2010.08.11 Breakfast with the Ants

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

Are you familiar with the popular children’s food known as Ants on a Log? It’s a good way to get a kid to eat some vegetable with a little fruit thrown in (raisins) along with a healthy dose of protein (peanut butter). The log is a stick of celery.

That’s as close as I’ve come to eating ants—until a few days ago.

There’s a word for the practice of eating insects as food source: entomophagy. You might have a different word, but it’s nothing unusual in many cultures. In some parts of the world, you can find food vendors with stalls full of a variety of six-legged creatures.

Acutally, we all eat a lot of small insects and insect parts every day without even knowing it. The USDA even has charts of what’s permissible:

Canned sweet corn: 2 or more 3 mm or longer larvae, cast skins, larval or cast skin fragments...in 24 pounds. Wheat flour: Average of 150 or more insect fragments per 100 grams. Peanut butter, beer, cinnamon, etc. It’s no big deal. Insects are so numerous, it’s hard to avoid contact.

It’s ants that are of interest to me at the moment. I came across this recipe for chocolate covered ants. I don’t intend to try it, but I love the sense of humor behind it:

CHOCOLATE COVERED ANTS

Yield: 6 servings

1,742 large Ants, (if they are small, use 2,044)

3 c  Melted chocolate

Catch ants at a picnic site and keep them in a glass jar to which you have added a teaspoon of sugar to keep them happy. (Unhappy ants are liable to go sour before processing.)  At home, pick up each ant with tweezers and remove entrails with a small, very sharp knife edge. This will take about 400 hours. If you are in a hurry, eliminate this step; you’ll never know the difference.

Dip each ant into melted chocolate and place to drain on waxed paper. If any of them are still able to crawl off the paper, let them go—be a good sport!

I also located some information on eating ants in the wild as a means of survival. The hint comes from Survivor Man:

1. Find an ant hill, old rotting log, or other place swarming with ants. You will need very many.

2. Lick the entire length of a stick very well. If you don’t have enough saliva, you may want to use some water. If you are really desperate, you may use some of your own urine.

3. Move the dirt away for the ant hill. Slowly insert your stick into the ground and pull out quickly.

4. Close your eyes and slide the stick through your mouth. Eat quickly, you don't want those little suckers biting you real badly.

5. Do this repeatedly, until you feel yourself satisfied. Remember, this takes guts, but some day you may come to enjoy ants as a little treat!

I wonder if Survivor Man has reached that stage of eating enlightenment.

In an exchange with readers, Survivor Man cautioned against eating red ants without first sautéing. He said any ant might bite your tongue. It stings a little at first, he added, but you get used to it.

I wrote recently about the tiny, tiny ants we’ve had. I bought a little bottle of Terro  poison and at first the ants lined up like it was a feeding trough. Then they started ignoring it, as though the word got out: Don’t touch that stuff. Tasty but lethal.

That was a couple of weeks ago, at least, and at first it didn’t seem to be effective, but I haven’t seen any of those little critters around recently. Maybe  chemical warfare did eliminate the nest but not before they pulled a good one on me.

I was eating corn chips from a bag a while back and learned this lesson: Do not eat from a bag. Give yourself a serving. At one point I looked into the bag and saw them happily at work. They’re very fond of corn chips.

I believe that was the day I went to Johnson’s Hardware for the Terro. It was a day or two later that I opened a new package of Bob’s Red Mill Mighty Tasty Hot Cereal. I removed a scoop for breakfast and tightly closed it up.

The next morning I opened it again and the tiny ants were also having breakfast. I wasn’t about to throw a new bag away. Into the freezer it went.

In their frozen state the little things don’t even show up, and besides, the USDA standards allow for 10 in a bowl of cereal. It doesn’t even sting if you don’t think about it.

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