Insect profiles: African Palm Weevil
The African Palm Weevil (Rhynchophorus Phoenicis) is a species of beetle found throughout continental Africa.
In Western Nigeria the larvae is typically fried and eaten as a snack, and in the Republic of Congo, this delicacy commands high prices at the local market (Womeni, 2009). Semi-harvested currently, the palm weevil typically breeds in the trunks of fallen palm trees on the forest floor (Anankwareetul, 2015). In addition to serving as a potential source of income for indigenous communities, the formal production of palm weevil larvae could function as a biologically natural form of palm tree pest control, decreasing the need of dangerous insecticides (Defoliart, 1992).
Defeating the deficiency
Palm Weevil Larvae contain more energy (478 kcal/100g) and only slightly lower levels of protein (32% of dry matter) than beef, pork & chicken.
However, the main nutritional benefit of palm weevil larvae lies with its high content of vitamins and minerals including iron, zinc and calcium.
Iron deficiencies affect between 4-5 billion people worldwide with 2 billion people suffering from iron-based anemia (UNICEF). The human body needs iron to produce hemoglobin, which carries oxygen throughout the body.
Containing 22.75 mg/100g of iron, palm weevil larvae are perfectly positioned to bridge the nutritional gap that billions of people face each year.
Particularly vulnerable populations include teenage girls and pregnant women, as their required intake is higher than their male peers.
In the United Kingdom, the NIH recommends that women between the ages of 19-50 consume 11.4 mg of iron each day. However, studies have shown that women among a similar age range only consume 9.7 mg or iron daily (Lim et al, 2013), clearly showing a potentially dangerous void.
In addition to iron, palm weevil larvae contain more calcium, zinc and potassium and less sodium than what is found in traditional meat products (beef, pork, chicken) (USDA; Rumpold & Schulter 2013a).
We all need fat
Commonly referred to as a good fat, linoleic acid is a poly-unsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) that the human body does not synthesise on its own, and must obtain through food. PUFAs, which have been shown to decrease the risk of diabetes and lower blood pressure of humans, are a crucial element of human function. (Nieuwenhuss & hornstra, 1998; Sirtori & Galli 2002).
In palm weevil larvae, linoleic acid comprises 45% of the fatty acid composition, more than what is found by comparison in meat alternatives (Akhtar, 2018; Rumpold & Schulter 2013a).
Palm Weevil Larvae are already consumed in numerous different communities throughout Africa. The nutritional composition of the insect far exceeds the requirements of the human body, and has the potential to fill any voids currently faced by our standard, Western diets.
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Lim, Karen, et al. “Iron and Zinc Nutrition in the Economically-Developed World: A Review.” Nutrients, vol. 5, no. 8, 2013, pp. 3184–3211., doi:10.3390/nu5083184.
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“Nutrition.” UNICEF, 16 Nov. 2004, www.unicef.org/nutrition/23964_iron.html.
Rumpold, Birgit A., and Oliver K. Schlüter. “Potential and Challenges of Insects as an Innovative Source for Food and Feed Production.” Innovative Food Science & Emerging Technologies, vol. 17, 2013, pp. 1–11., doi:10.1016/j.ifset.2012.11.005.
Sirtori, C. R., & Galli, C. “N-3 fatty acid and Diabetes.” Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, 56, 397–406. 2002
Womeni, Hilaire Macaire, et al. “Oils of Insects and Larvae Consumed in Africa: Potential Sources of Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids.” Oléagineux, Corps Gras, Lipides, vol. 16, no. 4-5-6, 2009, pp. 230–235., doi:10.1051/ocl.2009.0279.
This post was written by Dan Finta, a culinary school graduate with years spent working in restaurants who is currently studying Food Design & Innovation in Milan, Italy. His mission is to develop a more sustainable future by promoting alternative food sources in every-day cooking.