Did you know that many insects are edible?
It is estimated that insects form part of the traditional diets of at least 2 billion people.
Edible insects inhabit a large variety of habitats, from aquatic ecosystems and farmed land to forests. More than 1 900 species have reportedly been used as food.
Insects deliver a host of ecological services that are fundamental to the survival of humankind. They also play an important role as pollinators in plant reproduction, in improving soil fertility through waste bioconversion, and in natural biocontrol for harmful pest species, and they provide a variety of valuable products for humans such as honey and silk and medical applications such as maggot therapy.
In addition, insects have assumed their place in human cultures as collection items and ornaments and in movies, visual arts and literature.
Globally, the most commonly consumed insects are beetles (Coleoptera) (31 percent), caterpillars (Lepidoptera) (18 percent) and bees, wasps and ants (Hymenoptera) (14 percent). Following these are grasshoppers, locusts and crickets.
The larval stage of the emperor moth (Imbrasia belina) — are common throughout the southern part of Africa. Harvesting of mopane caterpillars is a multi-million dollar industry in the region, where women and children generally do the work of gathering the plump, little insects. The caterpillars are traditionally boiled in salted water, then sun-dried; the dried form can last for several months without refrigeration, making them an important source of nutrition in lean times. And few bugs are more nutritious. Whereas the iron content o beef is 6 mg per 100 grams of dry weight, mopane caterpillars pack a whopping 31 mg of iron per 100 grams. They're also a good source of potassium, sodium, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium and zinc.
Want to get rid of the termites gnawing at your floorboards? Just do like they do in South America and Africa: Take advantage of the rich nutritional quality of these insects by frying, sun-drying, smoking or steaming termites in banana leaves. Termites generally consist of up to 38 percent protein, and one particular Venezuelan species, Syntermes aculeosus, is 64 percent protein. Termites are also rich in iron, calcium, essential fatty acids and amino acids such as tryptophan.
Chapulines are grasshoppers of the genus Sphenarium, and are widely eaten throughout southern Mexico. They're often served roasted (giving them a satisfying crunch) and flavored with garlic, lime juice and salt, or with guacamole or dried chili powder. The grasshoppers are known as rich sources of protein; some claim that the insects are more than 70 percent protein. Researchers have noted that the gathering of Sphenarium grasshoppers is an attractive alternative to spraying pesticides in fields of alfalfa and other crops. Not only does this eliminate the environmental hazards associated with pesticide sprays also gives the local people an extra source of nutrition and income, from the sale of grasshoppers.
The larvae of the mealworm beetle (Tenebrio molitor) is one of the only insects consumed in the Western world: They are raised in the Netherlands for human consumption (as well as for animal feed), partly because they thrive in a temperate climate. The nutritional value of mealworms is hard to beat: They're rich in copper sodium, potassium, iron, zinc and selenium. Mealworms are also comparable to beef in terms of protein content, but have a greater number of healthy, polyunsaturated fats.
In China, cockroaches are deep fried and sold on sticks on the streets. There are also many indigenous tribes that eat cockroaches, live or cooked. So long as the cockroaches are on a diet of food and vegetables, they should be safe to eat, although doctors still warn against the practice.
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- Ken Parton