The next time you see a chunky grasshopper, don’t think yuck, think yum!
Okay, that may not be easy for everyone – have you seen those things? But maybe it helps if you knew they’re both nutritious, and digestible?…
“For a long time the prevailing wisdom was that mammals didn’t produce an enzyme that could break down the exoskeletons of insects, so they were considered to be very difficult to digest,” researcher Mareike Janiak said.
Having said that, Janiak and her colleagues at Rutgers University in New Jersey say that ain’t so.
They discovered in their study, published recently in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, that most primates, including humans, have at least one working gene called CHIA – or, the stomach enzyme that breaks down an insect’s outer shell (exoskeleton).
Related: Why You Should Eat Bugs
But they’re still debating just how effective humans can digest an insect’s exoskeleton, explains Janiak.
“For humans, even if we didn’t have an enzyme, the exoskeleton becomes a lot easier to chew and digest once the insect has been cooked,” she said.
While we westerners don’t think of bugs as food automatically, 2 billion people worldwide do, according to the United Nations. But, most research is focused on western cultures, rather than people around the world with a proclivity for eating bugs.
It’s maybe something we should adopt. There are roughly 1,900 edible insect species; they’re highly nutritious, have healthy fats, protein, fiber, vitamins, and essential minerals. Really, the only thing holding bugs back from being akin to superfoods is that yuck factor.
“It’s interesting that many people who like shrimp and lobster think insects are yucky. But shellfish are kind of like underwater insects,” Janiak noted.
From tiny crickets to snack on in Japan, to eating cooked grasshoppers in Uganda (they really do taste like chicken, we hear), bugs can be quite tasty. If you can stomach the ick factor, they’re well worth your stomach space!
Photo Credit: Napat/Shutterstock.com; kwanchai.c/Shutterstock.com