Cockroach milk is the latest non-dairy superfood fad in the world of health foods.
It is gaining mixed reviews with some people labelling it as the best new dairy-free superfood, while others find the idea to be slightly bizarre.
While most people will find the idea to be rather repulsive, some companies are capitalising on this trend early and creating all kinds of dairy-free products as an alternative to products from animals sources.
A South African company ‘Gourmet Grub‘ is an ice cream company that uses a product called ‘Entomilk’ (derived from the word entomology, which is the study of insects). Their products actually do look quite nice.
The company believes that insect farming is the future of food production.
It does sound a little bit gross, but it is a thing. The pacific beetle cockroach (Diploptera punctat) feeds it’s offspring by producing a type of ‘milk’ that resembles crystals. The embryonic insects are filled with the crystal-like substance. It is quite fascinating when you see the substance that shines like glitter (Pictured).
Even more fascinating is that researches have discovered these crystals to be 3x richer in energy than buffalo milk (which is higher in calories than regular cow’s milk). In addition to having a dense calorie profile, the milk is rich in mineral such as iron, zinc, and calcium.
In an interview with the Times of India one of the researchers, Sanchari Banerjee said: “The crystals are like a complete food – they have proteins, fats and sugars. If you look into the protein sequences, they have all the essential amino acids”.
In addition to being a dense source of calories and nutrition the milk is also time-released, meaning that the release of amino acid happens over a longer period of time (usually 6-9 hours).
The leader of the project, Subramanian Ramaswamy said: “It’s time-released food. If you need food that is calorifically high, that is time released and food that is complete. This is it.”
Barbara Stay is a retired professor at University of Iowa. She was among the first to study the insect’s crystalline milk. “I discovered that these little embryos at a certain development were able to drink. What they were drinking was a liquid substance,” she explains — but further along in the embryos’ development, the liquid from their mother concentrated inside their guts to form tiny crystals.
She found a way extract the roach milk through a process she calls ‘milking a cockroach’. She explains: “You substitute a filter paper in the brood sac for the embryos and you leave it there”. After a while, “you take it out and you get the milk.”
Realistically, the insects cannot make a whole lot of milk and it could take 1,000 cockroaches to make just 100 grams of milk.
This is not the most feasible option for long-term, large scale sustainability.
This is why an international team of scientists headed by researchers from the Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine in India have been attempting to sequence the genes responsible for producing the milk protein crystals to see if they could somehow replicate them in the lab.
Clearly milking a cockroach isn’t the most feasible option, so an international team of scientists headed by researchers from the Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine in India decided to sequence the genes responsible for producing the milk protein crystals to see if they could somehow replicate them in the lab.
They are hoping to get yeast to produce the crystal in much larger quantities.
More Than Just Food
The idea of introducing insect-based products into the food chain has been speculated upon multiple times in the past.
In a book published by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations in 2016 the nutritional and environmental benefits of eating insects were well documented. The book details the processing of insect-based food, food preservation, livelihood improvement, economic development and other benefits of such practices.
Likewise, researchers at the University of Edinburgh and Scotland’s Rural College found that replacing half the world’s meat consumption with consumption crickets and mealworms would cut farmlands by one-third. This would considerably cut the harmful emissions around world.
Behind all the health superfood fad, it is important for people to know that this source of protein is very nutrient dense and will not be suitable for those trying to lose weight. In fact, including it in a typical western diet may even be completely unnecessary due to it’s dense nutrient profile and the rising obesity rates in the western world. However, for people who struggle to consume enough calories per day, such as in the developing world this food source may prove to be exactly what is needed due to it’s rich and dense nutrient profile, ease of production and sustainability.
It’s important to point out that this densely rich protein source is definitely never going to be for those trying to lose weight, and probably isn’t even required for most western diets, where we are already eating too many calories per day.
This could be a quick and easy way to get calories and nutrients for those who struggle to get their recommended daily calorie amount.
“They can be a fantastic protein supplement,” said Ramaswamy.