Can You Eat Cicadas? Yes. But Should You? Here’s What Experts Say

by Ella

As cicadas emerge across the country, adventurous eaters might be tempted to try unique recipes like spicy popcorn cicadas, grilled cicada kebabs, or even cicada-infused drinks. But before you harvest these insects from your backyard, experts offer important considerations.

The Ethical Dilemma

Just because cicadas are edible, does that mean we should eat them? Opinions vary among researchers.


John Cooley, a seasoned cicada researcher from the University of Connecticut’s Periodical Cicada Project, discourages eating cicadas for novelty or viral content. “These insects have spent 17 years underground,” Cooley says. “Consuming them for amusement seems disrespectful.” Cooley himself has never tried cicadas.


Gene Kritsky, another researcher, argues that promoting cicadas as a sustainable protein source is misleading due to their infrequent appearances. “Periodical cicadas can’t be a diet staple when they only emerge every 17 years,” says Kritsky, who sampled cicadas in 1987 but now refrains from eating them. “I value cicadas too much to encourage their consumption,” he adds.


Conversely, Jim Louderman from the Field Museum believes that the small number of cicadas people might eat is negligible and could reduce insect phobias. “Anything that helps people appreciate insects is positive,” Louderman states.


Safety Considerations

Before deciding to eat cicadas, several safety factors should be considered.

Origin of the Cicada

Cicadas in northern Illinois have spent 17 years underground, potentially absorbing soil pollutants like pesticides and heavy metals. “If you wouldn’t eat a vegetable from that soil, don’t eat a cicada,” advises Louderman. Lead from old paint and mercury are particular concerns. Cooley notes, “Cicadas can accumulate mercury. Consider how much fish you eat from polluted areas and apply the same caution to cicadas.”

Moreover, foraging in forest preserves is illegal. Counties around Chicago, including Cook, Lake, DuPage, and Will, prohibit collecting plants or animals, with fines for violators.

Shellfish Allergies

The Food and Drug Administration warns that individuals with shellfish allergies should avoid cicadas due to potential allergic reactions.

Fungal Infections

Some cicadas are infected with a fungus that turns them into sex-crazed “zombies,” spreading spores by mating until they die. While fungi are typically host-specific, Cooley admits he hesitates when handling infected cicadas, though there is no evidence that the fungus affects humans.

Preparing Cicadas for Consumption

If you still want to try cicadas, experts recommend specific preparation methods. Newly emerged adults, identifiable by their milky white color, are the most tender. Louderman compares older cicadas to lobsters, requiring cracking open to access the meat.

Ohio State University experts suggest blanching cicadas in boiling water for one minute, then freezing them overnight. The University of Illinois Extension recommends removing heads, wings, and legs before cooking. Using a variety of spices can enhance the flavor.

Brookfield Zoo recently demonstrated how its animals, including cotton-top tamarins, enjoy cicadas, showing their natural diet includes these insects.


While eating cicadas is possible, numerous factors—ethical, safety, and practical—should be considered. Understanding the source of the cicadas, potential health risks, and proper preparation methods are crucial. Ultimately, whether or not to partake in this unconventional snack is a personal choice, best made with informed consideration.



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