photo from NOVA, link at top of page.

Although chicken replaced dragonflies on his dinner table years ago, [our guide] Darsana taught his children how to hunt the insect using a slender strip of palmwood dipped in the sticky white sap of the jackfruit tree. … Standing in one paddy, Darsana shouts encouragement as his 8-year-old daughter, Ni Wayan Sriyani, slowly extends her bamboo pole as far as she can reach. A dragonfly approaches, zig-zagging over the rice. Like an expert fly-fisher, she flicks out the end of her pole and catches the wing of the first dragonfly of the day. … [Later] the family returns home to fry the cache of dragonflies in coconut oil and pop them in their mouths like candy.

This sounds like a much more efficient means of catching dragonflies than the standard entomological method of using a net!  Also kinda makes me want to fry up a dragonfly next time I catch one, just to see what they taste like…

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © TheDragonflyWoman.com

Do I Eat Bugs?

lobster

A lobster. Image taken from Wikipedia.

Several years ago, Dave Barry ran a column that instantly became my favorite.  In it, Barry discusses why he doesn’t eat lobsters and cites some then current science to support his position.  It is a fine piece of persuasive writing if you ask me!  You can read the whole column on the Miami Herald website, and I highly recommend that you do, but the best part of the column for me was the comparison Barry drew between insects and lobsters.  Of particular interest to me was the section where he suggested that he wouldn’t eat a lobster because it’s basically an oversized insect.  I couldn’t agree more.

When people learn that I am an entomologist, I invariably get questions related to my work. People ask me to ID insects for them and lots of people ask me why I am interested in insects (usually in a disgusted or flabbergasted tone).  These are my #1 and #2 most frequently asked questions.  The #3 most frequently asked question is this:

Do you eat bugs?

This question baffles me.  I don’t get where the question comes from, but I get it all the time.  I accept that entomologists are probably slightly more likely to eat insects than most Americans, but why do so many people instantly jump from “entomologist” to “eats bugs?”  Are people who study, say, condors constantly asked whether they eat their birds?  People who study mice or wolves or bison?  Why do so many people assume that I eat bugs just because I study bugs?  If anyone has any insight into this question, by all means leave a comment.  I want to get to the bottom of this.

For the record: I do not eat bugs, at least not on purpose.  Personally, I find the idea repulsive.  Bugs have exoskeletons, so they’re crunchy on the outside and mushy on the inside.  I don’t like that combination at all.  But I’m a picky eater in general and the most squeamish meat-eater you’ll ever encounter.  Case in point: I don’t eat chicken wings because by the time I pick off all the skin, bones, fatty parts, and tendons, i.e. all the parts I consider inedible, there’s hardly anything left to eat, and certainly not enough to warrant all the work I put into getting it.  If I’m not willing to eat a “normal” American food like chicken wings, an insect is so not going to happen.

I have a very long list of things I refuse to eat, and invertebrates top the list.  These include lobsters, crabs, crayfish, mussels, squid, scallops, clams, and insects.  I also don’t eat anything aquatic (ducks, frogs, fish, turtles, alligators, beavers – and yes, some people do eat beavers!  I can pass along the sweet pickled beaver recipe I gave my sister a while back as a joke if you don’t believe me) because I think they are all vile.  I will occasionally eat a pile of popcorn shrimp (which are delicious if I can trick myself into forgetting that they have exoskeletons long enough to eat them) or a few fish sticks (because fish isn’t vile if eaten in very tiny quantities and buried in breading), but I am otherwise opposed to all swimming and/or crawling foods.  Yuck…

Aside from being a picky eater, I tend to be a bit sarcastic.  Okay, okay.  I’m a lot sarcastic.  This means that when I get what I think is a crazy question (such as, oh, do you eat bugs?) full sarcasm mode ensues.  I get this question so many times that I actually have a response ready to go:

“No, I do not eat insects.  Do you eat lobsters?  Cause they’re basically the same thing…”

Many people aren’t aware that this is essentially true.  Consider these two points:

  1. The closest relatives to insects, based on DNA evidence, suggest that insects are most closely related to, wait for it, crustaceans!  That’s right.  My humble water bugs are likely a small step away from their aquatic brethren the lobsters, crabs, crayfish, shrimp, and pill bugs (or roly polies or sow bugs – whatever you happen to call those cute little land crustaceans that curl into a little ball when disturbed in your part of the world).   So, in essence, insects and lobsters are about equivalent when it comes to the culinary experiences they provide.
  2. There are next to no marine insects, that is insects that live in the ocean.  Some scientists have suggested that this is because insects originally evolved on land while crustaceans evolved in the ocean.  When they decided to crawl back into the ocean, insects discovered that all of the good places they needed to live were filled up with, that’s right: crustaceans!  The habitat and resource requirements of marine crustaceans are so similar to insects that they were able to prevent insects from invading their salty homes.  Thus, insects and lobsters are about equivalent when it comes to the things they need to survive.

These two points together suggest to me that lobster = insect.  Both of them are equally inedible as far as I’m concerned.  Dave Barry had it right!

can of water bugs

A can of giant water bugs. Photo copyright Adam Vandenberg and taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/adamvandenberg/.

That said, I am not opposed to other people eating insects.  I will happily watch someone else eating fried ant larvae or chocolate covered mealworms or one of those horrible scorpions embedded in a lollypop.  I won’t even cringe while I watch or make snide comments!  Just because I’m way too squeamish to eat an insect myself doesn’t mean other people shouldn’t.  Americans have a huge hangup about entomophagy (i.e. consumption of insects by humans), but lots of other cultures include insects in their diets for one simple reason: insects are incredibly nutritious.  They’re full of excellent proteins and several species are supposed to be quite tasty.  The insects I study, the giant water bugs, are widely and happily consumed in southeastern Asia.  They’re served fried or steamed and you can get them freeze dried or pickled in cans (see photo at left).  In Thailand they’re often ground up and stirred into a chili paste to make a sauce.  The people of Vietnam consider a secretion produced by a Lethocerus species a delicacy.  It fetches very high prices at markets and may be partly responsible for conservation efforts related to giant water bugs in Vietnam.  I’m glad someone else has tried water bugs and discovered that they’re incredibly tasty.  But I’m still not eating one myself.

I have a can of Lethocerus in my office, the exact same brand as in the photo.  It sits there unopened, but I love it anyway.  I only know what’s inside because I saw one opened on the Food Network during a segment about the annual Explorer’s Club banquet a few years back.  One of the foods served, among a hundred or so other random things that most people wouldn’t even consider eating, was my can of freeze dried Lethocerus.  There’s no point to popping the can open if I’m not going to eat them myself.  Besides, they make a great conversation starter at outreach events!  Stash a can of Lethocerus next to a live Lethocerus swimming in a jar and you earn yourself a veritable river of people asking questions and eager to learn more about these fantastic bugs.

So there you have it, the answer to my third most frequently asked entomology question, the one that will always intrigue me.  And because I find entomophagy fascinating, expect a post on the subject soon!  In the meantime, I’m curious about how many of my readers might eat an insect, so today I leave you with a very brief poll.

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © 2010 DragonflyWoman.wordpress.com.