WEIRD FOODS IN CHINA---INSECTS, SCORPIONS AND COCKROACH FARMS

INSECTS AS FOOD IN CHINA

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Bee larvae
In some places Chinese still eat cicadas, crickets, giant water beetles, stinkbugs, silk worms, cockroaches and fly maggots. People that eat these things tend to be poor and have no other sources of protein. In some places Chinese eat live scorpions doused in baijiu,a potent Chinese liquor. Giant water bugs are boiled and soaked in vinegar. Their shells are cracked open like the shells of crabs and the flesh inside is eaten. The scorpions sold on the streets in Beijing are grabbed live by the sales people, dipped in boiling oil for second and skewered on a stick. Grasshoppers are widely eaten in China and other places around the world. Insects are rich in protein and are a far greener way to get protein than eating chicken, cows and pigs, which produce greenhouse gases and consume much of the world’s grain.

Insects have been widely eaten in China for a long time. Williams (1853) as quoted by Bodenheimer states: "The insect food (of the Chinese) is confined to locusts and grasshoppers, groundgrubs and silkworms; the latter are fried crisp when cooked." According to Bargagli (1877) locusts are sold in the markets of Tientsin and Peking. Bargagli also mentions the methods of preparing silkworm pupae as food, and says that they are eaten by both the rich and the poor. He also notes that bee and wasp larvae are eaten, and that the mountaineers of China and Japan dig up the nests of certain ants, the pupae from which are used as food. Chinese boys eagerly seek from bamboo-stems certain larvae which are dark and thick as a finger. Finally Bargagli notes that mayflies are collected when swarming and pounded and mixed with honey to make an acid preserve. [Source: food-insects.com/book == ]

Simmonds (1885) mentions that silkworm pupae are hawked about the streets in China and sold to the lower classes for about 5d. per pound as an article of diet. He mentions a price of thirty-four dollars per picul of 133 1/3 lbs at Chinkiang. The Chinese also raise the larvae of calliphorid flies in heaps of rotting fish near the sea-coast, which they apparently put to use as food. The larvae of ants are considered "a great dainty" in China, according to Simmonds. Esaki (1942) states that Cybister beetles and giant waterbugs are sold in the markets of Shanghai. Bodenheimer (1951) mentions that the larvae of dragonflies are eaten in certain localities. Hoffmann's (1947) paper is a major source of information on the consumption of insects in China. The insects discussed by Hoffmann are included below under the appropriate orders and families. ==

Describing information obtained from Mr. A. Ludin through correspondence, Bodenheimer (1951) wrote: “ Mr. A. Ludin, one of our students who was born in Manchuria and later lived at Peking, informed us that locusts and grasshoppers are widely used there as food. The wings and the legs are pulled off and the remainder boiled in a special oil. Then the oil is drained off and the crisp insect, seasoned by the flavour of the oil, is eaten. Some restaurants prepared fried pupae of bees and roast beetles, but these are dainties which require complicated preparation. Honey is also much used in Manchuria. Many other insects, usually pounded or boiled in water, are in use as popular medicines. ==

Bodenheimer summarized information on several insects (quoted below under the appropriate orders and families) from correspondence with a Dr. Fen of Peking, some of whose observations were made by himself, others by entomologist friends: "Chinese people eat several kinds of insects; the eating of some of the insects is common throughout the country, while the use of others is limited to certain localities. In most cases the insects are taken as accessory food and used as a dish which sometimes is considered as a delicacy." Anonymous (date?) lists in a table the identity, method of preparation, localities where eaten, and habitat where collected, for 23 species used as food, 20 of which are used in China (translation). They are included below under the appropriate orders and families. ==

Donovan (1798) quotes an earlier undisclosed author saying, "Under the roots of the canes is found a large white grub, which being fried in oil is eaten as a dainty by the Chinese," and that "the aurelias [pupae] of the silk worm which is cultivated in China, after the silk is wound off, furnish an article for the table." Donovan states that Scarabaeus molossus Linn. and S. bucephalus are both very common in China, and of the grub found in cane roots, he states, "Perhaps this is the larva of Scarabaeus molossus, which, like many other of the Scarabaei, may live sedentary in the ground, and subsist on the roots of plants: the general description and abundance of this insect in China favours such opinion." Darwin (1800), possibly drawing on the same early author, mentions that "the aurelia of the silk-worm, after the silk is wound off, and the white earth-grub, and the larva of the sphinx moth, furnish articles at the table, and are said to be delicious." ==

Prevost (1993), of Lakeland University in Ontario, Canada, stated that during travels in China: “Most Chinese looked at me very puzzled and asked me why I would want to eat insects, when they could offer me eyeballs, stomachs, intestines and heads of chicken, pigeon and turtle. They believed that I was joking when inquiring about insects as food. After a further discussion, they finally admitted that some people eat silkworm pupae and giant waterbugs, but it was not common. Silkworm pupae are eaten only in the silkworm areas during harvest of the silken cocoons when the cocoon-bearing pupae are placed in hot water to kill them and to unravel the thread from the cocoon. These pupae can be further processed by roasting in peanut oil.

