July 13, 2024

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The invitation came by email.

Montclair State University invited me to lunch. On the menu: cicadas.


It turns out the university’s assistant professor of anthropology Cortni Borgerson has been marinating, searing, coating, boiling, rolling and slicing bugs ever since she began working on her Ph.D in Madagascar 15 years ago. There she feasted on sakondry, aka the bacon bug, a nutritious (lots of protein) alternative, she and her colleagues hope, will replace consuming critically endangered lemurs in the island nation. 

Dr. Cortni Borgerson, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at New Jersey's Montclair State University, cuts a "sushi roll" containing pan grilled cicadas.

Now she’s in New Jersey, living in Montclair and teaching and studying all about sustainable food sources, environmental health and nutrition — which apparently means bugs.

Insects are, Borgerson said, “twice as rich in protein as beef,” and unlike cattle, lamb and pigs, they don’t negatively impact the environment.  And because it’s finally cicada season in the Northeast, Borgerson is also eating and serving the three-inch-long, red-eyed bug to friends, family and, today — because I’m the food editor of The Record and northjersey.com — me.

No doubt you’ve heard that the Brood X cicadas have started to emerge in New Jersey after living underground for a whopping 17 years.

“It is the biggest periodic cicada emergence in the world,” said Borgerson, a 36-year-old mother of two.  “And the American Northeast is especially blessed.”

"Sushi" containing pan grilled cicadas.

In New Jersey, Brood X cicadas have been seen in Princeton, among other areas in South Jersey; Borgerson said the insects most probably won’t make it to North Jersey due to pesticide use, the great number of trees that have been cut down (trees are cicadas’ bread and butter) and the great amount of development the region has undergone (it’s impossible to dig out through concrete).  

More coverage:Is it a cicada year in NJ? Brood X emerges

So Borgerson went foraging in Princeton, where the cicadas are busy shedding their skin, unfurling their wings, toughening their new skin and looking for a mate (That deafening noise they make is the males’ mating call; they die soon after). There she harvested cicadas for our meal, picking them off trees and gently plopping them into plastic containers. She looked for cicadas in their teneral stage, that is, right after they shed into their adult form and are still pale white. Teneral cicadas, she said, are tastiest. (Those allergic to seafood should not eat them, however.)

Cicadas are low in calories, high in iron and protein.

Back home, she quickly froze them.  

“They’ll last in the freezer for two weeks,” she said. “You shouldn’t leave them out — they’ll spoil, like leaving lobster on the counter.”

Eating cicadas is healthy and has benefits

She is hoping that eating bugs is going to be a normal occurrence for us in the future. It is for more than 2 billion people across the world (ants in China, grasshoppers in Mexico, bee larvae in Vietnam, beetles in the Amazon, crickets in Cambodia and Thailand).