When the health department in Columbia, Missouri nixed a new flavor of ice cream laced with cicadas in early June from a local shops menu board, it wasnt because its actually illegal to serve the winged insects in food to the public. "Its not really regulated," says Gerald Worley, the departments manager of environmental health, who adds, "I dont claim to be an expert on this." Nonetheless, Worley says he discouraged Sparkys Homemade Ice Cream proprietor Scott Southwick from selling the surprisingly popular flavor because Southwick "didnt really have a plan for how he would cook them," and Worley worried that the critters, which were collected from the ground, might make people sick. "We suggested that it would not be a good idea," says Worley. The first batch, in which the boiled bugs were covered with brown sugar and milk chocolate, then mixed in with a brown sugar and butter flavored ice cream base, had promptly sold out after the shop pre-announced the flavor on its Facebook page.
As it turns out, cicadas have a long culinary history, and the emergence this spring of the noisy, 13-year cyclical cricket-like insect in the Southeast and Southern Midwest has brought a concurrent resurgence in cicada cuisine. Ashlee Horne of Nashville, Tennessee likes her cicadas sauted in butter and garlic. Jenna Jadin of Washington, D.C., bakes them into banana bread, chocolate chip cookies and rhubarb pie. Others like them dipped in chocolate for a sweet, crunchy snack. The inch-long bugs are widely consumed around the world, especially in East Asia, and are considered a delicacy among the Iroquois people right here in the United States. Even the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle gobbled them up: In his fourth-century B.C. text Historia Animalium he noted that the young nymphs are tastier than mature bugs, which have a harder exoskeleton, and that among adults, the egg-laden females are best.