Insect Food as Health Treatments in China

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deep-fried cicadas
Kantha (1990) reviews dietary sources of the Chinese population and the incidence, increase and decline of important diet-related health disorders in China during the past four decades. The consensus among researchers is that since 1949 the public health situation in China has improved tremendously. [Source: food-insects.com/book == ]

Kantha provides tabular information on insect products used in Chinese traditional medicine and their implicated remedial action (the information is drawn from an NIH translation of "A Barefoot Doctor's Manual"): 1) Bee hive: Relieves flatulence, counteracts toxicity and kills worms; 2) Cicada exuviae: Reduces fevers and clears lungs; 3) Cricket: Promotes diuresis; 4) Dung beetle: Dissipates clots and bruises; 5) Locust, flying: Supplements deficiencies and complements the blood; 6) Mantis: Resolves bruises and clots; 7) Mantis cocoon (found on mulberry leaves): Strengthens kidneys and relieves convulsions; 8) Mole cricket: Promotes diuresis and eliminates edema; 9) Silkworm: Relieves flatulence and loosens congestion; 10) Spanish fly (Cantharis): Cauterizes tissues to control toxin spread (esp. used in rabid dog bites). ==

As medicine, insects such as crickets, flying locusts and mantis are roasted, pulverized and mixed with boiled water before being taken by mouth. Relative to ethnodietetics, of four regional variations that can be identified in China's food preparation, Kantha mentions insects specifically only in relation to Canton (southern China). The Cantonese style is characterized by a reliance on color, and stir-frying and steaming are the most-used methods of preparation. Significant dietary problems in the country include deficiencies in riboflavin and iron with an estimated 100 million Chinese children probably suffering from nutritional anemia due to iron deficiency. Although not mentioned in the review, it can be noted in this context that many kinds of insects are rich sources of riboflavin and/or iron. ==

Chen Yi and Akre (1994) state that the main thrust or characteristic of Chinese medicine is that it combines food and medicine, and the essence of this medicine is based on the Yingyang Theory or white and dark equilibrium theory. They cite old Chinese writings dating to 100-200 A.D. recording 21 species of insects as having medicinal value, a list that was extended to 73 species with the publication of Ben Cao Kang Mu (Compendium Materia Medica) in 1578, and to 84 species with publication of the Supplement to the Compendium in 1756. See these authors under the Formicidae section for an extended discussion of the use of ants as food and medicine in China. Similarly to the above statement by Chen and Akre, Shen et al (1997) cite a Chinese saying that drugs and food are homologous in function for human health, and they discuss a number of pharmacological products and uses based on insects and other invertebrates. ==

Insects Consumed by Minorities in China

Chen Xiaoming (1990)(The Research Institute of Insect Resources) noted that there are many edible insects in Yunnan Province and that many minority nationalities use them as food and for medicinal purposes. Among the insects often eaten are a species of ant; locusts of the genera Oxya and Locusta; pupae of the silkworm, Bombyx mori; the termite, Coptotermes formosanus (Rhinotermitidae); larvae and pupae of five species of bees and wasps among the Apidae, Vespidae and Scoliidae; the moth larva, Hepialus armoricanus (Hepialidae); the bug Tessaratoma papillosa (Pentatomidae); and the weevil larva, Cyrtotruchelus longimanus (Curculionidae). [Source: food-insects.com/book == ]

In addition to studies on the folk edible insects of Yunnan, there is a study of Macrotermes barnyi as a health food. The queen termites are steeped in alcohol as a beverage rich in vitamins A and C among other micronutrients of benefit to health. A study that will not sound too appealing to many Westerners is on the presumed health benefits of Chongcha, a special tea made from the feces of Hydrillodes morosa (a noctuid moth larva) and Aglossa dimidiata (a pyralid moth larva). The former eats mainly the leaves of Platycarya stobilacea, the latter the leaves of Malus seiboldii. Chongcha is black in color, freshly fragrant, and has been used for a long time in the mountain areas of Guangxi, Funan and Guixhou by the Zhuan, Tong and Miao nationalities. It is taken to prevent heat stroke, counteract various poisons, and to aid digestion, as well as being considered helpful in alleviating cases of diarrhea, nosebleed and bleeding hemorroids. Whatever the extent of its preventive or curative benefits, Chongcha apparently serves as a good "cooling beverage" having a higher nutritive value than regular tea. ==

Beetles as Food in China

Larvae of the longicorn beetle (Cerambycidae) are fried or eaten raw in Sichuan, northeastern China and Hunan. Ghesquièré (1947) stated that Rhynchophorus chinensis is consumed by the people of a large part of Asia from Ceylon to China. Adults and larvae of weevils in bamboo: After removing head, legs, wings and intestines, adults are soaked in sauces and baked on hot ashes; larvae are fried with sauces; Guangxi, Sichuan. See also Chen X. (1990) in the Introduction. [Source: food-insects.com/book == ]

Dytiscidae (predaceous diving beetles): Hoffmann (1947) states that dytiscid and hydrophilid beetles are commonly eaten in Kwangtung Province and in other places where Cantonese dwell. Hydrophilids are less-liked and cheaper than the dytiscids and both are cheaper than the giant waterbugs. The beetles are used both as medicine (considered an anti-diuretic) and to a lesser extent as a confection. They are prepared by dropping them into hot brine, apparently hastening the appearance of oil on the surface, as they are very greasy as offered for sale. The odor of some of these beetles is offensive, according to Hoffmann. Elytra, legs, and certain other chitinous parts are removed prior to eating. Species of dytiscids used include at least the following: Cybister bengalensis Aube; C. guerini Aube; C. japonicus Sharp; C. limbatus Fabr.; C. sugillatus Er.; and C. tripunctatus Ol. ==

