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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Cicada Cuisine

Air Date: Week of

This is a forbidden rice bowl filled with wild rice at the bottom, fresh seasonal vegetables, cricket ramp kimchi and nymph brood X cicadas at the top. (Photo: Brooklyn Bugs)

Eating cicadas isn’t just for the birds: they’re also perfectly edible for humans. In fact, insects are rich in proteins and nutrients while having a much smaller carbon footprint than meat. Joseph Yoon is a chef and founder of Brooklyn Bugs, which specializes in insect cuisine. He joins Host Bobby Bascomb to show how to cook a Forbidden Rice Bowl that features seasonal spring produce and, of course, cicadas.


BASCOMB: Well, eating cicadas isn’t just for the birds. They are also perfectly edible for humans. With a soft body and thin exoskeleton they are actually quite similar to shrimp, so similar in fact that people with shrimp allergies are often allergic to cicadas as well. To get some ideas for how to cook cicadas we called up edible insect advocate Joseph Yoon. He says pound for pound most insects offer more protein and nutrients than meat. They require far less food and water than raising livestock and they produce a tiny fraction of the amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Joseph is a chef and founder of Brooklyn Bugs, which specializes in insect cuisine. And since cicadas are plentiful now he’s cooking some up for us in his home kitchen.

YOON: Right now is the nymph season. And these guys are just a delicacy. When you open them, they've been gorging on tree and plant sap for 17 years. So they're just full of fat and muscle tissue. So a lot of people think that, oh, insects are all crunchy and stuff, but these are actually really juicy with a very thin layer of exoskeleton. So it's really a delicacy and I think that one of the things with the idea of eating insects is that people don't know what it tastes like and so they automatically think it's going to taste gross. And so I just really try to encourage people to keep an open mind because some insects are really just so neutral in flavor and will absorb so much of the flavor that you cook it in. So if you were to cook with aromatics, and add onions and garlic and ginger and peppers a lot of times that's what's gonna taste like with the little umami, earthy nuttiness that the insects will have as well. And you know, it's so wild because there are over 2,000 types of edible insects with wildly different flavors, different textures, and also just different functionality in the kitchen. So there's just, it's like wow! So many incredible ingredients and things to work with.

The ingredients for the forbidden rice bowl: (starting from top left, half an onion, cicada nymphs, carrots, garlic, asparagus, cricket ramp kimchi, chili pepper, gochu pepper, chrysanthemum, kennip and minari. (Photo: Brooklyn Bugs)

BASCOMB: Well, I understand that you are going to cook something for us today. What do you have planned?

YOON: Well, because the cicadas are such a spring specialty that only happens once in 17 years I thought it would be really awesome to create a forbidden rice bowl with brood X cicada nymphs. So we want to build a lot of flavor and so what we have is half an onion, some carrots and garlic, asparagus, red peppers, and so these will be fried up along with the cicada nymphs and bring a ton of flavor to it. This is a specialty from the summertime or for the springtime and this is cricket ramp kimchi that I made. I have a chili pepper and also a Korean gochu pepper, perilla leaves, minari and also some chrysanthemum.


YOON: So with the forbidden rice, the beautiful thing about this sort of black rice is that it has a lot more nutrients and it has this like incredible, nutty and fruity flavor to it and notes to it. It's just really so beautiful, the flavor that that it packs in there.

BASCOMB: Yeah, you can't go wrong there.

YOON: Alright, I'm just gonna start by cutting an onion here. [CHOPPING] I already chopped the asparagus and the carrots and now I'm going to chop up some of these peppers. This is a Korean gochu pepper. [CHOPPING] Now that we have everything all chopped up, we're going to get our pan hot at about a medium high. And we're going to add some vegetable oil and then start adding a lot of the aromatics and start building some flavor.

BASCOMB: Alright, so what do you need to add first?

YOON: We’re gonna start with some onions. [SIZZLING] All right, sounds good. Next, we're gonna add the carrots and garlic. You guys want all the peppers are only some of them.

BASCOMB: Yeah, let's do all of them. Why not? [SIZZLING]

YOON: All of them! So we're letting the onions caramelize little bit we're not getting caramelized onions but we just want to get some caramelization and bring out the natural sugars. The carrots are also sweating down. The peppers are adding this like, the smell of it is just intoxicating for me, I just absolutely love it. So let me just mix it around and let's go ahead and add the asparagus and red peppers. Salt and pepper. Alright, so let's go ahead and add the cicadas. I'm going to create a little pocket here add a little oil so we could get some good sizzle sounds for the cicadas. [SIZZLING]

BASCOMB: Alright in they go then.

YOON: So with the ramp kimchi, because it's like these long strands of ramp that I have here. I'm going to just cut them up into bite sizes so that they will work well. I'm just gonna go ahead and use a scissor. It's a very Korean thing. There's no Korean mom that I know that does not use use a pair of scissors in the kitchen. I'm not a Korean Mom. [LAUGH]

BASCOMB: But you probably learned from a Korean mom.

YOON: I sure did, yeah. I credit my mom for the best qualities that I have and for any ones that may not be as good, I blame myself for not not listening to her. Really, she's the best.


YOON: Okay, so let's get ready to plate up. What I'm going to do now I'm going to just start layering the chrysanthemum greens on like a third of the bowl. I'm going to put the minari on like another third of the bowl, and the perilla leaves on another third of the bowl. So I like the idea that we're also like hiding the forbidden rice, and it like lies underneath. And I'm going to surround this all with the cricket ramp kimchi. So I use cricket powder to thicken the kimchi paste instead of using a glutinous rice flour.


YOON: And so it adds both flavor and serves a wonderful function. Let's give it a taste test and make sure this is up to snuff here.

BASCOMB: Sounds great.

YOON: I’m gonna get some of the greens looks like I got two cicadas in here. Some of the veggies some of the kimchi a little bit of everything. Bug appétit guys!

BASCOMB: Mm hmm. What's the verdict?

YOON: It’s just so beautiful. Everything is so harmoniously balanced. It's a very special dish. And I'm so grateful to be able to share it with you guys.

BASCOMB: What I love about this too, is it's it's not only using cicadas which is maybe an unusual ingredient but something that's so abundant right now just this one specific time it's so abundant they're everywhere if you're in the right place, but it's also using, you know, asparagus which is in season this time of year and all of these unique greens which you could presumably forage for, you know, find them in specialty markets and that sort of thing. It's really you know, a celebration of the season and celebration of life in a way.

Chef Joseph Yoon is an entrepreneur, edible insect advocate and founder of Brooklyn Bugs. (Photo: Courtesy of Build Series New York City)

YOON: Yeah and it really is a celebration and I hold such a great value to the cicadas lives, the sanctity of their lives. So it's not something that I do flippantly in collecting them for some novelty, but we are really trying to find solutions for how we can reinterpret reimagine reunderstand insect protein. And so this presents like a wonderful opportunity for me and so I am just so grateful for me to be able to share this with your audience. Thank you so much.

BASCOMB: Joseph Yoon is an edible insect advocate and founder of Brooklyn Bugs. And by the way, if you find yourself inundated with cicadas about now but fresh out of cricket kimchi, Joseph says you can start by simply adding cicadas to any dish you already enjoy like pasta sauce, cook them up in a stir fry, or add them to a casserole.



Learn More about Brood 10

Thrillist | “What to Know About Cooking Cicadas Before Brood X Emerges in Your Backyard”

Learn more about Brooklyn Bugs

Follow Brooklyn bugs social media accounts

The Conversation | “Eating Insects Is Good for You and the Planet!”


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