Insect-eating not (just) for the birds

Nutritious, chemical-free and all-natural, insects are featured as the main protein in several Latin American, Asian and African countries. For example, in the Santander region of Colombia, leaf-cutter ants (called “hormigas culonas”) are sometimes eaten roasted, salted and have a slightly acidic taste. Mopane worms—the caterpillar for the moth Gonimbrasia belina—are popular in Botswana and are served dried or rehydrated with sauces and other ingredients.

“Locals seemed to love them or hate them, but they were common everywhere,” said Jill Patraglia Parsons, who stayed in Botswana for four months. “It is a huge industry there. Crunchy with a slight fishy taste, I would say they were an acquired taste.” When rehydrated, she said, they are often served with papa, a type of maize meal. But they are served most frequently as a dried snack with a long shelf life; Parsons compared the experience to Cheetos in the U.S.

Madeline McCurry-Schmidt, who compares sautéed wax worms to popcorn in flavor, supports insects as a good supplemental source of protein: “Insects are easy to find naturally in the environment, and they’re also easy and cheap to raise. They’re actually healthier to eat than meats like beef (more protein, less fat) and add essential vitamins (like folic acid) to your diet.”

More specifically, just 100 grams of caterpillars can provide the recommended daily amount of protein for an adult, along with iron and B vitamins, according to a February Science article.

With some 1,700 edible, vitamin-rich insect species worldwide, this is exactly what the United Nations is planning for Laos: sustainable insect farming and harvesting for improved nutrition and increased income, according to a recent U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization press release. A 2007 World Food Program report stated that around 40% of children are malnourished or stunted, the most severe in South-East Asia. And an FAO survey concluded that more than 95% of the Lao population consumes insects in one form or another. So the answer seems plain.

The release cited the success story of a citizen who has been farming crickets for five years: “At first I did a little farming, just tried with 2 cylinders of crickets. After we found it worked we continued to farm until we had 56 cylinders. When we sell, on average, we can earn 1 million kip (115 US dollars) a month.”

Read more at “Insect Eating is for Everyone, the UN Says”.

Vogel, G. (2010). For More Protein, Filet of Cricket Science, 327 (5967), 811-811 DOI: 10.1126/science.327.5967.811

Photo credit: Marcelo Trasel

Author: Katie Kline

Moderator of EcoTone and ESA's communications officer.

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  1. The idea of insect farming seems like such a simple answer to such a world-wide epidemic [starvation]that I can’t imagine why people wouldn’t jump at the idea. Great article.

  2. is lao similar to hmong? interesting post, thanks.

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