Not only are most grasshoppers edible, they are higher in protein than meat, on a weight for weight basis. In fact, grasshoppers are enjoyed in cuisines all over the world. Next to ants, they are the most popular edible insect.
At one time, Native Americans in the Rocky Mountains ate them, and they are still eaten in Asia, New Guinea, Africa, the Middle East, and Mexico, for example.
Edible Grasshoppers are Plainly Colored
There is a general rule about edible grasshoppers. Since they are so edible, they tend to be plainly colored, so that they blend into the environment and do not stand out to potential predators.
Not only do many humans eat grasshoppers, after all, but so do snakes, spiders, birds, beetles, and many other hungry predators. Hiding in plain sight is a main mode of protection. If they are detected, they will jump away in a very sudden and powerful motion, which not only helps them escape but can startle a predator just long enough to give the grasshopper a fighting chance.
If you ever tried to catch a grasshopper as a child, you may have been caught off guard by just such a sudden leap.
When you see a brightly colored grasshopper, you have encountered one that uses quite a different strategy. The bright colors are like an advertisement. Except, in this case, the ad reads “You don’t want to eat me, I’m poisonous.”
This type of coloring is called aposematic, which refers to bright and highly conspicuous markings on certain animals that either taste very bad, or are poisonous. The coloring evolved as a warning to predators. It makes sense if you think about it. Being poisonous to eat won’t do you a bit of good if your enemy doesn’t know you’re poisonous.
Poisonous Grasshoppers are Brightly Colored
Poisonous grasshoppers sometimes have toxic alkaloids in their blood that will make them either extremely bitter to eat, deadly, or both. Unlike their fast and plain cousins, these guys are sluggards. They tend to move slowly. Again, this makes sense as a defense. Fast movements can trigger a prey response. Moving slowly allows their colors to be seen so they are not gobbled up by mistake.
So, if you see a bright and colorful grasshopper, you’ve probably countered one that is not very edible. These may be toxic to eat.
Eastern Lubber Grasshopper
An example from the United States that is toxic to humans, but not deadly, is the Eastern Lubber shown below. This pretty looking grasshopper will not hide! Eastern Lubbers are huge (up to 3 inches long) and flashy and won’t bother trying to blend into some grass like the fellow seen above. They are aposematic grasshoppers are quite poisonous. They won’t kill a human but they can kill a small bird or mammal. Larger animals will become violently ill and get quite a stomach ache…so if a larger bird eats one, the grasshopper may be dead but his cousin will be safe from that particular bird.
They aren’t as graceful as their plainer cousins. This is where they get the name lubber, in fact, meaning, more or less ‘clumsy’ as in ‘land-lubber.’ Their wings are just nubbins so they don’t fly, and although they can jump, they seem to be just jumping around at random with no control.
Some species, like the Eastern Lubber above, will exude a toxic foam from their bodies when handled or attacked. The Eastern Lubber also exudes brown scum from their mouths that is somewhat like tobacco spit.
Toxins are not the only potential danger in eating grasshoppers. They can carry roundworms. Thorough cooking should mitigate the danger, and as such, grasshoppers cannot be said to be much different than pork and other animals that we eat. However, before you decide to give up your popcorn for big bowls of grasshoppers, make sure you know what you’re doing.
Are Locusts Edible?
Locusts are simply grasshoppers that are in a swarming phase. Specifically, they are certain species of “short horned grasshoppers” that are usually loners, but sometimes, when conditions are right, start to breed like there is no tomorrow and swarm in huge numbers, causing the type of thing people call a “plague of locusts.” See more about locusts.
Since grasshoppers are edible, locusts are too, and although swarms of locusts, which cause great devastation to crops, are not as common today, in the past, even while they were eating all the crops, they provided a source of food. Some biblical scholars even believe that the “manna” from heaven that God gave to the wandering Israelites were actually locusts, but the evidence doesn’t really fit. And, yes, eating grasshoppers and locusts goes back at least that far.
Leviticus 11:22 list grasshoppers among the four insects permissible to eat:
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.
John the Baptist is reported as eating locusts and wild honey.
Unless we suppose that locusts were not grasshoppers in biblical times, this means that grasshoppers were actually three out of the four. It is ironic since many suppose that the reason pork was seen as unclean is because of the danger of pork transmitting roundworm infection, such as trichinosis, to humans, and grasshoppers can harbor quite a load of these parasites.
How are Grasshoppers Prepared?
Grasshoppers are generally fried, or boiled and then fried, with flavorings and other ingredients added according to the local taste. They are also roasted or smoked, cooking in soups or stews, and dried and ground into a flour to make bread.
In Oaxaca, Mexico, where they are called chapulines, they are boiled, dried, and then toasted with lime, salt and chili and used as a main ingredient in other preparations, or in tacos, etc.
In Thailand, there is a favorite snack called gai sam yang, with grasshoppers, chilies, peanuts, shallots, ginger, and lemongrass.
See also Are Earthworms Edible?