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The nutritional role of insects as food: a case study of ‘chitoumou’ (Cirina butyrospermi), an edible caterpillar in rural Burkina Faso

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Insects are frequently promoted as a nutritious food. Yet they are a diverse class, and few data are available on their dietary role. In this paper, we present novel data on the nutritional role of ‘chitoumou’, the edible caterpillar Cirina butyrospermi, in the diet of rural smallholder farmers in southwestern Burkina Faso. We collected detailed dietary data via 24-h recall interviews (n=64), which we conducted with women who were predominantly responsible for making decisions on food preparation for their households (n=16) during and out of caterpillar season. We found that ethnicity did not predict caterpillar consumption. Diets that contained caterpillars were richer in protein (P<0.05) and calcium (P<0.05), key nutrients for combating malnutrition in this region. We conclude that edible insects play an important nutritional role among smallholder communities in southwestern Burkina Faso, but that more data are required to confirm the bioavailability of nutrients found in caterpillars, the effect of the cooking process on caterpillar nutritional quality and consequent health outcomes for people that consume them. To inform policy and the way in which insects are promoted as food, it is imperative that further research is done to quantify the nutritional role of edible insects in current human diets.
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Keywords: West Africa; caterpillars; diets; malnutrition; nutrition

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: 1Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, CB2 3DZ Cambridge, United Kingdom. 2: 2Conservation Science Group, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, CB2 3EJ Cambridge, United Kingdom. 3: 3Laboratoire d’Entomologie Fondamentale et Appliquée, Université Ouaga 1 JKZ, 03 BP 7021 Ouagadougou 03, Burkina Faso. 4: 4Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, Downing Place, CB2 3EN Cambridge, United Kingdom.

Publication date: February 6, 2020

More about this publication?
  • The ‘Journal of Insects as Food and Feed' covers edible insects from harvesting in the wild through to industrial scale production. It publishes contributions to understanding the ecology and biology of edible insects and the factors that determine their abundance, the importance of food insects in people's livelihoods, the value of ethno-entomological knowledge, and the role of technology transfer to assist people to utilise traditional knowledge to improve the value of insect foods in their lives. The journal aims to cover the whole chain of insect collecting or rearing to marketing edible insect products, including the development of sustainable technology, such as automation processes at affordable costs, detection, identification and mitigating of microbial contaminants, development of protocols for quality control, processing methodologies and how they affect digestibility and nutritional composition of insects, and the potential of insects to transform low value organic wastes into high protein products. At the end of the edible insect food or feed chain, marketing issues, consumer acceptance, regulation and legislation pose new research challenges. Food safety and legislation are intimately related. Consumer attitude is strongly dependent on the perceived safety. Microbial safety, toxicity due to chemical contaminants, and allergies are important issues in safety of insects as food and feed. Innovative contributions that address the multitude of aspects relevant for the utilisation of insects in increasing food and feed quality, safety and security are welcomed.
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