Aboriginal edible grubs: Forget dietary tastes, it’s the data that’s lacking

By Gary Scattergood

- Last updated on GMT

Grub's up...but more scientific data is needed on their nutritional value and sustainable use as a food is needed.
Grub's up...but more scientific data is needed on their nutritional value and sustainable use as a food is needed.

Related tags Food

Even if people could be persuaded to ditch their Wagyu beef for a wood-boring grub, a lack of scientific information means, for now, traditional Aboriginal insects would be unlikely to become their new source of protein. 

According to academics from La Trobe University in Australia, there has been renewed interest in the insect foods of Australian Aboriginal people, such as edible grub and larvae, in recent years

They say this has been driven by three main factors:  the desire by some Aboriginal elders to revive and pass on traditions to younger generations; interest in the Aboriginal food experience (known as “bushtucker”)​ that has been stimulated primarily by tourism; and attempts to get traditional Aboriginal foods into gourmet restaurants.

“Bush foods could become part of the food scene in Australia in non-traditional forms such as soup or damper,”​ noted the researchers.

Interest could be further swelled by growing awareness of edible insects globally and an increasing understanding of their nutritional benefits.

As the academics point out in the journal Insect Science: “The nutrient value of grubs studied at 203 broad taxonomic levels (e.g. cossid larvae of uncertain species identity) is 7%–50% protein, 204 14%–47% fat and 7%–10% sugar.  Some edible grubs weigh up to 30 g or more and provide significant nutrition.”

But if these grubs are to have potential as a more mainstream food source, researchers say a considerable amount of further understanding is needed.

“Knowledge on the Aboriginal use of insects as food is limited because recorded information does not cover all of Australia and sometimes the edible insects are recorded by use of incorrect common names and no reference specimens are collected,”​ they wrote.

Commercial ventures

Researchers would need to collect more information about the insects and their host plants for morphological and DNA identification.

“Indigenous knowledge about how insects were and are traditionally collected and prepared for eating, as well as their importance in directing land management practices and land use, are of interest to both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people who are keen to record customary use and knowledge of species,”

They also pointed out that any commercial ventures would need to consider the importance of edible insects to the Aborigines and the implications for managing natural resources.

“The major challenges will be establishing sustainable production systems that include food safety and security as well as environmental protection. Whether this will happen or not will depend upon: (1) a major change in attitude in westernized societies towards entomophagy; (2) pressure to conserve remaining habitats in a sustainable manner; (3) economic impetus to develop food production systems that include insects; and (4) an acknowledgement that achieving adequate nutrition on a global basis will involve different diets in much of the developed world.”

The research concluded that the use of Australian insects as food based on Aboriginal use may take on greater importance in the future, “once their nutritional value has been determined, their potential use as food or feed identified, and sustainable habitat management practices put in place.”

Source:  Insect Science

DOI: 10.1111/1744-7917.12430

“Current issues involved with the identification and nutritional value of wood grubs consumed by Australian Aborigines”

Authors: Alan Yen, Conrad Bilney et al

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