A fast food chain in northern Thailand doesn't have french fries on the menu. Instead, diners at a restaurant called Insects Inter choose from a selection of fried insects. One popular item is wormlike larvae, or the immature stage of an insect.
The thought of snacking on insects might make you squirm, but roughly 80 percent of the world's population practices entomophagy, or the eating of insects. In many cultures, the organisms are considered a delicacy. Japanese menus sometimes feature fried grasshoppers. And companies in Mexico pack bees in cans filled with syrup and export them to Europe and the United States as a gourmet food.
Just like the more familiar animal meats chicken and beef, insects provide valuable nutrients. Bugs' bodies contain minerals such as calcium and iron. Plus, insects are packed with protein, an Important body-building nutrient. "The protein content is quite high in a lot of Insects," says Tom Turpin, an entomologist who studies Insects at Purdue University in Indiana.
Like the snack in the photo above, Insect entrees are often made from larvae. That's because larvae don't have as much hard outer exoskeleton material as adult forms. "[Exoskeletons] contain the protein chitin, which is not highly digestible," says Turpin.
As for the taste, most insects are cooked with spices or flavorful sauces. "Like anything else, they taste like how they are prepared," says Turpin. Eaten plain, he says, "most of them have a bit of a nutty flavor."
But don't start munching on bugs from your backyard, warn experts: Insects that live close to human populations may contain toxic pesticides.