People are eating cicadas. Here's how to do it safely.

Cicadas have a nutty flavor and a shrimp-like texture once out of their shell.
Cicadas have a nutty flavor and a shrimp-like texture once out of their shell. (Getty Images)

Cicadas are all the buzz right now. That’s because trillions — yes, trillions — of these noisy insects have been surfacing across the country thanks to a rare double brood that’s emerging from the ground at the same time. It’s something that hasn’t happened in 221 years.

While reactions to the abundant insects range from creeped out to curious, some view them as a tasty snack. But are cicadas safe to eat? Can you just pluck one off a tree and pop it in your mouth? And what happens if your dog gobbles up a bunch? Here’s what you need to know.

Although it’s always a good idea to check with your health care provider first, experts say it’s safe for people to eat these insects. “In fact, cicadas have been consumed by various cultures around the world for centuries,” Luis Rustveld, an assistant professor of family and community medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life. “They are considered a nutritious and sustainable source of protein.”

And in case you’re wondering, they don’t taste like chicken; instead, they’re often described as having a nutty flavor and a shrimp-like texture once they’re out of their shell.

Before you dive in, however, a few caveats. Rustveld urges that you make sure that the cicadas have been harvested from a pesticide-free area to avoid consuming harmful chemicals, and then properly prepared. Beth Czerwony, a dietitian with the Cleveland Clinic Center for Human Nutrition, tells Yahoo Life that you want to avoid taking them from areas that are heavily trafficked — “think oils, brake fluid, gasoline from cars,” she says — or areas that have a high level of fertilizer use.

Rustveld recommends cooking the cicadas to eliminate any potential pathogens. And if you’re not cooking them right away, wash them thoroughly — they have been underground for 13 to 17 years, after all — before blanching them in boiling water for at least one minute and then freezing them.

Also worth noting: Cicadas are related to shellfish, so anyone allergic to foods like shrimp, crab and lobster should avoid consuming them. “Cicadas, like other insects, share similar proteins with shellfish, such as tropomyosin, which is a common allergen,” explains Rustveld. “This can cause cross-reactivity, meaning that people who are allergic to shellfish might also have an allergic reaction to cicadas.” (Those with dust mite allergies should avoid eating them as well.)

Cicada shells themselves, however, don’t contain that allergen, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

Keri Gans, nutritionist and author of The Small Change Diet, tells Yahoo Life that cicadas have also been found to be high in mercury. “Women who are pregnant or lactating, and young children should limit mercury in their diet,” she says.

Cicadas are generally not toxic to dogs, but there are some things pet owners should keep in mind before allowing your dog to munch on them — namely, eating a large number of cicadas can cause digestive upset, including vomiting, diarrhea or gastrointestinal discomfort due to their hard exoskeleton, says Rustveld. “The exoskeleton and wings can pose a choking risk, especially for smaller dogs or those who do not chew their food well,” he adds.

Also, if cicadas have been exposed to pesticides, Rustveld says the insects could be harmful to dogs if ingested.

Like many edible insects, cicadas are rich in nutrients. “For example, they are a good source of protein and are low in fat,” says Rustveld. Cicadas have more protein (21.4 grams per every 100 grams) and less fat than pork or eggs.

They also contain B vitamins and minerals such as iron, niacin, zinc and magnesium, as well as chitin, a type of fiber found in the exoskeleton of insects. “While chitin is not digestible by humans, it can have some benefits to gut health,” he says.

Baby cicadas, or nymphs, have “the highest levels of tocopherols and polyphenols — antioxidants shown to help prevent diseases such as cancer and heart disease and improve immune function,” adds Czerwony.

While some people might be tempted — or dared — to simply snatch cicadas right off of a tree and eat them raw, it’s not recommended. “It may look adventurous to pull off a tree, but if you also want to be smart, cook them before popping them in your mouth,” says Gans. That’s because cicadas have a high probability of carrying parasites, bacteria and viruses, says Czerwony. But boiling, frying or sautéing them will kill the contaminants and reduce the risk of food-borne illness.

If cicadas have been exposed to pesticides or other chemicals, cooking can also help reduce the risk — although it’s still best to collect cicadas from pesticide-free areas, says Rustveld. Cooking cicadas not only helps ensure that they’re safe to eat, it also “enhances their flavor, making them more palatable.”

Curious to try them yourself? There is no shortage of cicada recipes online — from spicy popcorn cicadas to cicada stir fry — along with cookbooks dedicated to them, including Cooking with Cicadas by R. Scott Frothingham and The Cicada Cookbook by Chris Royal. As one expert, Tad Yankoski, an entomologist at the Missouri Botanical Garden, told the New York Times: “Pretty much anything you can make with shrimp, you can make with cicadas.”

But not everyone is a fan of consuming these insects, most notably cicada expert Chris Simon, senior research scientist in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut. She tells Yahoo Life: “I feel sorry for them, so I don’t like to eat them after they have waited so long to become adults.”