They’re noisy. They’re everywhere. They’re … surprisingly delicious? For entomologists at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, this spring’s cicada emergence is the perfect opportunity to try out some new recipes. Cicada scampi, anyone?

Tad Yankoski, a senior entomologist with Missouri Botanical Garden, raises a glass of liquid courage during a cicada cooking demonstration at the Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House. Yankoski prepared two insect-forward dishes that day: cicada scampi and scream scream cicada, a spicy tempura-fried take on bang bang shrimp.

By Caroline Dohack

The emergence of the cicadas is a feast for the senses. See them flying clumsily through the air. Hear them calling out for love. Taste the … what?

Tad Yankoski, a senior entomologist with Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, says they’re better than you think.

“A few years ago, I took a class on cooking and eating insects and they were one of the insects we prepared,” Yankowksi says. “We roasted them and then caramelized them to make a cicada praline kebob.”

Something sweet seems like a logical use for cicadas, which Yankoski says have a nutty taste. But this year, Yankoski is planning something a little more savory.

“Cicadas can be handled like seafood or shrimp,” Yankoski says. “The first thing I’m looking forward to is a simple cicada scampi: butter, garlic, maybe a little white wine in there.”

Perhaps it’s not a stretch to swap cicadas for shrimp.

“Most people think lobster or shrimp are a delicacy, but they’re not that different from insects,” Yankoski says. “They’re so closely related that we have to tell people, ‘If you are allergic to shellfish, don’t eat insects. If you’re allergic to one you’re allergic to the other.’”

Right after they emerge from the ground—either before they molt or immediately after—is the perfect time to harvest them if you’d like to try them.

“That’s when they’re more tender and will have more fat reserves,” Yankoski says. “Once they fully harden as adults, they aren’t as palatable. They’re harder, they’re crunchier. If they’re feeding on trees, they’ll be taking on that flavor.”

Once you’ve collected enough cicadas for the recipe you’re planning to prepare, Yankoski recommends putting them in a container and placing it in the freezer for a few minutes to euthanize them. After that, you have the option of clipping off their wings and legs with scissors. Before you start cooking them, Yankoski recommends giving them a quick dip in boiling water to sterilize them. From there, the only limit is your imagination.

Although Yankoski adheres to a mostly vegetarian diet, he has no qualms with eating insects for a number of reasons. First, there’s the nutritional aspect. 

A 30-gram serving of crickets contains 20 grams of proteins, meaning it’s about 67% protein by weight. Beef, meanwhile, is a comparatively paltry 25% protein by weight. 

“A lot of weight lifters are switching away from whey protein powder to cricket protein powder,” Yankoski says. “People seem to think it’s absorbed better into your body better.”

Although the nutritional content of cicadas hasn’t been studied as extensively as that of crickets, Yankoski estimates they’re similar. And if you’re especially focused on your protein intake, the girls are the way to go.

“If you’re eating female cicadas, you’re getting more protein than you would males because they have eggs in their bodies and a little bit more fat,” he says. 

Yankoski also appreciates that insect-based protein requires far fewer resources to produce than animal protein does.

“They can be sustainably farmed,” Yankoski says. “The carbon footprint is smaller. Water requirements are a fraction of other protein-farming techniques.” 

Because they are so plentiful and nutritionally dense, they’re not uncommon fare in other cultures. 

“In many parts of the world, it’s not ‘eating bugs,’ it’s ‘eating dinner,’” Yankoski says. “We’re in the minority of the world of people who get weirded out by eating bugs.”

And if we were more honest with ourselves, maybe we wouldn’t be so weirded out.

“People will say, ‘I don’t eat insects. I’ve never eaten insects.’ My follow up is, ‘Have you had breakfast today? Have you had lunch? Then you ate insects,’” Yankoski says. “Insects are ubiquitous in the foods we eat, we just don’t see them. The government allows for very high levels—or it sounds like high levels to the average person—of insect contamination in the food we eat. A 1-ounce bar of chocolate can have 25 pieces of insects.”

Yankoski is known around the Garden for his Chocolate Chirp Cookies — chocolate chip cookies topped with dried crickets sourced from a culinary supplier — and Crickerdoodles, which are made using cricket flour, an ingredient that can be purchased from the St. Louis-based Mighty Cricket

“For a lot of people, there’s a barrier for seeing the bugs. They’re a little more likely to eat them if they’re coated in chocolate or ground up,” Yankoski says.

Recently, a school group was offered the opportunity to sample some Chocolate Chirp Cookies.

“Half the students didn’t want to eat them and the other half came back for seconds, thirds, or fourths,” Yankowsi says. 

But while that batch of cookies was met with some enthusiasm, Yankoski is realistic about their wider appeal.

“I don’t think it’s reasonable to say we all need to switch to eating a cricket-protein-based diet. That’s a huge jump from where we are now as a society,” Yankoski says. “Our goal is to just normalize it a little bit, or familiarize people with it just a little bit.” 

And even if you’re not quite ready to indulge in the culinary delights of the periodical cicada, Yankoski hopes you’ll at least enjoy their presence. 

“Embrace it,” he says. “You only get to experience it a few times in your life. Find wonder in this, because it’s wonderful.”


Missouri Life Newsletter Editor Caroline Dohack and Missouri Botanical Garden Senior Public Information Officer Catherine Martin prepare to eat some scream scream cicada, a take on bang bang shrimp prepared by Yankoski.

The Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House will hold two cicada-cooking demonstrations at 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. Friday, May 24. Staff entomologists will whip up two cicada-forward dishes: cicada scampi and scream scream cicada, a take on spicy tempura-fried bang bang shrimp.

Due to demand, cicada samples will not be available. However, guests will be offered other bug-based snacks as well as cicada recipe cards to take home.

Seating is limited and available on a first-come, first served basis. There’s no additional fee beyond the Missouri Botanical Garden’s regular admission. 

All photos by Caroline Dohack.

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