The PHS Insect Eating Club’s biggest activity to date was hosted by Mulin Huan and Matthew Livingston on May 29th, 2021. The Cicada Tasting Event celebrated the 17 year Brood X magicicada emergence. In preparing for this, the club members performed a great deal of research on entomophagy, the practice of insect consumption and numerous experiments with recipes.
The magicicada can be found on the east coast of the United States. The particular emergence in 2021 consists of three very closely related species that spend 17 years underground prior to their emergence and metamorphosis. These species of cicadas emerge in absolutely massive numbers to overwhelm any potential predators, allowing the survivors to mate and produce offspring that will emerge 17 years later. In fact, fifty-one years ago in 1970, or three 17-year-cycles ago, musician Bob Dylan was in Princeton receiving an honorary degree when he heard the cicadas and wrote Day of the Locusts. The “locusts” that sang for Dylan are actually cicadas who are, in fact, the great grandparents of the cicadas singing for us today.
Entomophagy is practiced in approximately 200 countries around the world today where roughly 1900 insect species can be consumed by humans. Insects are extremely efficient at transforming food into body mass, and their waste can be used as fertilizer which allows for more well-ordered and productive farming. They produce very little greenhouse gas compared to common meat-animals such as cattle, sheep, and pigs. In addition, these insects can sometimes be fed on food waste and require less water and land for growth. As the human population grows, insects will eventually become a necessary food source for people, and that is the reason for the experimentation of the PHS Insect Eating Club.
Prior to the Cicada Tasting Event, the club has hosted two smaller-scale insect tasting festivals. Club members met and tried out different recipes such as making cookies with insect powders or roasting crickets, mealworms, silkworms, etc. Members participating in these tasting events were often hesitant when they were offered insect-based foods. Those who were uncertain about trying out a whole roasted insect were offered “insect cookies” made from flour mixed with ground cricket powders. But almost unanimously participants liked the foods after trying them out, claiming the roasted insects tasted “just like any other roasted food, with a slight taste of soil” and the insect cookies tasted “exactly like cookies you can find in a regular supermarket.” These events have served as preparation for the big Cicada Tasting Event.
Numerous recipes were used to cook the absolutely enormous number of cicadas caught for the tasting event. After capturing the live cicadas (that are visually scanned to ensure they are not infected with fungi), the club members placed the cicadas in freezers to kill potential parasites inside the cicadas. The frozen cicadas were then de-winged and boiled in water for 30 seconds to thaw, and after that they were either deep-fried in tempura powder; stir-fried with garlic, ginger, and green onion; grinded into powders to make cicada cookies; made into stew similar to the Maryland crab stew… etc.
Through the advertising talent of the PHS research instructor Mark Eastburn, the Cicada Tasting Event created a buzz not only in the high school but also in the entire Princeton community. Around 30 people showed up at the event (the maximum number of people attending the event was limited due to the need of social distancing), including younger students, adults, and even journalists from media as big as ABC news. Almost everyone who attended the event, regardless of their previous opinion on insect consumption, tried at least one cicada cooked in one way or the other. The reception of the cicadas was overwhelmingly positive with a decent number of people claiming that they were not insect people at all, but they surprisingly enjoyed the cicada feast very much. “The roasted cicadas without any flavorings taste like peas,” said one participant of the event, “but the taste really changes depending on what flavor is added while cooking. It seems like you can make the cicadas taste like whatever you want.” Out of all the recipes tried that day, the fan favorites seemed to be the stir-fried cicada, the deep-fried cicada, cicada cookies, and Maryland cicada stew.