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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Finally, this hour, a different kind of food. Along the East Coast, it is a banner year for cicadas. Many of us recognize that hypnotic buzzing, while others hear this and think - dinner. NPR's Yuki Noguchi has this story on a growing movement of people in the U.S. who believe bugs belong on the menu.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: It's the cusp of summer and Jenna Jadin is preparing cicadas she gathered, then froze.

JENNA JADIN: I have taken them, I have ripped off the wings. They kind of tear off pretty easily. And then broken off all of the legs...

NOGUCHI: Jaden is a foodie and veteran entomologist, that is a bug-eater. She wrote "Cicada-licious," a 2004 cookbook featuring cicada dumplings, tacos and chocolate-covered cicadas.

JADIN: Then rinse them off, get them really clean and make sure all the soil bacteria is off of them.

NOGUCHI: Denuded of their wings and legs, toasted cicadas look a bit more like almonds than red-eyed bugs. And today, Jadin is making candied cicadas with sriracha hot sauce.

JADIN: Now, we kind of have a mess here of brown sugar and sriracha and some cicadas and we're going to pop it into a 350-degree oven for about 20 minutes.

NOGUCHI: And so, we wait. In the U.S., bugs as food are considered novel at best or revolting. But advocates say they have the potential to become a culinary trend and big business. Consider the world's embrace of sushi in recent decades.

PAUL VANTOMME: Thirty years ago in Europe, eating raw fish was a taboo. And now a sushi bar is as common as a McDonald's.

NOGUCHI: That's Paul Vantomme, a senior forestry official for the United Nations agricultural division. He co-authored a report released this month advocating insect consumption. Vantomme, who is based in Rome, loves locusts.

VANTOMME: In the U.S. you have your cicada boom coming.

NOGUCHI: Cicada, cicada, tomato, tomato. Vantomme says food is about cultural perception. For about a third of the world's people, bugs are already a dietary staple, especially in Southeast Asia, Africa and South America. They're high in protein, low in fat, locally harvested and sustainable. Vantomme says as human population growth squeezes the world's resources, insects become a very cheap and appealing supply of protein.

VANTOMME: We always look at insects as a nuisance, as a pest, as a problem. Why not look at them as an opportunity?

NOGUCHI: But regulation lags. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates the consumption of bugs mostly by capping the amount of insect fragments it permits in what we think of as normal foods. In other words, we already eat bugs unwittingly because varying amounts of fruit fly eggs and aphid parts are permitted in foods such as ground cinnamon and tomato sauce.

Dave Gracer runs Small Stock Foods, a Providence, Rhode Island purveyor of edible insects. It's a small business.

DAVE GRACER: The industry is not at a place yet where there are particular regulations regarding the rearing or processing or storing of insects.

NOGUCHI: Though Gracer gets periodic orders from restaurants and hobbyists, he says demand in the U.S. is still quite low.

GRACER: It's sort of a fringe food group, even lunatic fringe for most people.

NOGUCHI: David Hammond, a freelance food writer, argues lunatic fringe is all relative.

DAVID HAMMOND: Cheese is the grossest thing in the world. You know, it's rotten milk. You eat rotten milk? That's disgusting. Well, yeah, we love it.

NOGUCHI: Hammond cooked cicadas when they infested Chicago in 2007.

HAMMOND: My goal was to get them right as they were coming out of the ground, young - veal, if you will.

NOGUCHI: Which brings us back to Jenna Jadin's Washington D.C. apartment where our snack is just emerging from the oven.

JADIN: Sounds like they're done.

NOGUCHI: Finally, with bugs, there's the issue of taste. Cicadas are often described as having a nut-like taste in addition to, of course, being a little crunchy. Jadin and her boyfriend joined me for my first tasting. All right. Here goes. Spicy. It's like caramel. It could be caramel corn if you really persuaded yourself.

Of course, with enough sugar and spice, everything tastes nice. The cicadas are just optional. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.

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