Yes, ants are edible. While most won’t consider them as food, ants are actually eaten by humans in many parts of the world. Known for their accessibility, nutritional value, and culinary versatility, ants are consumed as snacks, condiments, and even as part of main dishes.
In this article we’ll look into the different ways ants are consumed, the benefits and risks of consuming ants, and finally, we’ll end with a list of three of the most popular edible ants you may want to try.
How Do People Eat Ants?
Ants can be eaten and served in a variety of ways, and that goes for both adult ants and larvae. In some countries for example, they’re simply eaten raw, whereas in some they’d require a bit more preparation.
For example, in Australia, specialized worker ants called honey ants are considered to be tasty delicacies. These ants, characterized by enlarged abdomens filled with nectar, produce a sweet taste befitting of their name. They’re eaten raw and typically fresh from digging but may also be stored and used as ingredients for desserts.
Ants, of course, can also be eaten cooked. For instance, in South American countries, ants are either eaten as roasted or fried snacks. Sometimes they’re also ground and used as condiments to add flavors to different dishes.
Similar things occur in India and Asia, where ants and their larvae may be boiled, mixed-in with spices, or used as condiments to enhance flavor. What more, in Thailand, ants and their eggs are stir-fried or used in salads. But what’s probably most interesting is the fact that they sell ant queens and eggs in cans as dehydrated or preserved food.
Benefits Of Eating Ants
Considering how many people eat ants, you just can’t help but wonder what exactly is good about them? Well, as it turns out there are quite a few considerable reasons why people eat them. They are as follows:
- Taste. Believe it or not, ants actually taste good, well at least the commonly edible ones do. The aforementioned honey ants for example, have been described to produce a sweeter taste than traditional honey. There are also the weaver ants which produce a sweet and sour taste similar to citrus fruits.
- Nutrition. Ants pack quite the nutritional punch. They’re energy dense foods which provide protein, fiber, and a number of different minerals such as iron, zinc, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus. Because of this, ants are, especially in countries which practice their consumption, considered as a sustainable and environmentally friendly alternative to animal-based protein.
- Survival. Due to their nutritional content, ants work great for survival situations. In fact, a 62 year old grandfather miraculously survived being lost for six days in the dry Australian wilderness by eating ants. This has garnered him the nickname “Ant Man”, and he has been quoted saying that the ants he consumed tasted quite good.
- Antioxidants. Research has found that ants have comparable antioxidant properties to that of orange juice. This suggests the possibility of ants preventing the onset of certain medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. That said, further research is needed to conclude whether or not ants do in fact contribute to modulating oxidative stress in humans.
- Medicinal Use. In some cultures, ants are consumed for medicinal purposes. Some tribes, for example, believe that consumption of red weaver ants may help cure several diseases. And while that may sound unlikely to many, research has found that red weaver ants do in fact have antimicrobial properties which work against pathogens like Shigella and E.coli. Chinese research has also found substances in certain ant species that may possibly fight arthritis, hepatitis, and other diseases.
Risks Of Eating Ants
While consuming ants may provide a number of benefits, they also present several risks. For example, those allergic to shrimp, shellfish, and chocolates are highly discouraged from consuming ants, as they may also trigger an allergic reaction.
Ants may also sometimes carry certain pathogens and thus, their consumption may end up causing disease. Research, for instance, has revealed that some ants contain fecal contaminants and pathogens like E.coli, Salmonella, and Shigella.
Lastly, there’s always the risk of bites and stings which may also lead to allergic reaction.
Should You Eat Ants?
If you’re up to the challenge, and you want to try a different experience, then why not? The consumption of ants isn’t as weird or uncommon as we think. Many cultures have considered ants as food for many years, and as we’ve discussed they taste quite good and provide a number of benefits.
Just keep in mind that they also present some risks. So if you do decide to try them out, make sure that you’re clear of the aforementioned allergies, or at the very least prepared to respond to any possible reaction. Also, try to avoid those with stingers, and if you do choose to eat them like fire ants, for example, be sure to remove the stingers first to avoid complications.
Finally, just to be on the safe side, you may want to limit your options the these commonly edible ants:
- Honey Ants. Honey ants are commonly eaten in Australia and Mexico. They taste sweet, sour, depending on the source of the nectar.
- Weaver Ants. Commonly eaten in Asia, weaver ants produce a sweet fruity taste with a light crunch.
- Leaf-cutter Ants. A popular delicacy in Latin American countries, these ants are typically served roasted and produce a smoky, bacon-like taste.
Is It Safe To Eat Ant Infested Food?
Ants are clean insects, and so it is usually safe to eat ant infested food. That said, as mentioned earlier, it’s possible for ants to carry disease-causing pathogens. So, depending where and what the ants have encountered, they may cause contamination.
Summary: Are Ants Edible?
While not all ants are safe to eat, many of them are edible. They taste quite well and can be eaten raw or cooked. They can be served in a variety of ways, from being roasted, fried, boiled, and can be used in different cuisines. Most importantly, they provide nutrients and minerals which possibly makes them sustainable, low-cost, and environmentally friendly alternatives for meat.