South Africa-based natural and organic specialist Absolute Organix has launched a range of premium snack products enriched with mopani (a Southern African caterpillar) powder. Bruce Cohen explains why the company is going on an “ento-adventure”

Worldwide, there’s a growing interest in the use of insects to feed the world’s burgeoning population with nutritious, planet-friendly foods. Of course, there’s nothing new about eating insects; humans have been doing it for thousands of years, and every day millions of people, especially in Asia and Africa, continue to do so. But now there’s big money, smart technology and bold ideas buzzing around intensive insect farming and insect foods (entomophagy).

At Absolute Organix, we find these trends important and irresistibly fascinating, and we want to be part of the ento-adventure. So we’re introducing later this month an experimental range of foods made with mopani worms. The first of these is mopani-flavoured pop-corn. There’s also a mopani salt, mopani-enriched organic mealie meal and a mopani protein powder in production.

The road to launching mopani products has been somewhat arduous. Because the mopani are typically wild-harvested and sun-dried in remote areas under less-than-ideal hygienic conditions, microbial issues have been a very big challenge. But we have now solved that problem by using a sophisticated, Swiss, super-saturated dry steam sterilisation technology. It’s a potent pathogen-killing process that does not denature the product.

After sterilisation, our mopani powder has a pleasant, earthy, salty taste.

The mopani tree is actually part of the legume family and is indigenous to the far northern parts of Southern Africa, including the Limpopo region of SA.

There’s robust demand for mopani and the whole dried caterpillar is usually cooked up in a rich tomato gravy and eaten with pap. A vibrant informal trade in mopani criss-crosses the borders of Zimbabwe, South Africa and Botswana.

Mopani caterpillars are rich in protein (our samples show approx 58% protein content), but the chitin – the exoskeleton of the caterpillar – is known to limit amino acid absorption (chitin, however, is a good source of fibre). See the nutritional analysis of our mopani powder here: Mopani nutritionals.

As far as micro-nutrients go, mopani offer a feast of minerals, with high levels of potassium, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, zinc and iron.

“In the wellness world, mopani are a novel additional protein source for those following the Paleo hunter-gatherer diet”

Because mopani are key source of income – and nutrition – for often-impoverished rural communities, there are big challenges to be addressed around sustainability. Over-harvesting can have a damaging impact on this important resource. Climate change is not helping either.

That being said, properly managed, there’s a growing sense that mopani have the potential to become an African superfood. Harvested sustainably and at scale, they could become an important part of the region’s (protein) food chain in the 21st Century.

In the wellness world, mopani are a novel additional protein source for those following the Paleo hunter-gatherer diet. And for those who want to break through their cultural prejudices and the “yuk” factor of eating insects, our mopani powder-based products are an easy – and dare we say tasty – way to introduce insects into one’s diet.