Mopane worms ‘could help Aids nutrition’

Mopane worms, edible stinkbugs and other indigenous insects could be an important dietary supplement for poor people living with Aids, delegates to a symposium on the role of nutrition and traditional medicines in managing the disease heard in Cape Town on Tuesday.

”People need to learn to value their own culture and all aspects of it, particularly when it leads to better nutrition,” Transvaal Museum entomologist Dr Rob Toms told the symposium, convened by the Medical Research Council.

Recent analyses showed that Mopane worms, known locally as Masonja, contained more than 60% protein, 16,7% crude fat and 10,7% minerals.

They were the most important edible insect in South Africa in terms of market size and widespread usage, and in their native Limpopo Province were available to the poorest of the poor.

However environmental degradation and unsustainable harvesting had reduced harvests in some areas, while the tradition of eating them was being discouraged, sometimes by churches that opposed entomophagy (the eating of insects), or simply by a westernised aversion to what was seen as ”uncivilised” behaviour.

”It’s clear that in the treatment of Aids, people who are very sick can recover to a certain extent,” he said.

”In order to be able to fight Aids, you’ve got to be healthy. In order to be healthy, you’ve got to have adequate nutrition.

”Some of the people who suffer are very poor. You can’t tell them to go and buy [nutritional] supplements at a chemist — they simply haven’t got the money. The Mopane worm is a cheap, readily available source of protein.

”But one can also use other indigenous foods and insects: any edible insect could be seen as a potential source of protein, and of course fat and minerals as well.”

Special care should be taken to teach Aids orphans about their culture, Toms said.

The museum had produced posters of the worm, which were being distributed at schools in Limpopo. He showed symposium delegates slides of the worm and the stages of its life cycle as pupa, moth and egg, as well as photographs of Limpopo residents selling and preparing edible stinkbugs, known as Thongolifha in Venda.

The pungent smell was removed from the bugs either by swilling them around in a bucket of warm water, which caused the panicked insects to release their defensive secretion, or by breaking off the heads and squeezing out the glands.

Stinkbugs were either boiled, then dried and eaten straight as a snack, or fried with salt and eaten with pap.

”They’ve got no flavour of their own,” he said. – Sapa

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