Bodenheimer (1951) states: Certain species of aquatic beetles known locally in Canton as 'Lung Shih' literally meaning 'dragon lice', are used for food by the Cantonese. Two species, namely, Cybister japonicus Sharp (Dytiscidae) and Hydrous hastatus Herbst (Hydrophilidae), are commonly consumed. These beetles are boiled with salt water and sold in the market. The above mentioned two species can be purchased in any grocery in Canton, they are eaten just as watermelon seeds and peanuts are eaten by the local people. They can be purchased also in Cantonese food shops in other large cities like Peking, Shanghai and Tientsin. They may also be eaten as one of the dishes on the table. Sometimes they are fried. ==

In addition, Bodenheimer quotes correspondence from Miss N.G. Sproston, of the Institute of Hydrobiology in Shanghai, to Dr. J. Theodorides: Beetles are a very common article of diet in some provinces. They are for sale in Shanghai, but are rather expensive because of the special preparation they require. They are fried very crisp and are eaten with other rich foods along with wine at the beginning of the feast....The rice does not appear till it (all the best dishes except the soups and pork) is nearly over. The beetles are Dytiscidae: Dytiscus marginalis is used extensively here, and in Japan and China the equally big Cybister japonicus is also eaten. On the whole, the Cantonese are more entomophagous than the other Chinese; next come the Szechuanese from Western China around Chungking. There it is thought, that other water-beetles are eaten. My assistant remembers eating them at his father's table when quite young, but they were small species. ==

True water beetle (Dytiscidae): Removal of internal waste with warm water, then soaked in salt, dried. Wings and legs are removed before eating. Crisp and tasty; Guangdong, Guangxi; In rice fields, pools (Anon.). See also Esaki (1942) in the Introduction. Scarabaeidae (scarab beetles): Adults baked until dry, then ground to flour; Jiangsu; Forests, orchards (Anon.). See also Donovan (1798), Darwin (1800) and Williams (1853) in the Introduction. ==

Grubs, Maggots and Flies Eaten in China

According to Hoffmann, some people in the Canton area rear and dry the larvae of the green-bottle fly, Chrysomyia megacephala (Fabr.), as medicine and food. The medicine shops in Canton were apparently large buyers. Pieces of fish and meat were exposed to attract oviposition, but no information is given concerning the rearing medium. Hoffmann notes that the flowers of privet, an ornamental hedge in Canton, attract green-bottle flies by the thousands. Hoffmann raises questions as to the health implications of these flies, and why they are reared at all, particularly as they may be "obtained by the quarts from the numerous night-soil kangs in any village." [Source: food-insects.com/book == ]

Bodenheimer (1951) 278) mentions that in some localities maggots from meat (Calliphoridae and Sarcophagidae) are eaten and are called locally 'meat sprouts' in analogy to bean sprouts grown from beans). Maggot of fly: Cleaned, then mixed with glutinous rice powder, making cake; Southern China (Anon.). See also Simmonds (1885) in the Introduction.

Muscidae (filth flies): In a report that appeared widely in U.S. newspapers (e.g., San Francisco Chronicle/Examiner Jan. 23, 1994; newspaper reports summarized in Food Insects Newsl. 7(2): 11, 1994), the official Xinhua News Agency reported that Chinese scientists have developed nutrition-rich extracts from maggots of the common fly [presumably Musca domestica], and are negotiating with food and pharmaceutical firms to mass-produce the products. It quoted one scientist as saying the maggot extracts are "surprisingly appealing" but did not describe how they taste. The maggot amino acids can be used as a nutritional supplement for children's food, and the low-fat oil is effective in preventing heart disease, the report said. It noted that the maggots are kept in large bottles and fed distiller's grain, wheat bran and other farm waste. In studies on mass-rearing of the house fly (Musca domestica vicina) for protein production, Lu and Zhong (1993, 1994, 1995) developed models and theoretical optimal schemes for fly oviposition during the first 20 days, fly oviposition, average eggs per fly and larval biomass.

Adults and larvae of mayflies (Ephemeridae): The larvae, which are rich in fat, are fried; China, Japan; In streams or pools (Anon.). Bodenheimer mentions that larvae of May flies are eaten in certain localities. See also Bargagli (1877) in the Introduction.

