One group of New Jersey high school students are conducting more than just research during the historic resurgence of the Brood X cicada — daring to cook and munch on these timely critters.
The insect-eating club at Princeton High School was founded last year by students Matthew Livingston and Mulin Huan, both currently in their junior year.
"The club was founded in mid-2020. My high school research is on sustainable protein and alternative protein sources, so I decided to work with insects," said Livingston in a recent interview with NBC New York.
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Initially working on crickets, Livingston switched up his studies to include Brood X, a group of periodical cicadas that emerge from the ground in 17-year cycles.
Currently, these insects have been popping up from the ground in various parts of the country, such as Delaware, Maryland, Ohio, New York and New Jersey. The last time residents witnessed this group was in 2004.
Although rather large and noisy, the Brood X bugs are completely harmless to humans, feast on tree sap and play an important role in the environment.
"These insects drink tree sap from deep underground, bringing nutrients back to the surface and aerating the soil as they come up from the ground. The (cicada) strategy is to overwhelm anything that could possibly eat it," said Princeton High School teacher, Mark Eastburn.
For those wondering why eat cicadas, or any bugs at all, these students are hoping to change mindsets on how Americans see cuisine.
"People have asked, 'How can this be a sustainable protein if they only come up every 17 years?' It's a valid point, but this is an entry to other species like crickets, mealworms and black soldier fly. Insects and crustaceans are very close relatives, so it's not that large of a shift," said Eastburn.
Entomologists often call cicadas the, '"Shrimp of the Land" or "Tree Shrimp." With cicadas feasting on tree sap, crickets eating chicken feed and mealworms digesting cornmeal, Eastburn argues that these critters are eating clean foods as opposed to lobsters or crabs that are mostly bottom feeders.
However, it's important to note that the Food and Drug Administration tweeted out last week to avoid consuming cicadas if you have a seafood allergy.
The insect-eating club has already hosted a couple of cooking events in Princeton, NJ. To Huan, it's not just about sharing recipes. Edible insects can help preserve the environment.
"With cows and other meats, we not only have to deforest to support these animals, but we have to further deforest to grow crops to feed them. Insects don't have that issue, and take up much less land," said Huan.
For those daring to try cicada dishes, there is a whole cookbook by University of Maryland graduate Jenna Jadin. Originally crafted during the 2004 Brood X emergence, the book is full of recipes from soft-shell to Shanghai-style cuisine.
And for others who may be curious but not ready to jump right in, these New Jersey students suggest cookies or brownies using ground up cicada powder.