Recently, adventurous eaters from across China flocked to a bug-eating contest in the city of Lijiang to chow down on bamboo worms, dragonflies, locusts, and silkworms. The winner, Mr. Peng, downed an impressive 1.23 kilograms (2.71 pounds) of insects in less than five minutes!
Entomophagy, or the practice of eating insects, is common in China and many other parts of the world. And with good reason: “Insects have a lot of nutritional value,” says Louis Sorkin. He’s an entomologist, or scientist who studies insects, at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Insects are packed with protein, says Sorkin. Protein is an important part of our diet, because it helps to build and repair tissues in the body.
Eating bugs also has environmental benefits, says Sorkin. Raising a pound of insects requires a lot less food and water than that needed to produce an equal amount of meat.
Nearly 2,000 species of insects and arachnids, a group that includes spiders and scorpions, are edible. Different bugs have their own unique flavors, depending on how they’re prepared. For example, says Sorkin, “roasted crickets have a nuttier taste, and dried, powdered black soldier fly larvae are more cocoa-flavored.”
Still, the idea of chomping on a whole caterpillar or gobbling a grasshopper—wings and all—makes some people squirm. That’s why some companies now sell ground insect powder that can be mixed into shakes or used in baking. They hope it could get more people to try eating bugs—without bugging out.