Beetles - such an extraordinary creature
Beetles are a subfamily (Melolonthinae) in the family Scarabaeidae. It is a numerous group of insects. According to the breadth of the concept, this group contains over 12,000 species of beetles. Every year new species are described, especially from Africa and Asia (Evans, Smith, 2009). In the Czech Republic, the fauna is not so rich, but they are still very interesting and important species.
Our chrousts have a three- to four-year development (Švestka, 2012), which is the main reason for the so-called chroust calamities. During them, especially in the past, chromis have done a lot of damage, but people have tried to use these events at least a little to their advantage. They caught the overpopulated voles and fed them not only to poultry but also to other livestock. The adults (called imago) were usually killed with boiling water, dried and then ground up. The dried and ground scabs were used as feed for chickens, geese, pigs, songbirds or fish (Escherich, 1923).
As one of the few insect species, the chromis also found its way onto the menu in Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries (Zimmermann, 2010). World War I, of course, contributed to the spread of chromis delicacies. But eating the insect was not limited to times of scarcity. A German magazine from the city of Fulda described students eating chroosts in a sugar glaze (1920s), and the German writer Sebald has stewed chroosts in his novel.
In folk medicine, chrosti were used against epilepsy, and bugs in boiling red wine were considered a means of getting pregnant. Beetle soup prepared from the buttocks or breasts was considered to be nerve strengthening. We can also mention recipes for chrostnut soup for anaemia (Klausnitzer, 1981), or oil of ponravas (chrostnut larvae) for rheumatism. Taking a bite of the first spring chrysostom was then supposed to protect against fever all year round. The miller's chroust (Polyphylla fullo), as a remedy against quarter-day fever, was already advised by Pliny: "the miller's chroust tied between two lizards, also helps when cut open and held in both hands" (Schmitischek, 1968). As you can see, the history of chroosts as food or medicine is indeed long.
From the post-revolutionary era, it is worth mentioning the famous lost bet of politician Eduard Kremlicka (Pensioners for Life Security Party). He bet that if his party failed to reach 5% in the elections, he would eat a live bug in front of a TV crew. After losing the election, he did not eat the chroust, because the chroust season was over, but he did get a sweatfish on his plate. Mr Kremlička described his unusual breakfast as follows: "I stabbed him and washed it down with fernet" (Hospodářské noviny, 22.6.1998). It was not a case of eating a bite of chroost, but let us not spoil this beautiful story.
And why were scabs so popular?
Their bodies contain amino acids and minerals as well as chitin and fats. In terms of protein, they are comparable in quality to chicken. According to the testimony of our grandmothers, they have a very tender "meat" with a slightly sweet taste. Incidentally, we have already written about the quality of the insect diet with the nutritional values of insects and comparisons with other diets.
And what have earlier authors written about the chromis? What did the recipes look like?
The German Universal Cookbook by Charlotte Bottcher (1887), Recipe No. 312a: "The nutritious chowder is slightly nutty in flavor, reminding some of crab soup."
Czech Chroust Soup (Luiya Ondrážková, Cookery Book, 6th revised edition, 1937):
Throw ¼ kg of chestnuts (for six persons) washed in cold water into hot water, add all the root vegetables, a little salt and let finely chopped green parsley froth in it. Drain the water from the chervil, pour it over the prepared spread and let it simmer for a while. Then add 2 egg yolks with 6 tablespoons of heavy cream to the soup.
French chestnut soup (19th century):
Fry a pound of chestnuts (without wings and feet) in melted butter, then poach them in chicken stock and add veal roe, serve with toast and chives.
The crustaceans are delicious cooked for 10 minutes with lemon juice on freshly fried pancakes.
Interested in the article and want to taste the insects too? Don't despair, you don't have to run into the woods looking for the grunts. Just take a look at our e-shop and order some great insect chips, cricket powder or other cricket delicacies! As you can see, insects are not only the food of the future, but also of the past... More about insects on our Facebook, Instagram and blog!
Escherich, K. 1923: Die Forstinsekten Mitteleuropas. Bd. II., Berlin.
Evans A.V., Smith A.B.T. 2009 – An electronic checklist of the New World chafers (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae: Melolonthinae). Version 3
Klausnitzer B. 1981; Wunderwelt der Käfer. Leipzig; Herder.
Schimitschek E. 1968; Insekten als Nahrung, in Brauchtum Kult und Kultur. Handb. Zool. Berlin. 4(2) 1/10: 1-
Švestka, M. 2010: Changes in the abundance of Melolontha hippocastani Fabr. and Melolontha melolontha (L.) (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae) in the Czech Republik in the period 2003−2009. Journal of Forest Science 56 (9): 417−428.
Zimmermann, G. 2010: Maikäfer in Deutschland Geliebt und gehasst. Ein Beitrag zur Kulturgeschichte und Geschichte der Bekämpfung. Journal für Kulturpflanzen, 62: 157–172.