By Simon E. Omoding
Uganda’s Masaka district, located in the south west of the East African country, is where most of Uganda’s insect-delicacy, nsenene, comes from. Whenever the season for the Ugandan beloved green grasshopper look-a-like comes round, a world-cup-like sort of fever catches on and rules of everyday living change.
School going children, like their teachers, can “understandably” stay out of school all together, or report late. The basic rules of crossing a highway are suspended; people just dash across as long as the insects are bountiful the other side of the road. Women who normally fear going out, on their own, in the pitch dark African nights, stop seeing the darkness in the night, but the nsenene in it.
Call it a craze, madness or what... Ugandans are not alone. Worldwide, different insects are prized delicacies among different peoples. Insect eating, technically called entomophagy, is in every culture.
In Algeria, every time desert locusts swarm in, the common people have a field day. While the government will be putting in place disaster management committees to mitigate the devastation the insect wreaks, the common people will be madly running about to harvest as much as they can. The locusts are boiled in salt, sun-dried, to make them crisp and crunchy ready for eating. The surplus finds its way to the markets.
The Japanese have been known to eat insects since ancient times. To this day, Japanese still use insects in many recipes. Insect based dishes like hochi-no-ko (boiled wasp larvae), inago (fried rice-field grasshoppers) and sangi (silk moth pupae) are strongly present on Japanese menu.
Interestingly, sangi is a by-product of the silk industry. Silk moths are farmed en masse for their ability to produce silk. The young silk moths, the larvae, are the ones that produce the silk, when they metamorphose to pupae, their silk production abilities wear down. At this stage they are dispatched to the kitchen to make mouth-watering dishes.
In the Kwara State of Nigeria, winged termites (white ants) are collected by placing a bowl of water under the light when the insects burst out. The insects are then harvested, roasted in a pot and salted. The white ants are eaten by all but the queen mother is reserved for the elders. Again, surplus harvests, finds its way to the urban centres for sale.
According to entomologists, grasshoppers are the most eaten insects. They are found to be on the diets of peoples across the globe from Latin America to Japan, Africa to the Middle East. If not eaten fried, sun dried and salted, they are roasted, pound into paste and caked.
In their book, Man Eating Bugs: The Art and Science of Eating Insects, which is a narration of their worldwide experiences of entomophagy, Peter Denzel and Faith D’luisio say that in parts of western Kenya and eastern Uganda, white ants are taken so seriously that termite mounds (where ants burst out from) are such a priced item that they appear on men’s inheritance lists (wills, if you like).
Lana Unger, an Extension Entomology Specialist of the department of Entomology, University of Kentucky says insect eating is a time-tested practice. “There was probably some trial and error involved because not all insects are eaten. In fact, some insects are poisonous. But there are lots of insects that are eaten around the world.”
Chefs have not wastes time either. A number of books are available as cook manuals specifically for culinary preparation of insects. One of such published in the late 1990s is The Eat a Bug Cookbook: 33 Ways to Cook Grasshoppers, Ants and their Kin by David George Gordon. This book provides tips on how to turn insects into different mouth watering dishes. Ronald L. Taylor & Barbara J. Carter’s Entertaining With Insects is a classic gourmet insect recipes.
The popularity of insects as food may not be by accident. Insects are known to be some of nature’s most nutritious items. In her book Creepy Crawly Cuisine, Dr. Julietta Ramos-Elorduy says, “The most wholesome source of protein on earth cannot be found in any supermarket, but it can be found right in your backyard.” Insects.
Ramos-Elorduy adds that “Insects have been a delicacy of almost every indigenous culture, not only because of their delicious flavour, but also because they provide a more complete protein than soy, meat, fish and are concentrated sources of calcium, magnesium, potassium and many other nutrients.”
Already, there are groups working to promote insect eating; their rationale is that because insects are protein rich and provide as much nutrition as lean beef, insect farming is ecologically a better option for commercial protein production. In the US beef farms for example, one hectare of land is used for raising 100kg of beef, yet the same hectarage could produce tonnes of insect protein!