top of page

The Great Cicada Emergence of 2024

Updated: May 21

A Culinary Phenomenon 17 Years in the Making


In the culinary world, we're always seeking out the most exquisite, ephemeral ingredients - those treasures of the earth that appear for just a fleeting moment before vanishing again. Every spring brings its share of these delicacies, from the first tender asparagus spears to sweet, delicate peas and fiddlehead ferns. But in 2024, nature has something truly extraordinary in store: the reemergence of the 17-year cicadas.


This spring, trillions of cicadas will burst forth from the soil across the eastern United States as the 17-year Brood XIII makes its long-awaited appearance, emerging in sync with the 13-year Brood XIX for the first time since 1803. We are captivated by the culinary potential presented by this rare phenomenon. Cicadas, you see, are not just a wonder of the natural world - they're also a nutritious and sustainable source of protein.


With a light, delicate flavor and a satisfying crunch, cicadas lend themselves beautifully to a variety of preparations. At their tender, just-molted stage, they can be marinated and grilled, sautéed with aromatics, or even used as a garnish, adding a playful visual element to salads and canapés. The more adventurous cook might try battering and deep-frying them for a crispy treat, or grinding them into a nutty, earthy flour to add a protein boost to baked goods.


Of course, cooking with cicadas does require some finesse. It's crucial to harvest them just after emerging, while their shells are still soft and before their wings have unfurled. And as with any ingredient, freshness is paramount. Cicadas are best used the day they're collected, or carefully frozen to preserve their delicate flavor and texture.


When cooking with cicadas, we like to pair them with the bright, assertive flavors of springtime - ramps, green garlic, citrus and tender herbs. A simple sauté of cicadas with butter, lemon and garlic is a revelation, the subtle nuttiness of the insects melding gorgeously with the alliums and citrus. Grilled and tossed with a vibrant salsa verde, they make a stunning taco filling. And we'll never forget a years ago in Mexico, where cicadas were used to garnish a silky, floral corn soup - an exquisite expression of the season.





Cicada Tacos


Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of young cicadas (collected just after molting)

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • 1 clove garlic, minced

  • 1 teaspoon chili powder

  • 1 teaspoon cumin

  • Salt and pepper to taste

  • Corn tortillas

  • Fresh cilantro, chopped

  • Lime wedges

  • Salsa and avocado for topping


Instructions:

1. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant.

2. Add the cicadas to the skillet, stirring frequently. Cook for about 5-7 minutes until they are crispy.

3. Season with chili powder, cumin, salt, and pepper.

4. Warm the corn tortillas in a separate pan.

5. Serve the cooked cicadas in the tortillas, topping with fresh cilantro, a squeeze of lime, and your favorite salsa and avocado.


But while we're endlessly excited by the culinary possibilities presented by the cicada emergence, it's important to remember the vital ecological role these insects play. Cicadas aerate the soil as they emerge, while their bodies provide a vital source of food for countless birds, mammals and fish. It's a reminder that even the humblest creatures have their part in the grand symbiosis of the natural world.


And though home cooks may be eager to take advantage of this rare bounty, cicada harvesting should always be done sustainably and with the utmost respect for the insects' life cycle. After all, it will be another 17 years before Brood XIII emerges again - a span that feels like an eternity in our ephemeral world. So let us appreciate this extraordinary natural phenomenon while we can, both as a culinary opportunity and a powerful reminder of nature's elegant mysteries. And if you do decide to venture a taste of these captivating creatures, cook them simply and with care, in a spirit of celebration and reverence. After all, a single bite contains within it 17 years of nature's patient work.


The 17-year and 13-year cicada broods will emerge this spring after developing underground since 2007 and 2011, respectively. This dual emergence, which will blanket the Midwest and eastern U.S. with trillions of the red-eyed insects, is an event that hasn't occurred for 221 years. While annual cicadas appear every summer, periodical cicadas emerge in 13- or 17-year cycles, syncing up to form dense swarms for a brief frenzy of mating and egg-laying before dying off.


Such a rare and wondrous occurrence is not just a boon for the culinarily adventurous, but an unmatched opportunity for scientific study. Researchers will be closely observing the insects' mass emergence, a survival strategy that overwhelms predators with sheer numbers, ensuring that enough cicadas survive to reproduce. Entomologists and ecologists will track the cicadas' distribution, behavior and ecological impact, gleaning valuable insights into their long-shrouded subterranean lives and the evolutionary origins of this stunning natural phenomenon.


While cicadas pose no danger to humans, their staggering numbers may generate some nuisance, as the males' mating calls can reach 100 decibels - a raucous soundtrack to the season. Fortunately, the disturbance is short-lived, as the adult cicadas die off within a few weeks of emerging. Their offspring then burrow into the earth to begin the cycle anew, not to see the light of day until 2037 and 2041. And so the ancient rhythm endures, a testament to nature's infinite patience and staggering grandeur. Here in 2024, we are blessed with the chance to witness this rare marvel - and perhaps even to taste its strange, magnificent secrets, if only for a fleeting spring moment.

Comments


bottom of page