Appetites and diets evolve based on the resources that are most plentiful and accessible. Not every culture has the climate and space to raise chickens or cows, but there's one type of animal that can be found just about anywhere: insects. As such, there are culinary traditions around the world built around bugs you can eat to provide protein and other necessary nutrients
So, what do bugs taste like anyway? Like any ingredient, bugs have a variety of different tastes and textures depending on how they're prepared. In fact, there are many recipes that call for bugs instead of a mammal-based protein or fish. And don't worry: some bugs do taste like chicken.
Diners can snack on giant water bugs from street vendors in Thailand or in fine-dining settings in Denmark. A bit more labor-intensive than other bugs, these insects require the diner to rip off the wings and tear into a hard shell to get to the meat waiting inside.
These water bugs defy comparison to more recognizable flavors. Some people say that the bugs evoke flavors of black licorice, with bodies that have a scrambled egg-esque texture, and heads full of "sour mushy crab." Others liken the flavor to that of watermelon candy and fragrant tropical and citrus fruits, while still more describe it as "salted banana." This complex, aromatic flavor is the key reason why water bug extract is an ingredient often found in Thai sauces.
Historically used in Skuon, Cambodia, as medicine for treating illnesses in the heart, lungs, and throat, the practice of eating tarantulas spread throughout the country as a way to avoid starvation under the Khmer Rouge regime. The regime was destroyed, but the taste for tarantulas never left.
When cooked, tarantulas adopt a range of different flavors and textures. According to some people, the crunchy legs of a tarantula taste like chicken wings when fried. The abdomen is generally tossed aside, as it contains eggs, the heart, and fecal matter, but the meaty head and cephalothorax are said to be a mix of cod and chicken. Be careful how much you eat. Overindulging in the arachnid can lead to spider fur balls in your throat.
Casu Marzu - The Maggot Cheese
Considered the world's most dangerous cheese, casu marzu is a pecorino cheese made in Sardinia, Italy, from sheep's milk that is purposely left susceptible to the infestation of fly larvae, AKA maggots. It is an illegal specialty that has been banned in the European Union for years because of the health hazard presented by feeding people live maggots.
Believed to be an aphrodisiac and a dish traditionally served at weddings, the casu marzu has been described as similar to bleu cheese or gorgonzola. The flavor comes from the fly larvae eating and excreting the cheese while still trapped within the confines of the rind. The maggots must still be alive when eaten or else that's a sign that the cheese has gone bad. So, cheese lovers that wish to try this delicacy should be aware that all of the maggots need to be chewed thoroughly, lest they end up tearing through their intestinal wall.
Stink bugs are well-known in the US for their tendency to invade of homes via any opening they can find. The bugs also happen to be high in fatty essential oils, protein, and amino acids, making them an excellent source of food for countries with populations suffering from malnutrition and hunger. The bugs are said to taste like apples, cinnamon, and iodine, and they also add a cilantro-like flavor to wines.
Stink bugs are popular in Mexico, where they are the main attraction of the Jumil Festival held in Taxco, where attendees harvest the bugs straight out of the nearby woods and eat them alive. They're also a common snack in southern Africa. The bugs are decapitated and emptied of their stink juice before being boiled and left to dry in the sun.