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Do insects taste like crustaceans?

My husband and I joke that crab are giant bugs, as are shrimp, lobster, and mudbugs, and then tried to find some information about the taste of actual bugs through the following posts:

http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/627219
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/295197
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/269887
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/393573

Having not eaten grubs, grasshopper, ant larvae, or the like, but having had eaten most crustaceans, eels, and other crawling sea creatures, my logical question remains: what do insects taste like? Is it anything like crustacean meat?

My intent is not to disgust; I'm simply curious.

Thanks!

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  1. This could be a difficult question to really answer accurately. I assume that the crabs, shrimp, lobster and mudbugs were all cooked. I'm also going to assume that you're asking about the taste of cooked bugs. I have only tasted a few different bugs and in my experience, all were deep fried and seasoned with salt, soy sauce or fish sauce. All had a taste reminiscent of salty potato chips. The problem really is that most insects are quite tiny, and unless you're eating them raw or perhaps steamed, it would be tough to discern much individual flavour, beyond texture. I got the impression that their appeal, besides being a cheap and plentiful source of protein, was the crunchiness and saltiness provided by the deep frying and seasoning. Most people were eating them the way we would salty nuts or popcorn with beer. As seafood is much more precious and delicate, it isn't desirable to give it that type of treatment when cooking.

    Now, on the other hand, if you're wondering how insects taste raw, versus raw seafood, I can't comment. I have no experience with raw bugs, and scant little raw seafood, beyond what might appear on a sushi platter in a higher end restaurant. In case you're wondering, my deep-fried snacks consisted of a couple of beetles, a couple of crickets and a grasshopper or two. My SO indulged in a cockroach as well. Our comments were virtually the same for each, except that I found the grasshopper legs similar to chewing and swallowing splinters off a toothpick. Not a great sensation for me. The crickets and beetles were perfectly tasty. If I had them in a mix with seaweed and wasabi flavour cracker snacks, I'd probably eat them by the handful. BTW, I passed on the small snakes, scorpions and cockroaches. The 5 or 6 bugs I consumed were more than enough adventure for one meal.

    I have seen recipes calling for insect larvae and I have a feeling that texture might be an issue here too. I would be less inclined to try something like this. You could argue that the texture might be similar to some seafood roe/spawn dishes, but I'm not sure I'd jump at those either.

    2 Replies
    1. re: 1sweetpea

      As somebody who has tried crickets, I can honestly say no. I actually thought they tasted like seasoned plastic. Sort of like when you bite into the tail of the shrimp. Unfortunately the legs didn't fall off. I probably would have liked them better if they didn't look like bugs.

      1. re: 1sweetpea

        Concur with your statement. All of the bugs I've eaten have been small and deep-fried or roasted. Haven't had a huge range of insects, but tasted them in Mexico and Thailand. So they basically took the flavor of whatever flavorings were added. Texture is indeed similar to potato chips -- not the kettle-cooked but the thinner, cheaper Wise brand burnt bits. I think the gross out factor is more in the thought of it (at least to most Americans) than the taste.

        However, I've had really small shrimps that have been dried and stir-fried and seasoned Korean-style. I remember my friend refused to eat them because he thought it looked like insects! Those shrimps did taste "shrimpy" and unlike the bugs I've eaten in the past.

      2. 1sweetpea has it right. White grubs in the Philippines become adult beetles and swarm once a year or every two years depending on species. They're deep fried, crunchy, salty goodness (and the legs all fall off in the frying). No similarity to shrimp or lobster. Same thing for ants.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

          Sounds just like South African Mopani worms (Mashonzha)... delicious with an ice cold Castle Lager:
          http://www.flickr.com/search/?w=all&a...

        2. I have no experience in this matter, but surely the taste would vary enormously depending on the particular species, and even the life cycle of any given species.

          1. I will almost certainly tonight have a nightmare about lobsters splattering on my windshield.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Veggo

              Though the recent storm was intense, I was able to collect over two dozen lobsters that hit my car. Those that were "blendered" or hit head-on were minimal. On cooking, I just spit out the shell. A lot better than running over crickets.

              1. re: Scargod

                Those head -on lobster hits should make for a nice bisque.The "glancing blows" are usually still good for a lobster roll, and if you get a clean head strike above the thorax, thermidor is still a viable option.

                1. re: Veggo

                  Thanks for the heads-up! I did toss those with crushed thoraxes. Still, couldn't the tail still be good for something?

            2. I agree with the above, that the flavor mainly comes from the seasoning that was used in cooking, and at least the bugs I've eaten (grasshoppers, crickets, etc.) have more a sensation of crunchiness from the exoskeletons than chewing flesh like a shrimp or whatnot. I find eating roasted grasshoppers (chapulines) to be a lot like eating tasty (and somehow slightly juicy) succulent pumpkin seeds-- really addictive, and great with beer :) (Sadly, we've laid off of them since worries about lead contamination arose, though...)

              The only other insect I've eaten with any regularity is silkworm pupas, prepared in the Korean style (beondegi). Those are softer and more, um, toothsome, though I still wouldn't really liken them to shrimp. They are a bit more challenging, though, due to the size-- especially if you eat them from the can, rather than getting them all nice and toasty from a street vendor.

