Dr. Matt lvbijaro, Associate Professor of Entomology at the University of lbadan, and Chairman of the Ibadan branch of the Entomology Society of Nigeria, writes in part:
“I am delighted that information is now being gathered on food insects which, in Nigeria, are important sources of high food protein to rural dwellers and a growing delicacy to many city dwellers.”
Insect consumption in Zambia
In response to a letter from the editor, Dr. Shubh K. Kumar of the International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, D.C., wrote in part:
“Thank you for your recent letter regarding the work we are doing on food consumption patterns in Zambia. We have found very common use of foods such as caterpillars and flying termites in the diet of rural and peri-rural households. The former is much more common and is even widely available in dried form in local markets. The latter is much more a rarity, and is seasonally available only during the early part of the rainy season. However, both items have a seasonal pattern in their consumption. Even though we did not find the dietary use of other insects in the region of Zambia where we were working, it has also been reported that grasshoppers and crickets are occasionally eaten. The Zambian food composition tables [which are widely used by nutritionists in the country] include these items among the list of food items consumed and show their nutrient content….
“Overall, there seems to be a trend towards a reduction in the consumption of these foods. We have made an assessment of the contribution of these foods in the diet, and have found it to be very small on an annual basis. However, it is very significant on a seasonal basis, and the time these foods are widely available is during the hungry season, and at that time provide an important source of quality protein in the diet.”
To taste a bee
Dr. Justin Schmidt of the USDA’s Carl Hayden Bee Research Center in Tucson, Arizona, obviously believes that science can be fun and entertaining as well as informative. As part of some other correspondence with the editor, he wrote:
“For amusement I decided to tackle the question of palatability of bees. Adults are rarely eaten. Thus two hypotheses: 1) the sting deters (too spicy of fare), 2) they taste bad. I believed it is impossible to entirely separate the two hypotheses, but I did do some taste tests to at least address hypothesis (2). Workers and drones were frozen for 10 minutes, then parts eaten (by this investigator, n = 1 sampler). Worker thoraces tasted fine, albeit a bit crunchy due to the wings, legs and other roughage. Heads tasted somewhat like paint thinner.
Abdomens tasted a bit like pungent aromatic curry spices with the added benefit of being slightly bitter and hydrolytic. Drones were great. Worker abdomens minus the sting apparatus were more or less ok, but did have a slightly noisome texture. Whole workers have the combined flavors mentioned above and would hardly be classified as savory.
“I believe we can understand the result above by thinking of chemical ecology. Drones have no known or meaningful pheromones or chemical defenses – hence they would be expected to be tasty. Worker heads are loaded with 2-heptanone, which is theoretically a pheromone, but which probably functions better as an allomone. It smells bad and undoubtedly imparts the paint thinner taste. Thoraces have nothing, and hence are tasty. Abdomens have both the bouquet blend of esters that is the alarm pheromone and the venom. The pheromone probably provides the “pungent” or “currylike” flavor. The venom is both alkaline and lytic – hence the bitterness and hydrolytic nature. My feeling is that workers are not eaten by many vertebrate predators, not only because of the sting, but also because they taste so nasty.”