Should Missouri ban insect ice cream?

A Midwestern sweets shop makes a splash with its cicada-flavored dessert... until the health department squashes the initiative

(Image credit: CC BY: baka_san)

Sparky's Homemade Ice Cream, a frozen treat shop in Columbia, Missouri, had just begun selling an inventive (and surprisingly popular) insect concoction — cicada-flavored ice cream — when a health department official asked it to stop. What inspired Sparky's to create this sweet, buggy dessert, and why have officials soured on it? Here, a brief guide:

What are cicadas?

Flying insects best known for creating "a whole lot of noise," says Matthew Hathaway at St. Louis Today. Hatched in trees, cicadas live among the leaves until they're mature adults, a 13-year process for Missouri's cicadas. At that point, they emerge to mate, a process that (thanks to the males) creates a "racket loud enough to disrupt outdoor events and make napping with open windows impossible." The cacophonous courtship lasts six months, after which females lay their eggs in trees, and... die. "If enough of [their corpses] pile up, they begin to stink."

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So the folks at Sparky's turned dead bugs into ice cream?

Yep. Sparky's employees collected the "bountiful bugs" piling up in their backyards, removed most of the wings, but saved a few to give the ice cream "a satisfying crunch," says David W. Freeman at CBS News. They boiled the cicadas, rolled them in brown sugar and milk chocolate, and then blended the candied insects into a brown sugar and butter flavored ice cream base. "We always try to push the limit," says Sparky's manager Ashley Nagel, as quoted by the Missourian.

And people ate this ice cream?

Happily. Reportedly, the bugs tasted like peanuts. Though, Sparky's only made one batch initially, once word got out, the store was "bombarded" with customers eager to eat the now-notoriously delicious insects.

But was the product safe?

Both edible and healthy, cicadas are "high in protein, low in fat, [with] no carbs," says biologist and cicada expert Gene Kritsky, as quoted by National Geographic. Many global cultures from China to Latin America nosh on cicadas. Daring American foodies dip them in chocolate, mix them in a stir fry, and even top pepperoni pizzas with the insects.

So why does Sparky's have to cease and desist?

After its first batch of cicada ice cream sold out, Sparky's contacted the local health department on its own. The department's food code, unsurprisingly, failed to specify the appropriate temperature for cooking cicadas and officials were compelled to recommend that Sparky's opt out of the insect cuisine business. (It's also possible that the bugs carried pesticide residue.) The ice cream shop obliged.

Sources: Wisegeek, St. Louis Today, CBS News, Missourian (2), Associated Press, National Geographic

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