You know those tiny black ants, the ones that sometimes get into your house? Well, one morning I was half asleep and made myself a bowl of cereal, sat down and started eating. After a couple mouthfuls, I noticed a peculiar sweet taste, looked into my bowl and saw it was crawling with ants.
Now I'm wondering if those ants are safe and healthy to consume. I wasn't too pleased with the thought of eating a couple mouthfuls, but I wonder. A lot of insects are edible, what about ants?
— Tom, Eagle Point
We'd like to use our powers of deduction to conclude that if you're alive enough to ask if something's poisonous, it's probably not poisonous, but we here at Since You Asked headquarters can understand if "probably" isn't the answer you're looking for.
We had hoped the edible bug department of Since You Asked headquarters could tackle your query, but instead all we found were generalities on exotic cuisine and some early childhood memories. We looked elsewhere.
Instead, we put a bug in someone's ear (see what we did there?) at the OSU Extension Service. Sadly, they couldn't comment much further on your question, Tom.
So we researched a little further on our own.
We dug up an article on Howstuffworks.com that explained how to determine edible insects, and you'll breathe easier to read that "Black ants are edible, but their fiery cousins aren't."
The site lists 15 orders of edible insects, including Hymenoptera, which encompasses ants, bees and wasps. Although they're edible, the site advises insect eaters to cook them first. Especially with ants, the site notes that boiling will eliminate a vinegar flavor.
It should be noted that although an insect can be edible, it's important to keep in mind what that insect ate. If there were chemical pesticides or insecticides that the ants could have come into contact with, that's a cause for concern.
If your cereal ordeal turned you into an anteater, you'll find that the most common edible ant varieties are carpenter, leaf-cutter, honeypot and lemon ants. Answers.com noted that of those four types, carpenter ants were arguably the least palatable. Removing legs and antennae can improve the taste.
Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to email@example.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.