Psacothea hilaris Pascoe, larva: Bodenheimer (1951) mentioned the two species as being eaten in certain localities. According to Anon.: Grubs: After removing head, legs, and intestine, they are fried with salt and oil; China, Japan; Soil, or dunghills and manure piles associated with fowl or livestock. [Source: food-insects.com/book == ]

Giant Waterbugs and Stinkbugs Eaten as Food in China

The giant waterbug, Lethocerus indicus, is called Kwai Fa Shim or henna flower cicada because it has a pleasant odor not unlike the flowers of henna or Lawsonia. Hoffmann says of this species: “In Canton these bugs are prepared for eating by dropping into boiling water to which has been added a little salt. More rarely they are placed briefly into deep fat to which some spices have been added....They are considered a delicacy and are eaten because they are relished; no medicinal value is ascribed to them. These bugs, like the hydrophilid and dytiscid beetles, are displayed by the gallons in numerous shops and food stalls in cities like Canton, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. These insects are offered for sale in Shanghai because of the large number of Cantonese living there and are exported abroad for the same reason. The Cantonese seem to be the chief insect eaters among the Chinese although I am informed that the people in the Peiping area are fond of grasshoppers cooked in sesamum oil. [Source: food-insects.com/book == ]

The collection of aquatic bugs and beetles is conducted as a business by "professionals," according to Hoffmann. He states: “I have often come across them in the country carrying their catch and their paraphernalia but only once observed a collector at work and he promptly discontinued once becoming aware of my presence. I have not been able to determine if these collectors are the ones who collect frogs for the market, but it seems certain that the professional grasshopper collectors have nothing to do with the lowly aquatic professions. The grasshoppers are caught and sold, alive, as bird feed. ==

Hoffmann notes that the use of the giant waterbugs as human food saves the pond-fish culturists of Kwangtung Province several hundreds of thousands of dollars annually because the bugs are destroyers of young fish in the breeding ponds. They also occasionally are troublesome in the outdoor rearing of goldfish and other aquarium fishes Bodenheimer (1951) states: "Kwei-hua-ch'an, a member of Hemiptera, Lethocerus indicus Lepeletier and Serville (Belostomatidae), is a large aquatic insect also used by Cantonese as food in a similar manner as the water beetles. They can also be purchased in food shops in Canton." Adult giant water bug, or fish killer: Prepared similarly to the water beetle: Guangdong; Rice fields, pools (Anon.). See also Esaki (1942) and Prevost (1993) in the Introduction.

Pentatomidae (stink bugs): Lichi stink-bug, Tessaratoma papillosa Drury: Head, legs, wings and intestines removed, then salted, covered with cabbage leaves, and quick-boiled on hot ashes; very tasty, no bad odor; Southern China; On lichi trees (Anon.). See also Chen (1990) in the Introduction.

Cicadas, Grasshoppers and Locusts as Food in China

In Tientsin, Oliphant (1861) saw boys in the street hawking bushels of fried locusts. Locust hunting is a favorite occupation of the children, and Oliphant compared the taste of the locusts to that of periwinkles. Cowan (1865) cites the Chinese Repository to the effect that the Chinese consider the locust, when deprived of its abdomen and properly cooked, as passable eating, but do not appear to hold the dish in much esteem. [Source: food-insects.com/book == ]

Bodenheimer (1951) states: “The eating of grasshopper is common in various parts of China. Many species are eaten and the species concerned depends on what is available. In Shantung at least 4 species are eaten. The female of the large form is about 3 inches long. The time these insects are collected to be used as food is the late autumn. At that time the female insect contains a large number of eggs and on account of the chilly mornings they are more easily caught. During this time children as well as adults usually collect them while working in the fields. The catch forms one of the dishes of the evening meal. The wings are taken off, the heads together with the intestine are pulled out and the whole insect is fried with the addition of salt and sauce. ==

“In Tientsin and Peking even city people eat grasshoppers. The farmer in the autumn collects and brings them to the market to be sold alive. The grasshoppers of a market value are only the locust, Locusta migratoria, as this is the only species that can be collected in large numbers in some years. Also regarding this species, those collected in the late autumn containing eggs are especially appreciated. This species is so commonly eaten that during autumn and winter months it can be obtained from any groceries in both Peking and Tientsin. Some are already fried ready to be eaten, while dried ones (they are killed by boiling in water or by steam and dried) can be purchased and fried at home. ==

“While grasshoppers are ordinarily used as accessory food, they, especially the locusts, when the crop has been destroyed by them and the farmers can collect them in large numbers, are used as ordinary food. Families are known who passed the famines due to destruction of crop by locusts by eating the locusts collected in the field with the limited amount of cereal they had on hand. In such cases the collected locusts are either killed by boiling them in water or by steam, then dried in the sun and fried for eating when needed. ==

Locust (Acrididae)s are cooked with salt, then dried under the sun. Mixed with rice to make porridge or cake, or cooked with vegetable as a dish. Or, fried in oil after removing the intestine, head and legs; very crisp and tasty; Eaten in many areas of China and Japan; Found on grasses in uncultivated fields (Anon.). Luo (1990) reported that L. migratoria manilensis Megen and O. chinensis Thunberg are widely used as food in China. The latter has been canned for sale in some town markets in recent years. See also Williams (1853), Bargagli (1877), Bodenheimer (1951) and Chen (1990) in the Introduction and Hoffmann under Bombycidae. ==

Bodenheimer (1951) states that cockroaches (Periplaneta americana and P. australasiae) are eaten in certain localities. Adult crickets are cooked with soy sauce and sugar in China and Japan. Adult mole crickets (Gryllotalpidae): After the legs, wings and intestines are removed, they are eaten with sauce in Guangdong and Guangxi. They are found in the soil, especially in gullies and ravines. They are collected during spring ploughing, or when attracted to baits (Anon.). ==

