icipe research findings on the edible stink bug as food

A recent study by icipe has confirmed the nutritional importance of the edible stink bug, which is widely found and eaten in parts of southern Africa.

In a paper published in the current PLoS ONE journal, icipe researchers report that the stink bug is a rich source of nutrients and antioxidants, and has the potential to play a vital role in improving food and nutritional security, as well as the incomes of rural African communities.

“Our research showed that the edible stink bug, which is known scientifically as Encosternum delegorguei Spinola, and in some parts of southern Africa as thongolifha, contains vital nutritional components. We found the bug to be a rich source of fatty acids, including seven that are considered essential for human nutrition and health. The insect also contains some flavonoids, a nutrient group most famous for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory health benefits,” explains icipe scientist, Prof. Baldwyn Torto.

He adds: “The edible stink bug provides 12 amino acids, two of which are often lacking in the predominantly cereal-based diets consumed in many parts of Africa. The insect also contains high crude protein and fats, and although it is not a great source of minerals, it contains phosphorus in relatively high levels.”

However, the icipe study has also revealed the need for improved care in the harvesting and storage of the edible stink bugs, to safeguard their nutritional value and prevent contamination by harmful compounds.

“Edible stink bugs are usually collected from tree branches and are then killed using either warm water or heat, before being stored in woven wooden baskets or used grain bags, for later consumption or sale. We found that these traditional harvesting and storage practices of the insect can lead to fungal contamination. This is primarily because the wooden baskets and the polythene bags are also used to store cereal grain and legumes – products that are often associated with mycotoxins, a group of poisonous chemicals that are produced by certain moulds. Indeed, we found traces of aflatoxin, one of the major groups of mycotoxins, in traditionally collected and stored samples of the edible stink bug. In contrast, we did not detect the compounds in samples of edible stink bugs stored in clean and non-contaminated bags, for instance zip-lock bags,” notes Dr Robert Musundire, a postdoctoral fellow at icipe, and lead author of the study.

The researchers therefore recommend better handling and storage of the edible stink bug to ensure its safety as food. This could include the use of alternative, affordable materials, such as plastic–lined gunny bags, which are easy to use and clean.

They conclude that when harvested and stored appropriately the edible stink bug has the potential to be an important source of nutrients and antioxidants in the diets of African rural communities,  which are often dominated by cereals that may lack some essential amino acids and nutrients.

Notes for Editors

The International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe), which is headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, conducts research and develops methods for pest control that are effective, selective, non-polluting, non-resistance inducing, and affordable to resource-limited rural and urban communities. icipe’s mandate further extends to the conservation and utilisation of Africa’s rich insect biodiversity.

icipe focuses on sustainable development, working through a holistic and integrated approach through the 4H paradigm – Human Health, Animal Health, Plant Health and Environmental Health – with the aim of improving the overall well-being of communities in tropical Africa by addressing the interlinked problems of poverty, poor health, low agricultural productivity and degradation of the environment.

The study on the edible stink bug was conducted as part of icipe’s new Insects for Food and Feed research programme, which intends to respond to aggravated food insecurity, especially in developing countries, due to issues surrounding population growth, urbanisation, climate change, diminishing land and water resources, over- and under-nutrition, and persistent poverty. Against this background, insects satisfy three important requirements: they are an important source of protein and other nutrients; their use as food has ecological advantages over conventional meat and, in the long run, economic benefits for mass production as animal feed and human food, and they are also a rich source of drugs for modern medicine.

Research Details

  • Corresponding author: Prof Baldwyn Torto, Tel: +254 20 8632000; Email: btorto@icipe.org


  • This research was funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), under the Postdoctoral Fellowships in sub-Saharan Africa at DAAD supported Centres of Excellence.

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