By Jeanne Church
I had never given much thought to grasshoppers over the years. I knew that they could do a significant amount of damage to crops, that some people liked to eat them, and that they were fun to catch when we were kids. Other than that, I was relatively clueless — until a few weeks ago.
I was out taking pictures on a warm October day, hoping to find a few late-season butterflies or dragonflies, or maybe even one last praying mantis; but all I saw were tons of grasshoppers catapulting themselves everywhere. It got me thinking: Where will all those grasshoppers go in the wintertime? Why do some people like to eat them? How long have grasshoppers been around? Once I started down that rabbit hole of questions, I could not turn back!
I was surprised to learn that there are at least 18,000 different species of grasshoppers in the world, that they have been with us for more than 300 million years, and that you can find them on every single continent except Antarctica.
Most of the grasshoppers we see bouncing around in the warmer months will die off by the time our cold weather sets in. They will have made plans for the future, though, by laying eggs in the ground that will survive the winter and burst forth in the spring or summer to start the whole process all over again.
Some grasshoppers will pack up and leave long before the snow flies! These migratory grasshoppers travel long distances to warmer areas in search of food. They often travel in huge swarms consisting of millions, or even billions, of grasshoppers, some of whom can remain airborne for as long as three days without ever landing!
Even though grasshoppers are considered huge agricultural pests, they are also an important food source for billions of people. Almost one-fourth of the world’s population regularly eats insects. Entomaphagy, or insect consumption, has been practiced for more than 5 million years and is most commonly seen in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. It is slowly catching on in other parts of the world, though, including the United States. But why??
Apparently, grasshoppers are very nutritious, consisting of 40 percent protein, 43 percent fat, and 13 percent dietary fiber. They have a higher protein content than many other animal and plant sources, have a higher fat content (mostly unsaturated), than meat or fish, and are a rich source of calcium, magnesium and zinc. I had no idea!
The United Nations has been encouraging more people to eat insects, not just because they’re a nutritious and healthy meat alternative, but because they produce fewer greenhouse gases than most livestock, need less food and less space to raise, and could provide a sustainable livelihood for many people who are now struggling to raise cattle or crops in rapidly changing climatic conditions.
For many people, myself included, the idea of eating grasshoppers or other kinds of insects seems just a bit revolting, but I like to keep an open mind. Perhaps I’ll start by making a tasty batch of cookies using grasshopper flour!
Hargol FoodTech, the first company to produce large quantities of grasshoppers for human consumption, is now selling its products to manufacturers in the United States. Grasshopper flour is currently their main product, but they hope to sell whole grasshoppers in the near future.
In Seattle, Washington, the future is already here! For the last four years, one of the best-selling concession items at the Mariners’ baseball games has been the “chapulines” or toasted grasshoppers served in a four-ounce cup with a savory chili-lime salt seasoning!
Picture walks: Grasshoppers, anyone?
By Jeanne Church