If prepared well, they taste similar to shrimp. And yes, they’re edible.
Contrary to popular belief, roly polies (also known as pill bugs, doodle bugs, potato bugs, and by their scientific order name, Armadillidiidae) aren’t insects or arachnids. They’re land crustaceans, and as such, they’re more closely related to lobsters, crayfish, and shrimp.
As a general disclaimer, you shouldn’t eat random crustaceans you find walking across your basement, but if you decide to eat roly polies, they’re apparently fairly easy to prepare. The blog Off Grid Homestead Prepper recommends boiling them to sterilize them, then frying them in the oil of your choice.
“I regret not trying the sow bugs after boiling them but before frying them,” the writer notes. “I would like to know if there is a taste change because after frying with a little olive oil [because] all they tasted like was olive oil.”
“I ate about half and will probably throw the rest into a salad where the taste will be hidden. They would be fine to throw into a stew or soup if you were just trying to boost your protein levels.”
That doesn’t sound especially appetizing. Here’s another perspective.
“From my experience, some of them do in fact taste similar to shrimp,” writes Joe for the sustainable food blog Eat the Planet. “Any bug should be cooked before eaten, but some people eat them raw. They make a great sauce, or they can be added to soup. There are a lot of other ways to cook them including mixed with dough, egg, or rice.”
Joe notes that some pill bugs might be less edible than others, and he only recommends eating the wood lice that roll into little balls (since they’re less likely to be confused with non-edible bugs like pill millipedes). There’s no need to remove the shell.
You’ll need quite a few of them to make a meal, but they’re not poisonous to humans. Don’t eat any that smell bad, and if you notice a bad taste, stop eating. If you ever find yourself in a dire situation in which pill bugs are your only source of sustenance, that could be important knowledge.
And while roly polies aren’t technically insects, we should note that many insects are edible, and the United Nations has essentially advised people to eat more bugs in order to fight world hunger. The United States might be getting with it—the Seattle Mariners recently introduced fried grasshoppers as a concession at Safeco Field, and the dish quickly became one of the park’s most popular food options.
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