How Entomophagy Works

History of Eating Insects

John the Baptist survived on locusts and honey.
John the Baptist survived on locusts and honey.
Rogier van der Weyden/Getty Images

The history of entomophagy is rich and full of, well, bugs. As man evolved from ape, the hunters and gatherers collected more than edible plants. They set their sights on insects. They were everywhere, and other animals ate them, so why not? In fact, these early humans probably took their cues on which ones were tasty by observing the animals in the area. Years later, the Romans and Greeks would dine on beetle larvae and locusts. Greek scientist and philosopher Aristotle even wrote about harvesting tasty cicadas.

If that's not enough, we'll get Biblical on you. In the Old Testament book of Leviticus, the writers did a nice job of outlining the foods that are forbidden and permissible to consume. Off-limits were rabbits, pigs, pelicans, mice, turtles and weasels. Apparently our Biblical ancestors were a bit less choosy than we are today. Then in Leviticus 11:22, it says "Even these of them ye may eat; the locust after his kind, and the bald locust after his kind, and the beetle after his kind, and the grasshopper after his kind." With the green light clearly given, beetles and grasshoppers in Israel got a little nervous. John the Baptist lived in the desert for months at a time, living on locusts and honeycomb.

Locusts were a nutritious, cheap and plentiful food source for ancient Algerians. They'd collect them by the thousands and prepare them by boiling them in salt water and drying them in the sun. Australian Aborigines made meals of moths but proved picky in the preparation. After cooking them in sand, they burned off the wings and legs and sifted the moth through a net to remove the head, leaving nothing but delectable moth meat. The Aborigines were, and continue to be, entomophagists. They eat honey pot ants and witchety grubs -- the larvae of the moths. These grubs can be eaten raw, and when cooked taste like roasted almonds. Or so they say.

In the next section, we'll look at entomophagy in today's world.