              11 Replies
              1. re: another_adam

                From what I understand, roasted Tarantula is supposed to taste a little like shrimp, (plus you can use the fangs as toothpicks). Some grashoppers are supposed to taste a bit like lobsers/crayfish if you boil them (they also turn the same shade of red) Bee larvae are supposed to taste a lot like honey (natch). beyond that, not much info

                1. re: jumpingmonk

                  That's interesting about the grasshoppers--I really ought to try those some day, fried or boiled. Maybe even tarantula. My husband recalled that the insects he's tried tasted rather nutty.

                  1. re: Caralien

                    Looks like you can find them in NYC (the chapulines):
                    http://newyork.seriouseats.com/2008/0...

                    Can't help you with what they taste like. When we went to Oaxaca, everyone ate them but me.

                    Edit: I'm fine with huitlacoche, but I'll pass on the grass(hoppers). Everyone's gotta draw a line somewhere.

                    1. re: Caralien

                      I agree that insects taste nuttier rather than like potato chips, though this might be a subjective perception thing. I have heard, however, Andrew Zimmern eat certain insects and compare them to the taste of crustaceans, though I can't remember what creepy crawlie he was referring to at the time.

                    2. re: jumpingmonk

                      I've never encountered boiled grasshoppers.

                      1. re: jumpingmonk

                        I have had fried tarantulas in Cambodia. They don't taste like shrimp. They taste somewhat earthy and dusty, and vaguely sweet (not sure if that was natural sweetness or added sugar). I think the appeal is more about the texture, which ranges from crispy legs to chewy body. These were little suckers, body length probably about 2 inches so no toothpick potential there with the fangs : )

                        1. re: Tsar_Pushka

                          The source I read was referring to Amazonian tartatulas (and probably bird eating spiders) maybe they taste different from south east asian ones. The tribe who was cooking it was roasting it too, not frying it, maybe that also makes a difference.

                          1. re: jumpingmonk

                            Oh dear ... I'd have trouble getting stuck into one that big. You'd almost have to carve it at the table ...

                          2. re: Tsar_Pushka

                            I have had fried tarantulas in Cambodia too several times over the years at the central market and they always tasted alot like chewy crab to me.

                          3. re: jumpingmonk

                            I had bees in San Cristobal de Las Casa, Chiapas, Mex. and they tasted like unsweet honey...if you can imagine that.

                            1. re: jumpingmonk

                              "roasted Tarantula is supposed to taste a little like shrimp, (plus you can use the fangs as toothpicks)"

                              My balls just shrank inwards.

                          4. I've never been to Oz but friends of mine from there used to recommend witchetty grubs.

                            http://www.mjhall.org/bushtucker/page...

                            The descriptions of various types of bush tucker is interesting. I'd like to try the grubs. My mates said they were reminiscent of prawn. They also said I should try honey ants.

                            1. Thus far:
                              Eggs, prawns, lobster, crayfish, nuts, fried chips (crisps), pumpkin seeds, honey, and sun dried tomatoes.
                              from DH:
                              1. Mealworm grubs taste nutty when baked in cookies
                              2. Cicadas sauteed in butter taste like crunchy butter

                              1. My experience is similar to 1sweetpea.

                                There is no question that crustaceans resemble big bugs. But I think we need to make a distinction between the outer shell and the flesh.

                                My experience with insects with exoskeletons (such as grasshoppers) is that the exoskeleton has a texture very similar to the outer shell of shrimps and soft shell crab. I love eating deep fried shrimp tails, when they are all crispy and salty and tasty. I love the textural crunch, and I get the same textural crunch when I have eaten stir-fried or fried grasshoppers. These shells pick up the flavour of whatever seasoning is used. There is a chip-like quality to these things.

                                But the flesh of crustaceans is totally different, and I think insects do not have similar flavoured flesh. First of all, they lack that "flavour of the sea" that crustaceans have. Also, I don't think most insects have a hunk of flesh/muscle that could be compared to say a lobster tail or to the meat of the shrimp. Now I will admit I haven't had the opportunity to try giant tarantulas, and it is possible they might have chunks of meat that might be analogous to the lobster tail and claw. But certainly, the flesh of mealy worms, ants, grasshoppers, silk worm larvae and caterpillars bear little to no resemblance to the flesh of crustaceans. If they did, I would be eating a lot more of them.

                                1. My bug-eating experiences are pretty limited and consistent with those described above. But if you want to compare apples to apples, wouldn't you need to eat the whole, unshelled crustacean in a bite or two? Or maybe coax the tail meat out of a grasshopper with an itty bitty fork.

                                  My dad had a friend who accidentally made first contact with an Amazonian tribe in the '60s and lived with them for a few years. Apparently they favor a grub that, when sucked out of its hull (husk? skin?) has the flavor and texture of slightly undercooked bacon...

                                  1. I've eatten insects around the world and outside of fried Cambodian turantulas tasting a bit like crab, I have to agree with the rest. One exception, Ants were very meaty and naturally spicy but nothing like seafood.

                                    1. And let's not forget, mopani worms (not insects, I know) taste like barbecued chicken. I would try one.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: pdxgastro

                                        Mopani Worns are insects; they're caterpillars (they grow into a kind of moth)