Cicadidae (cicadas): Luo Ke (1990) reports that several insects such as cicada are canned for sale in the markets. Bodenheimer (1951) states: Cicada. Any species available, adults as well as nymphs, are eaten, especially the nymphal forms. The latter are either collected on the tree during evening time or dug out from the ground. They are usually eaten after frying....Boys are always lashing at the street trees with long bamboos to bring down the cicadas, etc. Sometimes children eat various insects and pupae they catch. The nearly emergent cicada nymph is eaten raw as a great delicacy, particularly in Shantung. ==

Ants, Wasps and Bees as Food in China

Brygoo (1946) states that the Chinese regard ant larvae as a delicacy. In a report carried in U.S. newspapers in October 1992, Xinhua reported a recent meeting in Nanking by ant experts and medical workers to discuss the health benefits of eating Polyrhachis vicina - the country's most common ant - as "crunchy morsels," or taking a sip of essence of ant. "In some regions of southwestern China, local people regularly eat ants," Xinhua reported. "As a result, the locals enjoy good health." Ants were especially effective against rheumatism, said Zhang Zhilin, the vice chairman of the Chinese entomological society. The formic acid and other mineral traces in the insects were also effective in the treatment of hepatitis-B and other immunity disorders, the agency reported. [Source: food-insects.com/book == ]

In another report carried in U.S. newspapers (ex. San Francisco Chronicle Jan. 28, 1994), Xinhua, China's official news agency, urged people to add ants to their diet: Wu Zicheng, "an expert on ant diet" based in the central city of Nanjing, has worked out dozens of recipes for ant-based cakes, teas and wines to promote ant eating, the news agency said. "Ants are a miniature nutritious treasury," Xinhua quoted Wu as saying, adding that ants contain more zinc than either soybeans or pig liver. Xinhua said Chinese have been eating ants for more than 3000 years and "the longevity of many old people who are now over 100 years old has been found to be connected with an ant diet." According to an article in the Asahi Evening News, entitled "Ant foods make big bucks in China," annual sales of ant foods in the country amount to approximately US $100 million (Kantha 1994). ==

Chen Yi and Akre (1994) discuss the food and, especially, the medicinal uses of ants, primarily the weaver ant, Polyrhachis vicina. In ancient China ants were used as food for the nobles as well as for the common people, and the Book of Etiquette mentions that ant eggs (pupae) were prepared as a special paste to serve the nobles. In the southern provinces, large quantities of pupae were collected to make a caviarlike dressing. "This delicacy was served at dinner to welcome honored guests." It was believed that eating ants would rejuvenate old people, and in the Supplement of the Compendium Materia Medica it is stated that eating 6-10 g of ants per day could make one healthy and increase milk production in women. The authors cite (and tabularize) data on amino acids and minerals from earlier nutrient analyses of P. vicina by Chen, and they remark specifically on the high concentration of zinc in these ants. The reported protein content is 42-67 percent. ==

The ants are believed to have many medical functions including improving blood circulation and metabolism, bolstering the immune system, reducing inflammations, reducing pain, treating asthma and rheumatoid arthritis, and slowing aging, among others. For cancer patients, ant medicines are reported to increase appetite, relieve pain, improve digestion and increase the number of white blood cells. Ant medicines currently sold without prescription include an ant wine, a syrup, a paste and a powder. To improve palatability, they are sometimes mixed with tea or selected medicinal herbs. Chen and Akre cite research relevant to some of these conditions, but there is little or no clinical confirmation for most of the presumed medical benefits. The authors mention that USDA chemists are currently testing ant powder to determine whether it contains prostaglandin inhibitors, chemicals that mimic aspirin, and which, if found, might lend some scientific foundation to the use of ants in treating arthritis and some other ailments. ==

According to Chen and Akre, the Chinese people are enthusiastic about ants used as medicine, and their popularity is increasing. The medical uses are widely reported in newspapers and magazines and on television and radio. Scientists are concerned that there is danger the ants are being over-harvested to the point of extinction, and efforts are now underway to develop mass-rearing methods. An ant breeding farm, the first, was established in Yuyao, Zhejiang province in 1991. See also Bargagli (1877), Simmonds (1885) and Chen (1990) in the Introduction.

Vespidae (wasps, hornets): Among insects eaten in certain localities, Bodenheimer (1951) mentions the larvae of Vespa sp. Pupae and larvae of wasps and hornets: Fried in oil, also canned; Eaten in many areas of China; Combs hanging on trees, under eaves, holes in trees, in the soil (Anon.). See also Bargagli (1877) and Chen (1990) in the Introduction. Apidae (honey bees): Bee larvae and pupae. See Bargagli (1877), Bodenheimer (1951) and Chen (1990) in the Introduction.

According to the official New China News Agency, as reported in U.S. newspapers (e.g., San Francisco Examiner March 15, 1992), Yang Siqi, director of the Yingtan Termite Research Institute, believes termites can cure a variety of ills. He developed the theory after orthodox treatments failed to cure his fever and gastritis. After three months of eating termites, "a miracle happened," and doctors were amazed at how quickly his ailments had disappeared, according to the report. Yang has set up three companies to produce termite-based medicines for the international market.

