Consuming a fluid secreted by cockroaches may not be everyone’s idea of a balanced meal, but scientists believe that the “cockroach milk” produced by a certain species of cockroaches is one of the most nutritious substances on the planet, and could one day become the ultimate superfood.
Unlike most other insects, the Pacific beetle cockroach is viviparous, meaning the female give birth live babies that have developed within their body, instead of laying eggs. But a few years ago, while studying these fascinating insects, scientists discovered something even more remarkable – as the embryos grow inside the female cockroach’s body, she feeds them a pale, yellow liquid “milk” from her brood sack. Research has shown that this “cockroach milk” has three times the energy content of buffalo milk, making it one of the most nutritious substances on Earth.
Photo: Scott Nelson/Flickr
After cutting open an embryonic beetle roach, researchers observed that the liquid from their mother concentrated in their guts in the form of milk-crystals that shimmered like glitter. They examined this crystals, performing various tests and genome sequencing, and concluded that it was a complete food.
“It is what one would need: protein, essential amino acids, lipids and sugars,” Leonard Chavas, one of the scientists involved in the research, told CNN. He added that the energy level of this superfood was so high that it helps infant Pacific beetle cockroach infants grow much faster and much bigger than those of other species.
The nutritious substance can be extracted in either liquid or crystal form through a process called “cockroach milking”, which basically requires the embryos in the brood sac with a filter paper and collecting it when it’s full of the stuff. However, milking cockroaches isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do, not to mention that it reportedly takes 1,000 cockroaches to harvest 100 grams of “milk”. So for the time being, scientists are looking at ways of recreating this substance in the lab, or creating a cockroach milk pill.
“For now, we are trying to understand how to control this phenomena in a much easier way, to bring it to mass production,” Chavas said.
Theoretically, one could pour this rich liquid in coffee, over cereal or even use it to make ice-cream, but before health-food freaks are allowed to do just that, we need to answer two very important questions – is cockroach milk safe for human consumption, and how does it taste?
Well, Leonard Chavas apparently lost a drinking game with his research colleagues and took a sip of the nutritious liquid. Believe it or not, it wasn’t disgusting, but it wasn’t tasty either. The scientist says that it simply “has no particular taste”.
Regarding how safe it is for human consumption, that’s a bit more complicated. Biochemist Subramanian Ramaswamy at the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine in Bangalore, India, told NPR that “in principle, it should be fine”, but added that there is yet no scientific evidence of that.
Cockroach milk first made news headlines two years ago, and we haven’t really heard any news about it since, so it might take a while for it to reach health-food store shelves. But if or when it does, will you try it?