Tsonga people eat termites! You might have reacted with a twisted expression of pain or disgust on your face but termites are full of protein, mineral nutrients and vitamins.
While so much has been said about Mopani worms, little if not nothing is known about termites. In 2018, a study by Shandukani Netshifhefhe, a PhD student student at Wits University published in the South African Journal of Science revealed that termites; which contribute significantly to the livelihoods of many rural families in the Vhembe District Municipality of Limpopo are edible insects beneficial to a person’s health.
WHAT ARE TERMITES?
Known as majenjhe in Xitsonga; these are small, pale soft-bodied insects that live within a mound of cemented earth. They feed on wood and can be destructive to trees and timber. Termites are considered an edible delicacy by people not only from Limpopo but also in West Africa, Australia and some parts of South America. There are three different types of termites; workers, soldiers and a queen. The popular ones that are eaten as delicacies by Tsonga people are soldiers.
While some people like me believe that entomophagy or eating insects maybe on par as eating other little creatures such as lobsters, prawns or snails; chomping on bugs is not only beneficial to your health but also an important source of food to many. Netshifhefhe, together with co-authors Ednah, C Kunjeku from the Department of Plant at the University of Venda and his supervisor; Professor Frances Duncan revealed the following about termites:
- Rich in protein, vitamins and mineral nutrients.
- They are sources of food that contain high economic and social importance.
- They are easily accessible to the poor.
- There are many studies on edible termites in many African countries but little is known about South Africa.
- Preservation of indigenous knowledge during harvesting and processing needs to be a big priority.
While some people may think eating insects is for the poor or for those residing in rural areas, Netshifhefhe and the team say this indigenous knowledge needs to be passed onto younger generations and that sustainability of termite harvesting is highly recommended.
How to cook termites:
After going through the pain of getting them out of their mound using a thick fresh string made from sisal because they bite; you can boil, grill, roast or dry them out under the sun. Then fry them, add tomatoes and onions and enjoy them with pap. Go ahead and chomp on some, they taste like carrots!