Cicada-Infused Malort Tests Mother Nature’s Boundaries

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Move over, agave worms: hot cicada summer is (literally) screeching into Chicago as a rare overlapping convergence of two broods reemerges across Illinois. This year, clamorous 17-year-old and 13-year-old broods arrive simultaneously, which only happens every 221 years. That means cicadas are even more elusive compared to ramps.

Chicago restaurants and bars are capitalizing on the frenzy through a handful of events and gimmicks. And that starts with everyone’s least favorite yet beloved spirit.

That’s right — cicada-infused Jeppson’s Malört, concocted by the team at Noon Whistle Brewing in suburban Lombard, is rapidly becoming one of the buzziest shots of the season. The team uses locally sourced cicadas (read: collected at a neighboring park) that are frozen, rinsed, sterilized, and cooked before they’re submerged in a bottle of Malört. The arthropods’ flavor is often compared to that of their crustaceous cousins shrimp and lobster, and eating cicadas can trigger a reaction in people with a shellfish allergy, according to the FDA. This insect infusion will make everyone forget the fervor surrounding pumpkin spice.

Polarizing by design, the buggy brew has fulfilled its goal of drawing attention to the suburban brewery. Everyone already hates Malört, so why not make it even worse, creative director Joey Giardiniera (yes, really), tells the Sun-Times.

It’s possible to get in on this cicada Super Bowl without actually eating one, as Bent Fork Bakery in north suburban Highwood is serving insect-free cicada cakes, complete with red M&M’s eyes. But Chicagoans with more adventurous palates can capitalize on the invasion with a trip to Cicadapalooza on Saturday, June 8 in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin to try Magicicada Buzz, a nut brown ale made with dehydrated and ground cicadas from Topsy Turvy Brewery and a cicada dessert from chef Ken Hnilo of Pier 290 Restaurant. And for the especially ambitious, Axios’ Monica Eng demonstrates how to forage and cook cicadas at home.

Invertebrate puns and social media clout aside, entomophagy — that is, eating insects — is a matter of routine in much of the world, and serious business in light of the growing demand for more sustainable protein sources. Local enthusiasts include celebrity chef Rick Bayless, who has spread the good word about bugs as ingredients for over a decade. Mexican cuisine has incorporated insects for centuries, including favorites like chapulines (crispy grasshoppers), found in Chicago at spots like lauded Oaxacan restaurant Kie-Gol-Lanee in Uptown.

Eating cicadas isn’t anything new. Chicago media ate up the story in 2007 and likely will again when the next brood emerges.

Whether one loves it, hates it, or is hungry for a taste, cicada-fest 2024 won’t last long. The crustaceous critters will only be active until mid to late June.

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