The best known edible honey bee product, and for European-derived cultures, perhaps the only known product, is that super-saturated solution of carbohydrates known as honey (wonderfully tasty, but woefully short as a meaningful addition to an already carbohydrate burdened North American-European diet). But for many Asian cultures honey is not the singular food item to be stolen from a bee colony. Honey bee brood, especially late instar larvae and pupae, is recognized for its nutritional and organoleptic qualities. Cadres of inappropriately termed “honey hunters” exist in many Asian and African societies (inappropriate because in addition to honey, these knowledgeable individuals are also “hunting” the wax and brood as utilizable commodities).
The following preparation of honey bee brood, based on a recipe from Nepal, is the insect dish with which I have had the greatest success in consumer acceptance (consumers being identified for the most part as the undergraduate and graduate students in two courses I teach that include entomophagy as an important, albeit small aspect of both classes). The recipe was given to me in 1986 by Benjamin Underwood, at that time an entomology graduate student at the Dyce Laboratory of Honey Bee Biology, Cornell University, who was just completing a MS degree concerned with the natural history of the giant honey bee of the Himalayan foothills, Apis laboriosa Smith. The Nepalese term for the preparation is bakuti, and (in Nepal) it requires late-instar larvae, prepupae and pupae of the high altitude giant honey bee Apis laboriosa. (For a pictorially dramatic account of the plundering of these cliff nesting colonies see National Geographic, Nov. 1985, “Honey Hunters of Nepal”, Valli & Summers.)
The Nepalese preparation was of interest to me as I had several times witnessed and experienced giant honey bee brood (Apis dorsata F. as opposed to A. laboriosa) as a culinary item in northern Thailand where brood in the comb is wrapped in banana leaf and steamed. While tasty, it is not particularly stimulating from a visual sense, and the presence of wax required a fair amount of chewing (and spitting).
Bakuti is based on the extraction of the water soluble protein and liquid fats from whole larvae and pupae while still in the wax comb.
Sections of brood comb are placed in a woven, fabric bag and hand squeezed over an open container that collects the liquid phase. This liquid fraction is then heated and gently stirred which, after about 5 minutes, results in a product that closely resembles, in color and texture, soft scrambled eggs. The odor and flavor qualities of bakuti are difficult to assess or to associate with foods familiar to North American/European palates. From a very subjective personal perspective, I believe Ewell Gibbons would describe it as ‘nut like.’ It is my understanding that the Nepalese will add various available animal and vegetable materials to it.
As giant honey bees are not indigenous to North America, and as Ben Underwood so quickly realized, we can easily substitute brood from our familiar European honey bee, Apis mellifera L. Honey bee brood is readily available (especially for university apiculturists) during the active foraging season. I have found that brood in virgin comb is more easily extracted than that coming from older, darker combs. For the non-beekeepers interested in experimenting with bakuti, take the time to discover a local beekeeper who would be willing to sell a few frames of brood (the secondary benefit here is that you won’t have to face the venomous defense put forth during the removal of brood combs from a colony). Whole brood combs are easily stored by freezing until ready for use.
To further the acceptance of “American style” bakuti, I have frequently added Philadelphia brand cream cheese in an amount equal in volume following the cooking of the liquid brood (an adulterant to the entomophage purist). This smooth, insectile pate is usually offered as a spread over a cracker. The more adventuresome members of my laboratory group have served this following departmental seminars, in private social functions, and in academic classroom settings. The overall acceptance rate (defined as those who will at least try it), is ca. 85%.
Professor of Apiculture
Department of Entomology
Oregon State University