Silkworms as Food in China

Silkworm pupae are eaten, mixed with egg yellows and fried in butter (Verrill 1938). Hoffmann mentions that the pupae of the silkworm, Bombyx mori Linn., are used extensively as food in the silk districts of Kwangtung Province in South China. He describes as follows: In reeling, the cocoons are dropped into very hot water and the reeling girls have a plentiful supply of freshly cooked food before them all day long. They seem to eat off and on all day long since they work rapidly for long hours at a stretch and the cooked morsels are ever before them. One gets a pleasant odor of food being cooked as he passes through a reeling laboratory. I understand that the pupae are also roasted and have seen pupae in the food stalls which had the appearance of having been roasted. The pupae are offered for sale throughout the silk district in the south and to some extent in other areas. I am told that there are other ways of preparation employed in the silk districts in central China. The pupae, along with waste material from the reeling factories, are used as fish food in pondfish culture. Even more extensively used as fish food is the waste from silkworm rearing (feces, dead worms, and mulberry leaves). [Source: food-insects.com/book == ]

Bodenheimer (1951) states: Silkworm cultivation is an important industry in many provinces, e.g. Shantung, Kiangsu and Chekiang and in some parts of Szechuan. In these places country people raise silkworms and make silk themselves. Spring is a busy season in the field. The cocoons of silkworms cropped in the spring are preserved by baking or by pickling them with common salt. Silk is made at leisure during the summer rainy season. Consequently large amounts of silkworm pupae are produced during the season. The pupae either from the baked cocoons or from the salted cocoons are then dried in the sun and preserved as food for the rest of the year. Pupae from the baked cocoons are more delicious and are liked most. For eating the pupae are first softened in water and then fried either with chicken eggs in the form of omlette or simply fried with onion and sauce. It is used as a dish in the ordinary meal or on occasions when guests are invited. In all three provinces silkworm pupae are eaten in a similar way. The commonest species is Bombyx mori L.

Merle (1958) credits a Chinese doctor with the information that (translation), "in certain remote areas of China [silkworm] chrysalides, scalded and gathered together at the moment the cocoon's silk is unwound, are placed in containers where, upon fermenting, they produce a liquid which serves as a condiment (a little like the Vietnamese 'nuoc-man')." Hyde (1984, p. 15) noted that stir-fried silkworm pupae at a Chinese commune added a protein-rich supplement to a predominantly vegetarian diet, and mentions also that silkworm frass is collected by the Chinese for fish food and fertilizer. Pupae of the silkworm, Bombyx mori Linn.: Cooked with Chinese chives, or fried in oil; Zhejiang, Jangsu; From silk reeling mills (Anon.). See also Donovan (1798), Darwin (1800), Williams (1853), Bargagli (1877), Simmonds (1885), Chen (1990) and Prevost (1993) in the Introduction.

Moths and Caterpillars as Food in China

Hepialidae (ghost moths and swifts): According to Hoffmann, hepialid caterpillars infected with fungus of the genus Cordyceps are sent from Szechwan Province to other provinces in China as well as abroad. About a dozen of the infected caterpillars, each with a long strand of fungal growth, are tied into neat bundles of uniform size. They are made into a broth, with both the larvae and the broth being consumed. They are considered both a delicacy and as tonic food, and are expensive, only the middle classes and the well-to-do being able to afford them. Hoffmann states that, "I have sampled this material myself and found it quite tasty, but since I felt fine both before and after doing so, I cannot testify as to its efficacy." Hoffmann observed an instance in which hospitalization was necessary for three individuals who ate a large quantity of cicada nymphs infected with Cordyceps. [Source: food-insects.com/book == ]

Saturniidae (giant silkmoths): Antheraea (= Antherea) pernyi (Guérin-Méneville), pupa: Bodenheimer (1951) states: In Shantung, people of certain hilly districts cultivate Antherea pernyi on oak trees. On account of the large size and thick cuticle, the pupae are generally prepared by frying with onion and sauce, and not with eggs as is done for ordinary silkworm pupae. Since the pupae of this species are rather rare, but of large size, they are especially valued. Farmers who have these pupae may give them to their friends or relatives as a special gift. ==

Peigler (1993) describes a rather bizarre deviation from the normal exploitation of silk from cocoons. For centuries in southern China, particularly on the island of Hainan, mature larvae of Saturnia (= Eriogyna) pyretorum (Westwood)(Saturniidae) "were collected just before pupation and the silk glands were extracted , soaked in vinegar, washed, stretched more than 2 meters, and made into what was hailed as very strong leaders for fishing lines. The caterpillars were sometimes fried and eaten after the silk glands were extracted." ==

Sphingidae (hawk moths, sphinx moths): Pupae and larvae of Clanis bilineata Walker (Sphingidae) are salt-soaked, then fried in Shandong, Henan, Hebei, Anhui and Jiangsu; They are found in soybean fields and the wood of the Chinese scholartree (Anon.). See also Darwin (1800) in the Introduction. ==

Insects as Animal Feed in China

According to Clausen (1963), the small scale insect, Ericerus pala (Coccidae), which produces the wax known as "peh-la" in China, forms a byproduct that is fed to swine. See also Hoffmann (1947) and Hyde (1984) under Bombycidae. [Source: food-insects.com/book == ]

