Insects as a Source of Protein in the Future

Los insectos como fuente de proteinas en el futuro.
Julita Ramos Eldorduy de Conconi.. Editorial Limusa, S. A. (Balderas 95,Primer piso, Mexico l, D.F) 1982. 144 pp. (In Spanish; paper back, price not known).

The translated title of this book is Insects as a Source of Protein in the Future. The author presents in tabular forth a list of 71 species of insects that are consumed in Mexico, listing them by order and family and giving the developmental stage(s) that are eaten and the geographical location [states] where eaten. A feature of the book is the 94 photographs of edible insects, most of them in color. Eight additional tables list edible insects of the world by order and family, giving the country or continent where recorded. The listings include approximately 129 spp. of Coleoptera (beetles), 99 of Hymenoptera (bees, ants, wasps), 48 of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), 68 of Orthoptera (grasshoppers, crickets, etc.), 32 of Hemiptera (true bugs), 28 of Homoptera (cicadas, leafhoppers, etc.), 10 of Diptera (flies, gnats), 17 of Isoptera (termites), and 10 species in miscellaneous other orders bringing the total to approximately 441 species (for some of which only the identity of the genus is known.) Unfortunately, literature citations are not given for the tabular records.

Additional tables provide data on the crude protein content of 18 Mexican species, digestible protein of 9 species, amino acid content of 10 species, and lists of Mexican foods, including insects, that are high in protein, fat, minerals or vitamins, respectively. The bibliography lists 81 titles, about one third of which pertain directly to Mexico.

The text is divided into a Prolog and six chapters. The first three chapters are primarily a general discussion of the scope of world hunger and malnutrition (particularly protein deficiency), factors responsible for their wide occurrence, and the advantages and disadvantages of various methods currently being explored to improve the situation. According to the author, “Mexico can be described as a country where there is so much hunger that the country doesn’t feel it.” She states that in some areas of the State of Oaxaca and in some arid regions of the country, insects are the only significant source of protein.

The last three chapters are a discussion of the attributes of insects as a more exploitable food source, their nutritive value, and their acceptability as food in Mexico. The author proposes that the “industrialization” of insects (the establishment of small industries in the countryside for the mass culture of insects as food) would work both to the benefit of rural economies and better nutrition in the country as a whole. Relative to their exploitable attributes, it is pointed out that insects are the

dominant animal group on earth, they are adapted to a wide variety of ecological conditions, and many have high reproductive capacity and short life cycles. Relative to their acceptability as food, a survey taken in the Federal District (Mexico City) revealed that 75% of the population is aware that there are edible insects in Mexico, 93% considered “industrialization” a viable project, 39% responded that they would use the resulting products, 29% that they could use them once in awhile, and 19% that they would try them only as a curiosity.

Analyses of samples from Mexico have revealed a protein content (dry weight) between 31% and 72% in most species. Most amino acids (including Iysine) surpass FAO standards, but in keeping with generally obtained results from elsewhere, most insects are low in methionine and tryptophan. The author notes the need for more data on bioavailability, particularly when insects are used in conjunction with other common foods in the rural diet. Little information is given on insects as sources of energy, vitamins or minerals, although a few data are included in the tables.

Some of the most interesting information in the book is to be found in the unique collection of photographs and the legends that accompany them: for example, grasshopper collectors with their nets, lake scenes showing the harvest of “ahuauhtle” or “Mexican caviar” (composed of the eggs of several species of aquatic Hemiptera); a rural worker cultivating “madrono worms” (larvae of Eucheria socialis); and numerous market scenes with closeups of edible larvae or other edible life stages. In addition to their prominence in the rural marketplace, several species command high prices in Mexico City and other urban areas where they are purchased by people of various economic levels and are sold as delicacies in the finest restaurants. The author mentions that in 1981, the demand for “escamoles” (immature stages of the ant, Liometopum apiculatum) was so great that the price per kilogram went up to 1,000 pesos (more than $2 at the then prevailing exchange rate). “In Tlaxcoapan . . . they are sold in restaurants like El Prendes, Las Meninas, Delmonicos, and Bellinghaussen, where 2 tacos with 50 grams of ants cost 300 pesos. They are served fried or with black butter, but the best way is fried with onions and garlic.”

Examples such as the preceding lend strong support to Dr. de Conconi’s belief that edible insects can make an economic difference as well as a nutritional difference in rural Mexico. Her thesis, in a nutshell, is that if insects were awarded the respectability and research attention they deserve, it would lead not only to improved nutrition, but to new opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship, thus helping to improve rural economies and slow the migration to the cities. Studies elsewhere suggest that what is true for Mexico is probably true in many cases in other countries where food insect use is traditional.