In Europe or the United States, the idea of eating worms or insects seems a priori not very disgusting. But a South African chemical engineer, Wendy Vesela, has found a way to put these protein- and iron-rich insects on the menu, grinding them into flour to make a protein powder.
This is then used for the preparation of cookies, chocolate bars, cereals or even smoothies. Steamed and sliced, mopane caterpillars can also be used as a pizza topping.
While the consumption of insects and worms conquers new grounds, particularly in the West, the food anthropologist Anna Trapido nevertheless warns against the consumption of mopanes as a “kind of tourist adventure where you get a medal” for daring to eat it.
“Mopane worms should be treated with respect as they carry emotional and spiritual culinary baggage” from southern Africa, underlines the specialist.
For Wendy Vesela, originally from Limpopo province (north-eastern South Africa), these caterpillars are part of staple foods. In the Kruger National Park, close to the town where she grew up, they are considered a delicacy cooked in a sauce with onions and tomatoes.
“If you give it to me in the form of chocolate… It’s really delicious”
The entrepreneur wowed doubting customers with her cookies and protein bars at a recent food show in Johannesburg’s Sandton business district.
“I will not eat a worm. I’m sorry, that’s disgusting. But if you give it to me in the form of chocolate… It’s really delicious,” confided Gail Odendaal, 38, leaving with a stock of protein bars made from caterpillars.
Wendy Vesela is now considering going into breeding. These insects need neither water nor soil, just a tree, the mopane, which grows in the hot and dry regions of southern Africa and on which the caterpillars feed and reproduce.
More iron than in a steak
With breeding, Wendy Vesela could have several harvests a year. For now, she employs women in the villages when it is the season, in December and April. The caterpillars are gutted, then boiled and dried.
The spiky black and green worms represent “a healthy source of protein”, assures Ms. Vesela, calling on consumers to “overcome their fears”.
Also rich in essential fats and minerals, they are a much better source of protein than many other products on the market, says dietitian Mpho Tshukudu: “they contain more iron than the most expensive steak”.
mopanes “are significantly higher in iron than any purportedly iron-fortified breakfast cereal”confirms Ms. Trapido.