Luo (1989) summarized the results reported in numerous research papers published in China since 1980 on the nutritive value of insects, primarily three species, as feed for poultry, fish, pigs and farm-grown mink. The three species are Musca domestica (larvae and pupae), the silk worm, Bombyx mori (pupae), and the yellow meal worm, Tenebrio molitor (larvae). Data on proximate analyses, calcium and phosphorus content of the three insects are compared to earthworm meal and two conventional high-protein feeds, fish meal and bean cake. In at least the majority of the feeding trials reported, experimental diets involved substitution of insect meal for equivalent weights of fish meal, either all or part of it. There is no mention of whether diets were kept isonitrogenous and isocaloric within experiments. ==

In all of eight reports on laying hens, hens fed fly meal-containing diets fared as well or better than those fed fish meal diets as measured by egg production, egg quality, and feed costs. In one test on pigs fed fly larval diet, the pigs showed increased growth and reduced cost per pound of meat produced. In two reports on first-year grass carp, fish fed fly meal showed increased weight gains and protein efficiency and reduced cost per pound of fish produced. ==

In one report on silkworm pupal meal fed to chicks, weight gains of chicks fed the pupal meal were slightly lower than those fed fish meal, but the cost per pound of meat produced was reduced because the price of pupae is only half that of an equivalent amount of fish meal. In two reports, silkworm pupae were an excellent protein source for commercially reared mink, resulting in improved lustre and quality of fur. Silkworm pupae produced increased weight gains in pigs but also resulted in an odor problem in the meat. The problem was eliminated by removing pupae from the diet one month before slaughter. Chemical methods also show progress in eliminating the offending odor from silkworm pupae. ==

Cockroach as Food and Medicine in China

Farmers are pinning their future on the often-dreaded insect, which when dried goes for as much as $20 a pound — for use in Asian medicine and in cosmetics. Many farmers are hoping to boost demand by promoting cockroaches in fish and animal feed and as a delicacy for humans. Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “At least five pharmaceutical companies are using cockroaches for traditional Chinese medicine. Research is underway in China (and South Korea) on the use of pulverized cockroaches for treating baldness, AIDS and cancer and as a vitamin supplement. South Korea's Jeonnam Province Agricultural Research Institute and China's Dali University College of Pharmacy have published papers on the anti-carcinogenic properties of the cockroach. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, October 15, 2013 \\\\]

“Li Shunan, a 78-year-old professor of traditional medicine from the southwestern province of Yunnan who is considered the godfather of cockroach research, said he discovered in the 1960s that ethnic minorities near the Vietnamese border were using a cockroach paste to treat bone tuberculosis. "Cockroaches are survivors," Li said. "We want to know what makes them so strong — why they can even resist nuclear effects." \\\\

“Liu Yusheng, head of the Shandong Insect Industry Assn. eats fried cockroaches. Li reels off an impressive, if implausible, list of health claims: "I lost my hair years ago. I made a spray of cockroaches, applied it on my scalp and it grew back. I've used it as a facial mask and people say I haven't changed at all over the years. "Cockroaches are very tasty too." \\\\

“Chinese aren't quite as squeamish as most Westerners about insects — after all, people here still keep crickets as pets. In Jinan, Wang Fuming and his wife, who run the farm together, seem genuinely fond of their cockroaches and a little hurt that others don't feel affection. "What is disgusting about them?" Li Wanrong, Wang's wife, asked as a roach scurried around her black leather pumps. "Look how beautiful they are. So shiny!" \\\\

“Over lunch at a restaurant down the block from his farm, Wang Fuming placed a plate of fried cockroaches seasoned with salt on the table along with more conventional cuisine, and proceeded to nibble a few with his chopsticks. He expressed disapproval that visiting journalists refused to sample the roaches. On saying goodbye at the end of the day, he added a final rejoinder. "You will regret your whole life not trying them." \\\\

Cockroach Farms in China

Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “This squat concrete building was once a chicken coop, but now it's part of a farm with an entirely different kind of livestock — millions of cockroaches. Inside, squirming masses of the reddish-brown insects dart between sheets of corrugated metal and egg cartons that have been tied together to provide the kind of dark hiding places they favor.[Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, October 15, 2013 \\\\]

“Wang Fuming kneels down and pulls out one of the nests. Unaccustomed to the light, the roaches scurry about, a few heading straight up his arm toward his short-sleeve shirt."Nothing to be afraid of," Wang counsels visitors who are shrinking back into the hallway, where stray cockroaches cling to a ceiling that's perilously close overhead.Although cockroaches evoke a visceral dread for most people, Wang looks at them fondly as his fortune — and his future. \\\\

“China has about 100 cockroach farms, and new ones are opening almost as fast as the prolific critters breed. But even among Chinese, the industry was little known until August, when a million cockroaches got out of a farm in neighboring Jiangsu province. The Great Escape made headlines around China and beyond, evoking biblical images of swarming locusts. \\\\

“Notoriously hearty, roaches aren't susceptible to the same diseases as farm animals. As for feeding them, cockroaches are omnivores, though they favor rotten vegetables. Wang feeds his brood with potato and pumpkin peelings discarded from nearby restaurants. Killing them is easy too: Just scoop or vacuum them out of their nests and dunk them in a big vat of boiling water. Then they're dried in the sun like chile peppers. \\\\

