Insects as human food entomophagy

In this section we review the increasingly popular study of insects as human food. Probably 1000 or more species of insects in more than 3 70 genera and 90 families are or have been used for food somewhere in the world, especially in central and southern Africa, Asia, Australia, and Latin America. Food insects generally feed on either living or dead plant matter, and chemically protected species are avoided. Termites, crickets, grasshoppers, locusts, beetles, ants, bee brood, and moth larvae are frequently consumed insects. Although insects are high in protein, energy, and various vitamins and minerals, and can form 5-10% of the annual animal protein consumed by certain indigenous peoples, Western society essentially overlooks entomological cuisine.

Typical "Western" repugnance of entomophagy is cultural rather than scientific or rational. After all, other invertebrates such as certain crustaceans and mollusks are favored culinary items. Objections to eating insects cannot be justified on the grounds of taste or food value. Many have a nutty flavor and studies report favorably on the nutritional content of insects, although their amino acid composition needs to be balanced with suitable plant protein. Nutritional values obtained from analyses conducted on samples of four species of insects cooked according to traditional methods in central Angola, Africa are shown in Table 1.2. The insects concerned are: reproductive individuals of a termite, Macrotermes subhyalinus (Blattodea: Termitidae), which are de-winged and fried in palm oil; the large caterpillars of two species of moth, Imbrasia ertli and Usta terpsichore (Lepidoptera: Saturniidae), which are de-gutted and either cooked in water, roasted, or sundried; and the larvae of the palm weevil, Rhynchophorus phoenicis (Coleoptera: Curculionidae), which are slit open and then fried whole in oil.

Mature larvae of Rhynchophorus species have been appreciated by people in tropical areas of Africa, Asia, and the Neotropics for centuries. These fat, legless grubs (Fig. 1.2), often called palmworms, provide one of the richest sources of animal fat, with substantial amounts of riboflavin, thiamine, zinc, and iron (Table 1.2). Primitive cultivation systems, involving the cutting down of palm trees to provide suitable food for the weevils, are known from Brazil, Colombia, Paraguay, and Venezuela. In plantations, however, palmworms are regarded as pests because of the damage they can inflict on coconut and oil palm trees.

In central Africa, the people of southern Zaire (presently Democratic Republic of Congo) eat caterpillars

Table 1.2 Proximate, mineral, and vitamin analyses of four edible Angolan insects (percentages of daily human dietary requirements/100 g of insects consumed). (After Santos Oliviera et al. 1976, as adapted by DeFoliart 1989.)

Requirement Macrotermes Usta Rhynchophorus per capita subhyalinus Imbrasia ertli terpsichore phoenicus

Nutrient (reference person) (Termitidae) (Saturniidae) (Saturniidae) (Curculionidae)


2850 kcal






37 g

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