Newly discovered African crickets fortify African porridge
icipe researchers use insect nutrients to transform continent’s popular staple into a nutritious super-food; create a model for food-to-food biofortification
It is known as the staple food of Africa, and for good reason. Made from cereal grains, African porridge, whether in the form of a thick mush, soft or runny, is consumed in most households and by all age groups across the continent. It is a weaning food for infants; nourishment for nursing mothers, the elderly and the convalescents; a go-to breakfast, refreshment, and for some, a main meal.
And now, in a game-changer for nutritional security in Africa, researchers from the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe), have used insect nutrients to transform African porridge from a basic, often low-nutrient meal, into a super-food that meets and exceeds micronutrient requirements for people.
In findings published in Foods journal (Paper link: https://doi.org/10.3390/foods11071047), the scientists observe that although the predominant African porridge cereals, like sorghum and finger millet, are rich in carbohydrates, they are extremely low in energy and nutrient densities. This is partly because they contain anti–nutrient compounds that block the absorption of certain essential nutrients in the body.
“We tackled this challenge from two angles. First, we fortified finger millet with high-quality nutrients from an edible African cricket known as Scapsipedus icipe; and the grain of amaranth, an indigenous vegetable that is widely grown across the continent,” says Nelly Maiyo who was involved in the research as part of her MSc studies at icipe, while registered at the University of Nairobi, Kenya.
Widely farmed across Kenya, the cricket, S. icipe, was discovered by the Centre in 2018 as a new species in science. icipe’s studies have shown that the cricket is significantly rich in crude protein and fat, which, respectively, make up 57 percent and 36 percent of its dry body weight mass. The insect is also rich in essential amino acids, minerals and vitamins, with 88 percent of its nutrients being digestible by the human body. Often cultivated for its leaves or grains, amaranth is known for its high levels of vitamin C and pro-Vitamin A, as well iron, zinc and calcium. Its grains are also rich in protein, lysine (an essential amino acid) and calcium.
Ms Maiyo further adds: “To counter the anti-nutrient factors in finger millet and amaranth, we tested several traditional grain processing techniques: sun drying, roasting, germination and fermentation. We found that the germination and fermentation techniques improve the availability of nutrients in the two grains,” she adds.
The result of the icipe study is a flavour-full, fortified porridge flour that has twice as much protein, three to four times more crude fat and double the amount of iron and zinc. Depending on the processing technique, the cricket-fortified porridge contains up to 17 times more vitamin B5; almost one and a half times more vitamin B9; and twelve times more vitamin B12; than commercially available brands. The product also has the three essential omega-3 fatty acids.
“To put our breakthrough into context, the recommended daily protein intake and energy in children aged between one and three years is 13 grammes per 100 grammes; and 400 kilocalories per 100 grammes, of any food consumed per day. The cricket-fortified porridge surpasses these requirements, with its protein ranging between 15 –16 grammes per 100 grammes; and the energy from 408 – 414 kilo calories per 100 grammes,” says icipe scientist, Chrysantus Mbi Tanga.
icipe’s aim was to develop a nourishing product that is acceptable, appealing and accessible to a wide range of consumers. This goal has been achieved. Porridge, due to its wide availability, ease of preparation and popularity across the continent, is an ideal food for biofortification. Moreover, the Centre has provided a model for harnessing indigenous resources in combination with scientifically validated processing methods, to address the malnutrition challenge, not just in Africa but in other low-and middle-income countries as well.
“Africa, and other developing regions, are endowed with a rich diversity of animals and plants, many of them underutilised. For example, insects have traditionally been consumed across the continent. They have superior nutrients that are digested equally well by our bodies. But until now, insects have not been aptly mainstreamed into food-to-food biofortification,” notes icipe Director General and CEO, Dr Segenet Kelemu.
In Africa, malnutrition, including deficiencies of micronutrients – that is the vitamins and minerals that are essential for our bodies, like vitamin A, iron, zinc and iodine – is a serious health concern, especially in children and women. Protein-energy malnutrition; the lack of enough calories or proteins in the body, is the most common form of malnutrition. Malnutrition leads to stunting, wasting and low weight in children. When experienced in infancy and early childhood, the condition affects physical growth and cognitive behaviour, leading to delays in mental and motor development, as well as increased morbidity and mortality.
Often, vitamin and mineral deficiencies have been addressed through mass nutrient supplementation programmes. However, food-to-food fortification, that is using locally available foods to enrich staples and thus enhance nutrient intake, has been shown to be a far more sustainable and cost-effective strategy.
Notes for Editors
Research details: Maiyo NC, Khamis FM, Okoth MW, Abong GO, Subramanian S, Egonyu JP, Xavier C, Ekesi S, Omuse ER, Nakimbugwe D, Ssepuuya G, Ghemoh CJ, Tanga CM. Nutritional Quality of Four Novel Porridge Products Blended with Edible Cricket (Scapsipedus icipe) Meal for Food. Foods. 2022; 11(7):1047. https://doi.org/10.3390/foods11071047
Collaborating institutions: International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology; University of Nairobi, Kenya; Makerere University, Uganda; Centre for African Bio-Entrepreneurship (CABE), Kenya.
Corresponding authors: Chrysantus Mbi Tanga (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Funding: We gratefully acknowledge the financial support financial support for this research by the following organizations and agencies: BioInnovate Africa Programme (INSBIZ—Contribution ID No. 51050076); the Curt Bergfors Foundation Food Planet Prize Award; Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (INV-032416); Canadian International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) (INSFEED – Phase 2: Cultivate Grant No: 108866–001); Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, the Section for research, innovation, and higher education grant number RAF–3058 KEN–18/0005 (CAP–Africa); the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida); the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC); the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia; and the Government of the Republic of Kenya. The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the donors.
The International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (www.icipe.org): Our mission is to help alleviate poverty, ensure food security, and improve the overall health status of peoples of the tropics, by developing and disseminating management tools and strategies for harmful and useful arthropods, while preserving the natural resource base through research and capacity building.