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Edible Insects in Africa

The history of eating insects

This may ‘creep’ you out a bit, but eating insects has become a viable option in many different cultures. For example, in the northern provinces of South Africa – Limpopo, North-West, Mpumalanga and Gauteng eating edible insects has become quite a delicacy. Some of the insects up for grabs are mopane worms, locusts, bees, termites and edible stink bugs. The idea of eating insects is not a new one and is becoming quite popular all over the world.

Education around this is also necessary as the aim is to prevent over-harvesting and extinction of these insects. Therefore countries are focusing on sustainable harvesting. Eating insects is not a new venture and in fact the technical term for it is ‘entomophagy’. I figure if you can’t pronounce it, then it shouldn’t be eaten!! Nevertheless, let’s get down to how to cook these insects and what they actually taste like.

Insects that can be eaten include: 

1. Memorable Mopane Worms

Firstly, they are actually caterpillars and not worms, which somehow makes them more creepy! The caterpillars are often fried and eaten (or disguised!) by other ingredients such as garlic, tomatoes or onion. They are also often dried, smoked or soaked in brine. Do not be fooled by the locals who will tell you it tastes like biltong! A brave tourist described it as being incredibly chewy, and once all the other flavours surrounding it disappeared, earth, salt and drywall seemed to be the underlying flavours pervading their tastebuds. So eating a mopane worm takes a bit of guts, giving you a great incentive to try it and show off to all your friends!


2. ‘Lekker’ Locusts

“Nyom nyom nyom”, a crunchy snack, or not?! These insects are available in abundance and are a pest in many countries, so catching them and eating them seems like a great way to reduce the population! Not only are they nutritious, but kosher as well!

Cooking them is simple, drop them into a pot of boiling water, rinse and roll them in flour, coriander seeds, garlic and chilli, or any spices of your choice. Then you can either deep fry or shallow fry them. They can also be fried and covered in chocolate. Do I predict a new dessert “Death by Chocolate Locust” appearing on fine dining menus?!

So what do they taste like? A mixture of chicken schnitzel, toasted sunflower seeds and prawns…mmm with such a variety of tastes, it seems like you are going to have to try one for yourself when on an African safari.


3. Baby Bees

Well, we all know that the honey they produce is delicious and sweet, but is the insect itself anything to write home about? During my research, I came across canned baby bees, and that is where my research stopped. What a bizarre concept … an easy-to-open can of baby bees for you to pop into your mouth. Sounds more like something out of a horror movie, but no, these are available and a ready-to-eat delicacy in Japan. When describing what they tasted like, seeing the open contents of the can with what looked like bees guts, I almost dared not to read any further. But I know I have now piqued your interest, so I shall continue.

As you open the convenient can and take a spoonful of this mushy mixture of bee guts, you first bite into the crunchy texture of the exoskeleton, before chewing (and chewing, and chewing) your way through the bees before tasting the sweetness, starchiness and prolonged smokey aftertaste of these little bugs. Forgive me for not researching more about eating African bees, but I did not have the GUTS to do it.


4. Tricky Termites

This article is just getting weirder. It must have been something I ate today…? Perhaps I swallowed a fly.

Here are 5 easy steps on how to capture and eat the mother of all termites:

1. Find a ‘bug-bug hill’ (the colloquial name for termite hills in West Africa). It is easy to find, just look for a large mud hill that was not there a few moments ago.

2. Take at least 15, actually make that 20 villagers with machetes with you. Under no circumstances use the machete on yourself or others during this suicidal process.

3. Whack the termite rock/hardened clay for hours, while thousands of worker termites go about finding crevices all over your body and biting you until you bleed.

4. Once you reach the centre of the mound, you will find the queen termite stuffed to capacity with baby termites. Remove the pulsing, throbbing bug and fight off more of the worker termites.

5. While the queen is still pulsing, cook her in palm oil until she turns golden brown. Gratefully share the crispy critter with your newly acquired soulmates and above all, avoid eating a slice at all costs…

Would somebody else like to write about edible stink bugs? I appear to have lost my appetite for words ;)

Image courtesy of Martin Frost

About Bronwyn Paxton

Article by: Bronwyn Paxton
on May 3, 2023
Filed under  Africa Blog • Only in Africa 
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