Who knew bugs can hide out in broccoli?
I didn’t until I almost fed some to my kids. In some cultures eating bugs is a delicacy. In my house, eating bugs is something straight from one of the Nine Circles of Hell from Dante’s Inferno. Just letting the word ‘bug’ roll off your tongue is enough to send my wife and kids ducking for cover. Every time they see a bug, Mobb Deep’s “Shook Ones” starts playing in my mind.
That said, knowingly eating bugs is unconscionable in my household.
When I almost fed my kids bug-infested broccoli, I seriously thought I was going to need a GoFundMe page for alimony, child support, legal fees, and a change of identity. Thankfully, my kids didn’t actually eat the broccoli, but I still felt bad—mostly because I ATE some of the critter-filled broccoli and my wife was giving me a soul-shattering side eye. Before you all judge me, let me share my story and point out that bugs called aphids can commonly hang out in broccoli.
My story: How I almost fed my kids bug-ridden broccoli (imagine television sound effects for a flashback).
Earlier that day, on my way home from the hospital, I went to Whole Foods to grab some groceries for dinner. Since I practically had to donate a kidney on the black market to afford Whole Food’s broccoli, I thought I was buying some top-notch broccoli that only grows in the Garden of Eden. Sadly, this was not true (unless Eden has a bunch of bugs). The broccoli looked a little dark to me, but it didn’t seem bad. I came home and started making the kids homemade enchiladas and steamed broccoli.
That black pepper wasn’t black pepper
Everything was going fine. When the enchiladas were almost done, I started steaming the broccoli (after a thorough rinse). I ate a couple of raw florets while the broccoli was steaming—it tasted fine. Before I seasoned the broccoli, my wife grabbed some and put it on the kids’ plates. Feeding the kids unseasoned steamed broccoli would only fill up our garbage can, not their bellies. When I mentioned the lack of seasoning, my wife responded, “There’s cracked black pepper all over the broccoli!” That seemed odd, so I let out cool, subtle Jay-Z laugh and simultaneously went to that ‘sunken place’ from the movie Get Out. There wasn’t any black pepper on the broccoli, so something was NOT right. I stealthily checked out the plates and saw a dead, black bug on one of them (insert foul language here).
That was the first time I saw bugs in broccoli or any food I’ve prepared. Right then, I thought of those British posters from World War II with that slogan, “Keep Calm and Carry On.” I calmly grabbed the plates and threw the broccoli in the trash like a criminal trying to get rid of the evidence (I probably would have used a black light if I had one). I almost destroyed all of the evidence, but my wife saw one bug hanging out under the steamer basket in the pot I used to cook the broccoli—so close yet so far. To vindicate myself, I needed to explore two questions: How did the bugs get into my broccoli and what type of insect(s) did I accidentally eat?
How did the bugs get into my Broccoli? Well, the FDA says it’s ok for some bugs to be there.
After doing some research, I realized that buying organic pesticide-free produce has a downside—the possibility of bugs. It makes sense. If you’re eating foods that weren’t soaked in Round Up and other pesticides, bugs may set up shop in your produce #facts. That’s a small price to pay considering the potential adverse health effects of pesticides. Even as I write this, the EPA is loosening rules allowing the use of previously banned pesticides. Hence, I’m not advocating avoiding organic produce, but bear in mind that the FDA does permit an acceptable/expected range of bugs in certain foods.
The FDA has a book called The Defect Levels Handbook. It establishes the “maximum levels of natural or unavoidable defects in foods for human use that present no health hazard.” Regarding broccoli, the FDA allows an “average of 60 or more aphids and/or thrips and/or mites per 100 grams.” That’s the equivalent of 204 bugs in a 12-ounce bag of broccoli. That’s crazy!
Ok, the FDA says aphids and thrips are ok to ‘kick it’ in our broccoli, but what are they?
The bug in my broccoli was an aphid. After eating one, I had to look them up. Here’s everything you need to know (it’s really not much).
- They’re bugs
- They eat broccoli. Some only eat broccoli.
- They won’t kill you if you eat them, not that I’m advocating you eat them. I just want to point out that you don’t have to drink some activated charcoal, induce vomiting, pray, or go to the local ER if you eat one. Relax, you won’t birth an alien baby if you ingest one.
- They won’t cause an infestation in your house or refrigerator.
How do you decrease your risk of eating bugs in broccoli and other veggies?
- Simple: Thoroughly inspect your veggies after you rinse them. Regarding broccoli, bugs often hide within the florets. In my case, some of them probably tried to escape when I was steaming the broccoli. Don’t make my mistake.
I am a physician and trained chef. I specialize in gastroenterology and nutrition. Currently I work as the Associate Director of Adult Nutrition at the University of Chicago.