Many are convinced that insects and worms will be tomorrow’s pork and beef in gourmet dishes in the West. Cheap and rich in protein, the food is even considered to be environmentally friendly. But the mere idea of eating caterpillars or grasshoppers seems disgusting to most Europeans. But in many African countries, they are part of a daily diet.
By Alice Bafiala (DRC), Anne Mireille Nzouankeu (Cameroun) et Caasi Sagalai (Kenya)
Congolese consume everyday more than ten different species of insects. « The hardest thing is to see beyond what our culture has taught us. But after that it is a culinary pleasure, because there are hundreds of flavors and it is usually simple to prepare, » says Godé Muvaro, host of a cooking show on television.
Caterpillars, palm caterpillars, crickets, termites, grasshoppers… are some ingredients found on the daily menu of Kinshasa diners.
« Since I was a kid, I learned to eat grasshoppers, green and brown caterpillars, palm worms, crickets, flying ants. All this is generally prepared in a stew with salt and pepper, generally served with fufu (a paste made from cassava flour and maize) or as an appetizer, » says Frank.
Gemma has tasted almost everything. « Termites have a pleasant taste and they contain a fat that is good for your health. Grasshoppers are very crisp with a hint of fat. Palm worms are succulent because their fat melts in the mouth, yet they remain crisp. Crickets are dry and I like them cooked, and sometimes mixed with vegetables.”
One of the most consumed species in the country remain the caterpillars. They are caught on an industrial scale in several provinces, sold in local markets and are even exported.
Welcome in Kenya
Flying termites are perhaps the only welcome insect visitors into Kenyan households – for the simple reason that they contribute to dinner. Commonly known in Kenya as kumbikumbi (in Swahili), termites are a rare delicacy and they usually appear either at the beginning or the end of the rainy season.
“I have eaten kumbikumbis ever since I was a child; the great thing about them is that they can be eaten either raw or cooked. I tell you, dry termites in the sun for some time, cook them in their own fat on low heat, add some salt and eat them with some ugali (maize pulp). If you are not careful, you can bite your fingers, it is so delicious,’ says Mary, a woman in her early 50’s .
During the dry season children spend a lot of time looking for termite mounds. To simulate the sound of falling rain, which gets termites out of their hideout, kids hit pieces of sticks or tin against each other.
Eating insects in Kenya has stood the test of time because they are a cheap source of protein, vitamins, minerals and are known to be beneficial especially to children and expectant mothers.
It’s virtues in Cameroon
For 25 years, Jeanne Ombala has had a stall in a market in the Cameroonian capital, Yaoundé. Depending on the season, she sells termites, crickets, beetles, black caterpillars and freshwater fish. January is the season for beetles, a species of white grubs collected from decaying palm.
Mother of six and grandmother of three, Ombala says she began to experience the benefits of insects after her third child.
« Initially, I fed termites to the children because I did not have enough money to buy red meat, » she says. But as months passed by, I noticed that they were growing faster, they became more vigorous and fell sick less often, » she adds.
Ombala has gradually gone from being a simple consumer to a saleswoman and later an adviser. « When I see a mom with a skinny child, I explain to her the benefits of eating termites, crickets and beetles, » says Ombala.
« A doctor told me that red meat is the cause of several diseases such as gout. But, grasshoppers and termites are high in protein, so they can properly replace meat. »
According to the saleswoman, these insects are cooked without adding cooking oil. They already contain « the oil that does not bring diseases »: it is a formula used to say that the natural fat in those insects do not contain cholesterol. True or false? Only scientists can answer the question.