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African recipes - making biscuits with crickets

LAB & LIBRARY: Anja is in Kenya testing the tasty biscuits made out of dead crickets. Maybe it is time to start serving crickets instead of steaks at your next dinner party

Creating a biscuit recipe nutritionally suited for children that also tastes good enough for them to want to eat it can be very difficult. Now add two ingredients: First, complete the recipe on a different continent without knowledge of the culture, language, or taste buds. Second, add an ingredient you have never used before: dead, pulverized crickets. Give it a few months in Kenya and you have my master thesis project.

I finished the final recipe for my feeding trial based on a previous recipe by my local advisor, Professor Monica Ayieko, expert opinions from colleagues, and a test group of children. “They are sweet” everyone kept telling me. Some time later, it dawned on me one day at lunch, that maybe people had been telling me something different than I thought they did.

“It tastes sweet,” my colleague was telling me about the food I was eating at one of the local hotels. I looked at him funnily and asked him how he could say a savory dish like matumbo and ugali (cow’s intestine and corn porridge) could be ‘sweet’. Turns out that much like a hotel, which commonly means restaurant or eatery in Kenya, sweet means ‘good’ and not sweet in the literary way. This is just an example of one of the countless cultural challenges that comes along when doing research abroad.

Trial baking of cricket biscuits. (Photo: Anja Maria Homann)

“It tastes sweet,” my colleague was telling me about the food I was eating at one of the local hotels. I looked at him funnily and asked him how he could say a savory dish like matumbo and ugali (cow’s intestine and corn porridge) could be ‘sweet’. Turns out that much like a hotel, which commonly means restaurant or eatery in Kenya, sweet means ‘good’ and not sweet in the literary way. This is just an example of one of the countless cultural challenges that comes along when doing research abroad.

Can we make people eat crickets?

My project is only a small part of an international Danida funded project called GREEiNSECT. Contrary to most of my colleagues who focus on the production, ecology and economy of insects for human food and animal feed, I am concerned with the acceptability and willingness of the target group to consume insects, and in this specific case the house cricket (Acheta Domesticus).

The target group in question is children in Kenya. Why? Because children in many parts of the country are malnourished in part due to lack of animal-sourced foods, and because entomophagy (insect-eating) is not foreign to the Luo tribe living on the banks of Lake Victoria, which is where I am doing my research. The Luo people most often consume winged termites (Macrotermes Subhylanus). However, no farming technology has of yet been developed for the termite and they can therefore only be caught by a light trap at the beginning of the rainy season when they fly out in great numbers for mating. The cricket, on the other hand, is a well known insect for mass-production several places on Earth. This makes it the insect of choice to study sustainability and food security.

Child contemplating what to answer on the hedonic questionnaire. (Photo: Anja Maria Homann)

In my study, children from the neighboring primary school were invited to come to the university each day for a mid-morning snack consisting of three large biscuits made with either cricket or milk powder. And so far they are loving it! They even keep asking the data enumerators why the mzungu (a general term for white people), or ‘Mrs. Cricket’ as I am also referred to as, is not giving them more biscuits to eat.

The scoop on poop

The main question people ask about my study is: “why should we eat them?” First of all, they taste amazing! At least according to a lot of people around the world including yours truly. Secondly, some of you might have heard it is because they are super nutritious. Importantly, the cricket contains high amounts of vitamin A and bioavailable iron which are two of the most common micronutrients that children are deficient of in Kenya and the rest of Africa. Furthermore, the cricket is high in protein and healthy unsaturated fatty acids.

I am, however, focusing on a different health perspective in my research. As a pilot study, I will collect stool samples from the children at the end of the four week study to test if there is a difference in microbiota composition between the children who have consumed milk and the children who have consumed crickets. There has been a great interest in the microbiota the past few years, since research has shown a strong correlation between health and the type of bacteria living in the gut. In particular, chitin – a polymer highly abundant in the exoskeleton of insects – is of interest in regulation of gut bacteria. Hopefully, these results will add to the growing amount of evidence on why you should start serving crickets instead of steaks at your next dinner party.

Read more about the GREEiNSECT project here.

Read about GREEiNSECT Ph.D. student Afton Halloran’s research here.

universitypost@adm.ku.dk

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