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Crunch ... it's lunch

Tiara Walters | 2012-03-25 00:03:05.0
GOURMET GOGGA: Two boys selling their harvest of mopane worms. They contain more protein than dried beef

Thinking about supplementing your diet with the odd bug? SA's a good place to do it, says Tiara Walters

Welcome to South Africa - land of bobotie and bunny chow, malva pudding and morogo; pap and vleis ... and a devilishly delicious smorgasbord of some 50000 regional insect species.

With so much, er, grub about, one might even argue that it should be possible to end hunger in South Africa for good.

"Insects have been a staple of the human diet for millennia, so it's very natural for us to eat them. It is only the West that is unique in shunning them," says San Francisco-based Daniella Martin, Huffington Post blogger and host of Girl Meets Bug, a grotesquely fascinating online cooking show about bugs.

The 35-year-old Martin's diet regularly includes what most South Africans would consider to be unimaginably gross: cockroaches, fly pupae, silkworms, wasps, scorpions and tarantulas all feature on the menu of creepy-crawlies she has wolfed down.

"Insects can be raised in small spaces, and require relatively few resources such as food and water," she says. "Yet they produce lots of protein, minerals and healthy fats."

According to those who eat them, we in South Africa are fortunate enough to have several morsels of multi-legged goodness at our disposal. Grasshoppers and locusts are among the most sought after.

"These insects are trapped by hand, or when attracted to lights. Most are eaten in Limpopo and neighbouring countries," says Professor Mike Picker, author of the Field Guide to Insects of Southern Africa. "In times of economic hardship they make an excellent form of protein, fat and micronutrients."

"Larger winged termites are also consumed in the northern parts of South Africa," says Picker. "They are released from the mounds just before rain and are collected in specially constructed baskets. They are winnowed to get rid of the wings, and roasted on fires."

Should you want to supplement your diet with even more adventurous local fare, you may wish to try your hand at a spot of the old green stinkbug. A prized delicacy in Limpopo and Mpumalanga, this pungent beastie is boiled in water, squeezed dry to "get rid of the smell of the repugnatorial glands", and then fried.

Insects as food are especially important in the northern parts of the country, but become less ingested the farther south you go.

This, says bug vivant Martin, should not discourage anyone in the Western Cape, for instance, from reaching for what's already lurking in their kitchen. Just think of the hearty vichyssoise you can whip up in minutes by adding a wriggling little mass of larvae to your blender.

"My house plants may be dying from lack of water, but I'm successfully raising organic wax-moth larvae in a jar," Martin notes.

Of course, when discussing the benefits of local entomological cuisine, one cannot overlook the mopane worm - arguably the nation's most well-loved gogga.

"Mopane worms contain more protein than dried beef, substantial fibre and 40 times more calcium than any meat," Picker points out. He warns, however, that "overharvesting" is placing the mopane worm under pressure.

Could it be that, here, local is just a little too lekker? Perhaps there's nothing for it but to nitpick our way through the exotic insects that should never have been crawling, hopping, flying or slithering through our backyards in the first place.

"I've been playing with eating garden snails," says celebrity chef Justin Bonello.

"We look at them as vermin, but we should be looking at them as protein. Common garden snails are an exotic species - but you can farm them, purge them, cook them and do your bit by keeping South Africa indigenous."

If DIY escargots aren't your thing, how about a bit of Parktown prawn as a late-night snack? After Joburg's wet summer, there must be many of them loitering in the dewy undergrowth of your garden right now, just begging to be fried up with some chocolate chilli and garlic.

More bang for your bug.

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