In a bid to change the perception of edible caterpillars, South African chemical engineer Wendy Vesela has found several ways of turning the spiky green and black caterpillars into flour that can be used in biscuits, and sweet chocolate protein bars, cereals or smoothies. These caterpillars are popularly known as “mopane worms.” They can be a valuable source of nutrition and farming them is not detrimental to the environment. If reports are to be believed, once when steamed and sliced, the mopane pieces can also be used as pizza toppings.
Vesela has claimed that she has found domestic and international customers for her organic products. However, food anthropologist Anna Trapido insists that the trend of introducing edible insects in the West should not be seen as just another dietary fad, a “kind of adventure tourism, where you get a badge” for eating them. “Mopane need to be treated with respect because they are part of people’s emotional, spiritual, culinary genres,” she said.
The caterpillars are “a healthier option of protein”, she said. Also, it’s “not a worm. So people have to get over that fear.” Vesela also tried to woo reluctant customers with biscuits and protein bars. This happened at a recent food fair in Johannesburg’s upmarket Sandton district.
Gail Odendaal, a customer at the fair, said, “I won’t eat a worm. I’m sorry, it’s disgusting. But if you give it to me in the form of a chocolate… it’s really delicious.”
Dietitian Mpho Tshukudu, however, has claimed that they are a better source of protein than many other food items. “It’s high in protein, in essential fats and minerals, especially iron. It has more iron than the most expensive piece of steak,” she said.
The demand for the products has now been increasing. Therefore, Vesela plans to expand the business and have multiple harvests a year. Also, she has now been hiring rural women to gather mopanes when they are in season in December and April.