Eating insects? Just the thought might make you wretch. But when one of our readers asked us: can I eat flying termites, we were intrigued. We did some digging around and what we learned surprised us!
The question in the title might seem a little bizarre to you because why would anyone want to eat termites, right? Wrong.
Insects are a part of the cuisines of several communities all over the world. According to experts, more than 2 billion people eat insects worldwide every day.
Among them are flying termites. A nostalgic delicacy, they are an intrinsic part of cultural cuisine among several communities in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and Asia.
What Are Flying Termites?
Flying termites or Alates are reproductive termites responsible for starting a new termite colony.
Once fully winged, the reproductive termites leave the colony and are at their most vulnerable. Most of them don’t live long after the flight as they are preyed upon by other predators.
The outer layer of a termite’s body or the cuticle will dry out in non-humid conditions, therefore making humidity essential to their survival.
Hence flying termites usually venture out when the weather outside is similar to that inside the colony. This way, the reproductive adults can take time to find each other and start a new colony.
This is the time when termite infestations spread in households, and spotting a swarm of winged termites is a sure sign of trouble.
While there isn’t a way to stop them exactly, you can carry out regular termite inspections to keep a check on them.
Are They Poisonous or Dangerous?
Termites with wings are not known to bite humans. They have very small jaws, thus drastically decreasing their ability to bite.
They also don’t carry or transmit any diseases. While a termite bite is extremely rare, if you do get one, it will be minimal. Home remedies will suffice in its treatment.
Can You Eat Them?
Flying termites are a delicacy in several communities in South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Thailand. Interestingly, alates are a popular rural favorite and an important part of their cultural cuisine during Monsoons.
In Zimbabwe, alates, locally called Ishwa, are the second most popular insect cuisine and are found mostly in Mashonaland East and Central, Masvingo and Harare.
Nairobian communities are also known to consume flying alates or Kumbikumbi owing to the large number of termite mounds found in Nairobi.
In India, Dalits, Bahujans (backward castes), and tribal communities are known to consume flying termites as a delicacy. The Madiga community in rural Telangana, India, considers winged termites, also called usillu, a Monsoon snack.
In Thailand, too, winged termites are a prized food source, procured and processed at FDA-approved labs to be packed and sold to customers.
Are They Nutritious?
Flying termites are considered high in nutrition. They have a high content of unsaturated fatty acids and proteins, approximately 44.82–47.31 g/100 g and 33.51–39.74 g/100 g, respectively.
Communities have been known to consume winged termites for years because of their ability to cure diseases such as bronchitis and asthma.
Moreover, they make for an environmentally friendly, sustainable, and healthy diet.
Additionally, it could also be a seasonal food evolution. For instance, in India, several communities traditionally have a diverse seasonal palette.
Similarly, the tribal, Bahujan, and Dalit communities have evolved their diets around the seasonal availability of food sources such as alates during Monsoons.
Why Are They So Nutritious?
Alates are quite nutritious because they are the most well-fed in a termite nest. Since they are reproductive termites, their primary job is to start a new colony.
They are well fed with the best of the nest till the day they mature into winged adults.
This makes them bigger and better than the other termites of the colony and is also referred to as the future king/queen.
Hence once they take flight, they find a partner and start a new colony.
This is the reason why winged termites are full of fats and proteins, making them a healthy source of food and nutrition.
What Do They Taste Like?
Flying termites are known to have a nutty and oily taste. They are loaded with fat stores to help them survive without foraging for a few months, hence making them a delicious delicacy. Winged termites are usually cooked without their wings.
How To Cook Them?
Interestingly, despite the geographical distance, most of the communities have very simple and similar preparation.
Termite swarms are usually picked out from mounds in rural areas, washed, dried, wings removed, and then fried in oil with salt.
In Zimbabwe, the ishwa are continuously stirred and fried in an open pan till their wings detach. Once they dry, the ishwa are cooked in a pan of salty water till it evaporates.
They are then dried again before serving. Some restaurants also serve this dish along with the staple sadza, a cooked maize meal, vegetables, and gravy.
The Madiga community of Telangana follows a similar process of washing, drying, and winnowing termite wings.
They then roast them in earthen pots and serve them with puffed jowar, a type of millet.
In Thailand, alates are either eaten as is or flavored with soy sauce, chili, pepper, etc. They are eaten as accompaniments to other dishes or can also be added as toppings.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can flying termites make you sick?
Flying termites are not known to carry any disease or bite.
Even if, in a rare scenario, you get a termite bite, their jaws are very small, thus reducing their capacity to bite. So it’s unlikely that they will make you sick.
Which termites are edible?
Among the different types of termites, flying termites or alates are the edible ones. Since these are reproductive termites, they’re packed with nutrition. Several communities across the world in regions of Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Thailand consider it a delicacy.
Is eating termites good for you?
Flying termites are a very healthy food source among communities that consume them. They are high in fats and proteins as they are the most well-fed termites in a nest. Thus, giving them an increased nutritional advantage. Flying termites are also considered an environmentally sustainable food source.
Can you eat termites to survive
Among different species of termites, flying termites are harmless and not carriers for any diseases. Therefore, they are edible when cooked properly with oil, salt, and other condiments. They’re also packed with fats and proteins, making them a healthy source of nutrition.
Among the termite castes, the reproductive termites or alates are a delicacy in several parts of the world.
While it may seem bizarre to people who do not consume them, flying termites are an intrinsic part of several cultural cuisines. They are not only among the insects that are edible but are also a healthy source of nutrition.
Thank you for reading!