Because we finished our wasp larvae bento, we think we’ve earned a wasp larvae dessert.

Highway rest stops in Japan aren’t just places to stretch your legs and gas up your car. They’re also excellent spots for souvenir sweets shopping, as they’re generally stocked with all sorts of locally produced snacks using regional ingredients.

So on a recent drive through Nagano Prefecture, our Japanese-language reporter Haruka Takagi made sure to pull into the rest area and browse its store shelves, and that’s where she came across these.

The green box contains okaki, a kind of Japanese rice cracker, and the yellow one manju, sweet dumplings. So why are the illustrated characters on those packages screaming? Because they’re made with bugs, specifically locusts for the crackers, and wasp larvae for the dumplings.

▼ Ah, it all makes sense now.

Though Japan has a famously broad palate, bugs aren’t eaten in most parts of the country. There are a few exceptions, however, and Nagano does have a cultural culinary tradition of eating locusts and larvae. However, the practice is getting less and less common with each generation, and so even the makers of the locust okaki and wasp larvae manju realize that more modern Japanese people will react with a scream of terror than a cry of joy when presented with the opportunity/challenge of eating insects.

However, even though Haruka didn’t grow up in Nagano, she’s tried wasp larvae before. A few months back, she dined on hebomeshi, a bento box filled with rice and wasp larvae that she picked up in, you guessed it, the Nagano area. To her surprise, it had tasted delicious, with the soy sauce-based seasoning combining with the larvae for a sweet and salty flavor and as she’d bitten into the bodies of the baby wasps a milky liquid that reminded her of the flavor of salmon roe leaked out of them.

So, basically, Haruka’s experience with eating wasp larvae was that they taste great, but they’re pretty gross to look at. So as she got set to open her 519-yen (US$3.85) box of wasp larvae manju, her taste buds were looking forward to it, but her eyes weren’t.

It turned out, though, that she actually didn’t have anything to worry about.

As some of you may remember (because no matter how hard you try, you can’t forget), when one of our other brave reporters ate some Japanese wasp crackers, each piece looked like it was crawling with bugs. In the case of these wasp larvae manju, though, there’s nothing at all insect-like about their appearance, neither on the outside or the inside.

That’s because, according to the list of ingredients printed on the back of the box, they’re made with powdered wasp larvae. But do their reassuring looks belie a shocking taste?

Nope! Haruka tried tasting the dumpling in all sorts of different ways. She tried the outer cake layer by itself, scooped out a bit of the white anko sweet bean paste filling for a check, and took a normal bite, getting cake and filling on her tastebuds simultaneously. Each time it tasted great, and also surprisingly normal. She couldn’t detect any unusual bug-like aspects, and if she hadn’t seen the package or read the ingredients, she’d have thought this was just an ordinary delicious dumpling.

Moving on to the okaki rice crackers, it turns out that their locust content too is powdered.

Going in for a close look, Haruka was pretty sure that the flecks of dark color are the powdered locust bits, since the only other granulated seasoning on the ingredient list is sugar. Still, if you just saw these crackers without knowing ahead of time what they are, it’s doubtful your mind would jump to “Aha! Locusts!” upon seeing the powder.

Haruka popped one into her mouth, and was happy to find that the locust okaki taste great too! They’re sweet, but the rice cracker base gives them a bit of mature bitterness as well, with no strangeness in the flavor profile that would have you suspecting there’s anything unusual in them.

In the end, this puts these unusual snack foods in kind of a strange place. They taste great, but because they also taste like normal snacks, they might not provide enough of an insectoid impression to fully satisfy hardcore fans of edible bugs (Haruka assumes such people exist). On the other hand, despite the wasp larvae manju and locust okaki having flavors that most people would like, those who are grossed out by the concept could argue that they can just eat regular no-bugs-in-them snacks and not be missing anything.

So ultimately Haruka recommends these snacks to anyone who’s intrigued by the idea of eating bugs, but wants to start off with something that’s going to taste good and not freak them out visually. And if you do want to get freaked out visually, Haruka is happy to teach you how to prepare Japan’s horrifyingly monstrous-looking sea squirt too.

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