For the majority of the people in the western world, eating insects is welcomed with feelings of aversion and disgust. Yet for a lot of other people, entomophagy or the consumption of insects and bugs is part of their staple diet.
In 2013, the FAO (Food & Agriculture Organisation of the UN) published a study about the consumption of insects and recommends it as a nutritious and ecologically friendly source of food. This means that even in the western world, the role of insects in a healthy diet could slowly increase in importance.
Considered a true delicacy, the mopane worm is widely consumed in rural areas of southern Africa. Being highly nutritious makes it an important source of protein for a lot of households in these areas. Scientifically known as the Gonimbrasia Belina, the mopane worm is in fact the brightly coloured spiky caterpillar of the Emperor moth. They are one of the larger caterpillars, nearly as long as a finger and as thick as a cigar.
The mopane caterpillar feeds mainly on the leafs of the mopane tree, hence its name. During harvest time which takes place a few weeks into the rainy season, hundreds of families hand pick them from the trees. The innards of the caterpillar are carefully squeezed out after which they are dried in the sun, smoked or boiled. The dried Mopane worms can be stored for usage throughout the year and are mostly sold at local markets in rural areas or in supermarkets in the bigger cities.
For most of these families, it is an easily obtainable and cheap source of protein. On the other hand, it is also considered to be a million dollar industry in Southern Africa where the worms are exported to some european countries.
How to eat the mopane worm
The mopane worm can either be eaten dried as a crispy snack, traditionally cooked in a delicious stew, or fried to perfection. The eye is literally the eye catcher and will be eaten as well, except in parts of Botswana were the eye is removed before consumption.
The Boma restaurant in Victoria Falls serves many mouth watering local dishes and fried Mopane worm is one of them. For the brave ones that try at least one, they will receive a special certificate.
I tried my first mopane worm in this restaurant, so I got the certificate. The worm was grilled and looked very well done. It tasted like burned steak. Not bad, but I didn’t try a second one, at the time.
A few years later I visited a rural village in Zimbabwe with some tourists and we were invited to join them for a lovely traditional meal. We got served sadza (maize porridge) with lot’s of Mopane worms bought at a local market. The whole village was very eager to see if we would like this dish and were standing around to watch us taking our first bite. I still remembered the worms not tasting too bad in the Boma restaurant, so I didn’t mind eating them again. But we each got at least 15 of these creepy crawlies on a plate which was maybe a bit much for my taste buds, especially when the one big black eye was looking at me and it still seemed to be alive, fried or not. I think I managed to eat about 5 worms, and then invited the rest of the village children to join me. Full of joy they attacked the plate and were very happy for this delicious meal…and so was I.
For the ones wanting to try a true local African dish, treat yourself to a delicious meal of mopane worms, cooked to your liking.
Have you ever tried to eat insects? Would you try and eat them knowing they are very nutritious?
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