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What Are the Health Benefits of Grasshoppers?

Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on June 03, 2022

The thought of eating insects may be quite uncomfortable for many people. But in many cultures around the world, insects are regularly eaten as food. About a quarter of the world’s population (about 2 billion people) regularly eat insects.

Can You Eat Grasshoppers?

There are over 2,000 species of edible insects. The insect species that are most often eaten are:

  • Beetles
  • Caterpillars
  • Bees
  • Wasps
  • Ants

The practice of eating insects is known as entomophagy. Insects are mostly eaten in countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. A survey of markets in Bangkok, Thailand, found 164 different species of insects being sold as food.

The United Nations has encouraged more people to eat insects. Not just because they’re nutritious and healthy meat alternatives, but also because:

  • Insects produce fewer greenhouse gases than most livestock 
  • Insects need a lot less feed than other animals as they’re more efficient at processing what they eat
  • A lot less land is needed to rear insects
  • Insect rearing is a low-capital and low-tech industry that provides opportunities to the poorest parts of society

Are Grasshoppers Healthy To Eat?

Grasshoppers are popular snacks in parts of Mexico and Central America. There, they’re known as “chapulines.” Grasshoppers have been eaten in Mexico since the mid-16th century.

Grasshoppers are very nutritious. They’re about 40 percent protein, 43 percent fat, and 13 percent dietary fiber. Grasshoppers have higher protein content than many other animal and plant sources like chicken, eggs, and beans.

Grasshoppers have a higher fat content (about 43 percent fat) than meat and fish (less than 22 percent fat content). But the fats from grasshoppers are mostly unsaturated fats.

Studies have found that eating foods high in unsaturated fats can improve your blood cholesterol levels and ease inflammation. Unsaturated fats are usually found in plants, like nuts, avocado, and flax seeds.

Scientists say that insects are also high in various minerals like:

  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Calcium
  • Manganese
  • Magnesium

Insects are also rich in vitamins like:

  • Riboflavin (vitamin B2)
  • Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5)
  • Folic acid
  • Biotin (vitamin B7)

Researchers say that changing what grasshoppers are fed may improve their nutritional value. In a study, grasshoppers that were fed with alfalfa had a 10% increase in essential amino acids compared to those fed with maize.

Are Grasshoppers Safe To Eat?

It’s not easy to get over the idea that insects are dirty and disgusting. Some people think insects are food for people who are starving and struggling to survive. Lobsters and shrimps were once seen as poor people’s food but are today pricey, in-demand foods in western countries. 

In western countries, insects are seen as a kind of novelty food. For example, a popular snack at the home of baseball team Seattle Mariners is toasted grasshoppers seasoned with chili-lime salt. At a Washington D.C. restaurant owned by a celebrity chef,  grasshopper taco is on the menu.

Grasshoppers are safe to eat. But experts recommend that you eat insects that are reared in farms. Grasshoppers reared in farms are given safe, controlled feed. With wild grasshoppers, you don’t know what they’ve fed on.

Insects caught in fields are more likely to have heavy metals or pesticides compared to those caught in forests. Red grasshoppers harvested in Oaxaca, Mexico, have been found to have high concentrations of lead due to the presence of mines nearby. 

Heavy metals like cadmium and lead can accumulate in soil and be absorbed by crops, which are then eaten by grasshoppers. Heavy metals in food can deplete important nutrients in your body. This may result in disabilities linked to malnutrition, and a higher risk of gastrointestinal cancer.

Edible insects harvested in the fields may also have high concentrations of chemicals from pesticides. This may be harmful if you eat a lot of grasshoppers. 

You should remove the feet of grasshoppers before eating them. Grasshoppers have large spines on their shin bones. These spines can catch in your gut and cause blockage in your intestine, requiring surgery. 

For most people, eating insects is unlikely to cause an allergic reaction. But if you have a seafood allergy, you may want to be cautious when eating grasshoppers and other insects that have a hard external covering (exoskeleton) made of chitin. Chitin is a fibrous substance that’s hard for the human body to digest. There’s a possibility that some people may be allergic to chitin.

How To Cook Grasshoppers

You can purchase grasshoppers and other edible insects from online specialty stores. Some say that grasshoppers taste of savory umami, like miso. Others describe it as having a mushroomy, earthy taste. Grasshoppers are crunchy with a chewy and meaty texture.

Experts say that because of the size of insects, they’ll taste of what they’re fed. For instance, if fed with mint leaves, they’ll taste minty.

In Mexican cuisine, grasshoppers are traditionally cooked on a cast-iron griddle. Then it’s seasoned with salt, garlic, lime, and chili. The seasoned “chapulines“ are used as toppings for tacos and Oaxaca-style pizzas called “tlayudas,” or eaten on their own as a bar snack.

In Uganda, grasshoppers are:

  • Sautéed
  • Deep fried
  • Boiled and dried 

In a traditional Japanese dish called “inago,” grasshoppers are boiled in soy sauce and sugar. But many Japanese people today have never tried this dish. 

If eating a whole insect is too scary, it might be easier to try eating insect powder or meal. Researchers are also looking into extracting proteins from insects to supplement food products. But extracting proteins from insects is at present difficult and expensive. More research is needed before it can be applicable and affordable.

Researchers found that people who tried foods made with cricket flour are willing to try other insect products in the future. In a study, 98 university students were each given two unlabeled brownie samples. One was baked with cricket powder and wheat flour, the other used wheat flour. 71 percent of participants preferred the cricket powder brownie, and most of them couldn’t tell which had cricket flour. Many participants said they would likely try other cricket powder products in the future.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Heart Association: “Eating the right insects can provide nutrition … and might be good for the planet.”

CyTA - Journal of Food: “Nutritional content of edible grasshopper (Sphenarium purpurascens) fed on alfalfa (Medicago sativa) and maize (Zea mays).”

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: “Edible insects: Future prospects for food and feed security.”

Food Science & Nutrition: “Nutritional composition, quality, and shelf stability of processed Ruspolia nitidula (edible grasshoppers).”

Food Science of Animal Resources: “Edible Insects as a Protein Source: A Review of Public Perception, Processing Technology, andResearch Trends.”

Frontiers in Nutrition: “Benefits and Challenges in the Incorporation of Insects in Food Products.”

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: “Types of Fat.”

Institute of Culinary Education: “Bugs Are Sustainable: Why Bugs Are Important for Our Future,” “Exploring the Flavor Profiles of Bugs,” “The History of Chapulines.”

Journal of Insect Science: “University Student Perspectives of Entomophagy: Positive Attitudes Lead to Observability and Education Opportunities.”

NFS Journal: “Nutritional and sensory quality of edible insects.”

Scientia Agricola: “Heavy metals in vegetables and potential risk for human health.”

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