Why the Chinese Eat Cockroaches and Why You Should Too.
That Chinese eat cockroaches is not news to many. That there are many thriving cockroach farms in many parts of China is also not baffling to many. 43-year-old Wang Fuming, a Chinese cockroach farmer once told CNN that his dream is “to put roaches on plates and bowls throughout China as a high protein meal.” “I love these cockroaches, I feel very close to them,” he said. In a tumble-down industrial district on the shabby outskirts of Jinan, Wang farms millions of cockroaches. Ten million before “harvest time”. He keeps the roaches in warehouses with narrow corridors and hives made of cement roof shingles. There’s a strong smell of ammonia and the sound of scuttling legs.
According to Wang, “the correct way to eat a cockroach, at least in this corner of northern China, is to fry it not once but twice in a wok of smoking hot oil. “The second time makes the shell crispy and the inside succulent.”
“We kill them before they reach four months old, because then their wings are fully grown and they can fly,” he said. “They are very easy to kill, we take large vats of boiling water into the corridors and dunk the nests into them.”
Wang breeds American cockroaches (actually, they’re originally from Africa) and he sells them to pharmaceutical companies in China by the tons. They are usually ground and stuffed into pills and advertised as a cure for all manner of stomach, heart, and liver ailments. In recent years, they have become a staple in Chinese medicine shops around the world, promising wondrous results. Cockroach medicine is having something of a boom.
His entire output is sold to pharmaceutical companies, he said, and the price has risen strongly. Since 2011, he has quintupled production, to more than 100 tons a year, and he has eight workers. Mr. Wang gets hundreds of enquiries from would-be cockroach farmers and has helped build numerous other farms (Interview with Telegraph reporter).
“Oh, the money is good,” said Xiao Zhongwu, a wiry 49-year-old who has a smaller set of farms in the countryside near Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius. “I have a trucking business too, transporting marble, paper and farm products for local companies. But that brings in pocket money: it is cockroaches that bring in the big money.” Mr Xiao said he had invested £160,000 in building a series of small farms, their windows taped over with plastic sheeting to stop the cockroaches from escaping. He earns at least £30,000 a year from the insects and up to £90,000 in a good year. Though the pharmaceutical companies set the price, he stockpiles his cockroaches when the supply is plentiful to wait for when the demand picks up.”
Mr Xiao feeds his cockroaches a “special formula” of mashed up vegetables and waste to produce the high levels of amino acids that his buyers demand. According to him farming the bugs is very simple. “Just keep them warm and they are happy.”
Mr Wang is the leading cockroach farmer in Shandong province, with more than 22 million of the insects living in a series of nondescript, concrete bunkers in the suburbs of Jinan.
Not just the taste, but the medicinal value
The cockroach, whose innards resemble cottage cheese, has an earthy taste, with a slight twinge of ammonia. But they have become popular in China not for their taste, but for their medicinal benefits.
“They really are a miracle drug,” said Liu Yusheng, a professor at the Shandong Agricultural University and the head of Shandong province’s Insect Association. “They can cure a number of ailments and they work much faster than other medicine.”
Prof Liu said a cream made from powdered cockroaches is in use in some Chinese hospitals as a treatment for burns and in Korea for cosmetic facial masks. Meanwhile, a syrup invented by a pharmaceutical company in Sichuan promises to cure gastroenteritis, duodenal ulcers and pulmonary tuberculosis.
“China has the problem of an ageing population,” explained Prof Liu. “So we are trying to find new medicines for older people, and these are generally cheaper than Western medicine. Also we have a tradition of eating bugs here in Shandong.”
For a decade, Mr Wang farmed another type of insect, Eupolyphaga Sinensis, which is also used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. But in the past two years, the demand for cockroaches has soared, and Mr Wang has switched his entire production to Periplaneta americana, or the American cockroach, a copper-coloured insect that grows to just over an inch and a half.
“These are not the same ones you see in your home, those are German cockroaches,” he said. “There are hundreds of species of cockroaches, but only this one has any medicinal value. It is native to Guangdong province.”