The start-up costs are minimal — Wang bought only eggs, a run-down abandoned chicken coop and the roofing tile. The low start-up costs make raising cockroaches an appealing business for wannabe entrepreneurs, who can buy cockroach eggs and complete how-to kits from promoters. "People laughed at me when I started, but I always thought that cockroaches would bring me wealth," said Zou Hui, 40, who quit her job at a knitting factory in 2008 after seeing a television program about raising cockroaches. Wang Fuming, at his farm in Jinan, is the largest cockroach producer in China (and thus probably in the world), with six farms populated by an estimated 10 million cockroaches. It's not exactly a fortune, but the $10,000 she brings in annually selling cockroaches is decent money for her hometown in rural Sichuan province, and won her an award last year from local government as an "Expert in Getting Wealthy." "Now I'm teaching four other families," Zou said. "They want to get rich like me." \\\\

Cockroach Business in China

Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times, 43-year-old businessman Wang Fuming “is the largest cockroach producer in China (and thus probably in the world), with six farms populated by an estimated 10 million cockroaches. He sells them to producers of Asian medicine and to cosmetic companies that value the insects as a cheap source of protein as well as for the cellulose-like substance on their wings. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, October 15, 2013 \\\\]

Business is booming at his Shandong Xin Da Ground Beetle Farm.“Since Wang got into the business in 2010, the price of dried cockroaches has increased tenfold, from about $2 a pound to as much as $20, as manufacturers of traditional medicine stockpile pulverized cockroach powder. "I thought about raising pigs, but with traditional farming, the profit margins are very low," Wang said. "With cockroaches, you can invest 20 yuan and get back 150 yuan," or $3.25 for a return of $11. \\\\

Only the prospect of all those lost earnings would faze Wang, a compact man with a wisp of a mustache and wire-rim glasses who looks like a scientist, but has no more than a high school education. After graduating, he went to work in a tire factory. "I felt I would never get anywhere in life at the factory and I wanted to start a business," he said. As a boy he had liked collecting insects, so he started with scorpions and beetles, both used in traditional medicine and served as a delicacy. One batch of his beetle eggs turned out to be contaminated with cockroach eggs. "I was accidentally raising cockroaches and then I realized they were the easiest and most profitable," he said. \\\\

“ Perhaps understandably, the cockroach business ("special farming," as it is euphemistically called) is a fairly secretive industry. Wang's farm, for instance, operates in an agribusiness industrial park under an elevated highway. The sign at the front gate simply reads Jinan Hualu Feed Co. Some companies that use cockroaches don't like to advertise their "secret ingredient." And the farmers themselves are wary of neighbors who might not like a cockroach farm in their backyard. "We try to keep a low profile," said Liu Yusheng, head of the Shandong Insect Industry Assn., the closest thing there is to a trade organization. "The government is tacitly allowing us to do what we do, but if there is too much attention, or if cockroach farms are going into residential areas, there could be trouble." \\\\\

“Liu worries about the rapid growth of an industry with too many inexperienced players and too little oversight. In 2007, a million Chinese lost $1.2 billion when a firm promoting ant farming turned out to be a Ponzi scheme and went bankrupt. "This is not like raising regular farm animals or vegetables where the Agricultural Ministry knows who is supposed to regulate it. Nobody knows who is in charge here," he said. \\\\

“But inexperienced farmers can get into trouble, as Wang Pengsheng (no relation to fellow roach farmer Wang) found out after his cockroaches staged the Great Escape. He had opened his farm just six months earlier in a newly constructed building that municipal code officials complained was too close to protected watershed land. At noon on Aug. 20, while workers were out for lunch, a demolition crew knocked down the building. The roaches made a run for it. "They didn't know I had cockroaches in there. They wouldn't have demolished the building like that if there were cockroaches that would get out," Wang Pengsheng said in a telephone interview. \\\\

“After discovering the flattened building and homeless roaches scurrying among the rubble, he tried to corral the escapees but was unsuccessful. He called in local health officials, who helped him exterminate the roaches. Wang said he has received about $8,000 in compensation from local government and hopes to use the money to rebuild his farm elsewhere. \\\\

Scorpions as Food in China

Prevost (1993) was part of a group that looked for edible insects in Beijing restaurants; they found no insects but did find juvenile scorpions about 4 centimeters long. The scorpions were placed on a bed of noodles and cost about US $1.00 each. According to Prevost, they looked ferocious, but tasted fine, probably like a potato chip. [Source: food-insects.com/book == ]

Partly contrasting and partly confirming Prevost's observations, Professor Zuo R. Shen (1993) of Beijing Agricultural University states that: “In Beijing a restaurant is known well for the use of insects and other arthropods such as scorpion as medical food. Scorpion often appears now in the dishes of many restaurants including our university restaurant. In Shanghai there has opened a restaurant of food insects, which is sponsored by the Shanghai Institute of Entomology and Jinjiang Restaurant. [Also], two kinds of drugs have appeared in the market recently, which are made of extract from moths and able to improve the sex of man, according to the report by the producers, Jilin Research Institute of Plant Protection and Shenyang Agricultural University. ==

Image Sources: Weird Meat blog, Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated December 2013

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