African Flying Termites as a Tasty Treat?

by Sandy Salle on February 12, 2013

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Image to the left of a termite mound taken from NPR.org (courtesy of Lisa Margonelli) 

In many areas of the world, candy is a real treat and is readily available for kids. In Uganda, it’s a different story. Although the kids of Uganda LOVE candy, it’s not as readily available to them as it is in the United States. Instead, a real treat for Ugandans is white ants (I’m sure you guessed that one, right?)! White ants are another name for flying African termites. Termites represent a valuable source of protein and fat. In fact, the termites are a considerably higher source of protein than their equivalent weight in rump steak.

Termites are collected when they take flight during migration. Different communities have different methods of collecting and sometimes cultivating termites. The queen is a little harder to acquire, but is widely regarded as a true delicacy. These insects are gathered at the beginning of the rainy season in West, Central, and South Africa when they typically swarm.

At night, nets are hung around lamps and as the white ants are attracted to the light, they are gathered into the nets. Traditionally, they are a much-anticipated treat at the beginning of the rainy season because the new crops have not yet produced food, the livestock is lean, and the supplies from the previous season are running low.

Sometimes, Africans will sprinkle water onto a termite mound before rainy season to trick them into leaving the mound prematurely. They bring in  drums, which they continuously beat, to simulate the sound of rain (along with the sprinkling of water). Usually within 3 hours of drum beating, some termites will appear at the surface, followed by larger amounts. Tubes are made out of clay to herd the termites into a container when they come out of the mound. Many are eaten raw, right there on the spot!

Typically, the termites are cooked. First they are washed and prepared by removing the wings. Next they are added to a pan and covered with a small amount of boiling water. They are cooked until the water is evaporated and then butter, ghee, or oil is added to the pan and the termites are fried for a few minutes. Then, they are ready to eat. Bon appetite!

Below is a video of how termites make their homes!

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