The Healing Power of Cockroaches
Writing on “The Healing Power of Cockroaches”, David DiSalvo, observed that the tiny brain of cockroach “is loaded with so many antibacterial molecules”. He wrote:
For years, researchers have wondered how cockroaches manage to thrive, and now they finally have the answer. Scientists have identified nine antibiotic molecules in the brains of cockroaches and locusts that protect them from voracious, lethal bacteria. The implications of these findings cannot be overstated. Right now, even the most cutting-edge antibiotics can’t keep up with bacteria’s ability to constantly evolve and mutate.
Consider our ongoing battle with MRSA—a type of bacteria that flourishes in hospitals, locker rooms, and playgrounds. When a human comes into contact with MRSA, the bacteria burrow into the skin, forming a welt. If the victim is lucky, the welt turns into a painful abscess, which can be drained. But sometimes, the bacteria burrow deeper into the body, driving their way through muscles, joints, bones, and vital organs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), because scientists haven’t been able to develop a drug to treat this type of infection, in 2007 more people died from MRSA than from AIDS.
Researchers at Britain’s University of Nottingham found that when MRSA is pitted against the antibiotics in a cockroach brain, the bacteria don’t stand a chance. The cockroach molecules wipe out 90 percent of MRSA bacteria on contact.
And that’s not all. According to the CDC, six people infected with E. coli, associated with undercooked meat and dirty water, die each year from complications because our best meds are ineffective. But when a cockroach cocktail was used on E. coli in the lab, it knocked out the bacteria.
However, DiSalvo pointed out that “there are many technical hurdles to overcome before cockroach brains are available at the local drugstore—isolating all the right molecules and decoding how they defeat bacteria, for example”. DiSalvo’s article is supported by another one, entitled “Cockroach brains could be rich stores of new antibiotics” by PhysOrg.com. The site holds that: (PhysOrg.com) Cockroaches could be more of a health benefit than a health hazard according to scientists from The University of Nottingham.
Experts from the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science have discovered powerful antibiotic properties in the brains of cockroaches and locusts which could lead to novel treatments for multi-drug resistant bacterial infections. They found that the tissues of the brain and nervous system of the insects were able to kill more than 90 per cent of MRSA and pathogenic Escherichia coli, without harming human cells.
Simon Lee, a postgraduate researcher presented their work at the Society for General Microbiology’s autumn meeting which is being held at The University of Nottingham between the 6 and 9 September 2010. The research has identified up to nine different molecules in the insect tissues that were toxic to bacteria.
Simon Lee said: “We hope that these molecules could eventually be developed into treatments for E. coli and MRSA infections that are increasingly resistant to current drugs. These new antibiotics could potentially provide alternatives to currently available drugs that may be effective but have serious and unwanted side effects.”
Dr Naveed Khan, an Associate Professor of Molecular Microbiology who is supervising Simon Lee’s work said: “Superbugs such as MRSA have developed resistance against the chemotherapeutic artillery that we throw at them. They have shown the ability to cause untreatable infections, and have become a major threat in our fight against bacterial diseases. Thus, there is a continuous need to find additional sources of novel antimicrobials to confront this menace.”
Using state-of-the-art analytical tools, Dr Khan and his team are studying the specific properties of the antibacterial molecules. Research is currently underway to test the potency of these molecules against a variety of emerging superbugs such as Acinetobacter, Pseudomonas and Burkholderia.
Mr Lee explained why it is unsurprising that insects secrete their own antimicrobials. He said: “Insects often live in unsanitary and unhygienic environments where they encounter many different types of bacteria. It is therefore logical that they have developed ways of protecting themselves against micro-organisms.”
It is therefore not far-fetched why Chinese eat cockroaches! Considering these health benefits, a new thinking is that we should be changing our disgust towards cockroaches and consider them vital culinary and harbingers of medicinal benefits.
Would you like to have a taste of it today?
Ike Ezugwu wrote with reports from CNN, Telegraph, and other Online sources.