SCIENTISTS at two of South Africa’s universities have joined hands with communities in Limpopo to help narrow down and identify which jumpy insects are delectable treats to add to their dinner tables and increase mass production.
Dr Barbara van Asch, from Stellenbosch University’s Department of Genetics, Faculty of AgriSciences, said while most people would shy away from eating a dish of grasshoppers, the insects had for a long time been a part of the diet and culture of some communities in Limpopo.
In these communities, Van Asch explained, they were either fried and salted in a pan over a fire and eaten as a snack, or cooked with tomato and onions and eaten as an evening meal accompanied by pap.
She said interestingly the communities used local species identifiers and vernacular names to identify which grasshoppers were edible.
Scientists at both the Stellenbosch University, the University of Limpopo and the University of Strasbourg, however highlighted how some of the edible grasshopper species harvested from the wild could be suitable candidates for mass rearing.
"Being an already well known food resource, the commercial exploitation of grasshoppers could assist in addressing food insecurity, elevating traditional food cultures, and promoting economic development in South Africa.
“The problem is, however, that edible grasshoppers in the country are largely uncharacterised, making it challenging to link nutritional properties and biological characteristics with species names; this, in turn, hinders the progress of potential commercialisation,” she said.
According to researchers, while commercial rearing of edible insects has helped lift many people out of poverty in Asia, the commercial rearing of grasshoppers was almost non-existent in Africa.
To help address this, traditional knowledge and scientific methods were used to document the biodiversity of edible grasshoppers in the country, with the findings published in the International Biodiversity and Conservation journal.
Their findings revealed that communities in Limpopo ate only seven grasshopper species, showing once again the importance of cultural resources and local knowledge for documenting biodiversity in the present day.
"Our study represents a step forward in documenting edible grasshoppers used by South Africans. The use of different sources of information contributes to unravelling the fantastic abundance of edible insect cultural and biological diversity in Africa and worldwide.
"Genetic information, such as DNA barcodes, may assist in closing the species identification gap, which is crucial given that studies that use DNA barcoding for documenting the diversity of wild edible insects are still rare and represent only a small part of the wide range of taxonomic groups consumed worldwide."