Travel Tip/Food Tip – Have you had your Mopane Worms Today?

May 11, 2010
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I’m planning an article of the local foods one may encounter while in Botswana.  Having been there, I loved the food and felt it important to tease you with potential meals to order. I’ve been contacting lodges and friends that live in the region.  That’s the background.  Now here was my surprise.

I’ve heard of eating Mopane worms, but … well never really took the stories seriously.  One of my friends manages the Kubu Lodge in Kasane.  She provided me with several traditional meals that the cooks at Kubu regularly serve guests.  These will be shared in my upcoming article.  Her not also included a ‘recipe for the more adventurous’.   Yep, a genuine Mopane Worm recipe and I am going to share it with you at the end of the article.  Before we get to preparing the meal, let me give you a little more background on the Mopane worm.

Mopane Worms - photo copyright Marius Coetzee

Mopane worms (Imbrasia belina) are a staple part of the diet in Southern Africa and are harvested twice a year and sold in the local markets.

The Basics:

In Africa’s developing countries, the eating of insects is still wide spread. Caterpillars and termites are the most eaten and marketed insects in Africa. Among these are Mopane worms; caterpillars that hatch in early spring from eggs of Gonimbrasia belina moths. They are mostly seen on Colophospermum mopane trees where they mature within six weeks.

The mopane worm is the brightly coloured caterpillar of the Emperor Moth, which is one of the world’s largest moths. The caterpillar lives primarily on the leaves of the mopane tree (Colophospermum mopane) – hence its name. These ‘worms’ can be all over a tree as seen in the imagebelow.  Thank goodness Mopane worms are an excellent source of protein and are even considered a delicacy in Botswana.  It forms the basis of a multi-million rand trade in edible insects, providing a livelihood for many harvesters, traders and their families. However, the industry is not without problems. Droughts devastate the harvest on a regular basis and there are areas where overexploitation has led to local extinctions.

Mopane Worms at the base of a tree

The worms are hand-picked or shaken off the trees. It takes just a few days of drying in the hot sun and they are ready to be cooked and eaten with pap (cooked mealie meal). As the women collect them they are slowly disappearing from the trees.

A Mopane Worm Myth:

There is a myth that if young Mopane worm are harvested the older individuals will leave the area. According to another myth, when larvae leave the trees and burrow into the ground they are going to die.

In fact, the purpose of digging into the ground is to pupate, and this is essential to complete the life cycle. If the larval stage is thought to end in death, and is not seen as part of a life cycle, there is no reason to conserve the worm at this stage.

While most people surveyed had no suggestions of how the mopane worms could be reintroduced into areas where they had been over-harvested, the rest suggested scattering ashes. There is a myth that the ashes from the fires used to prepare worms for the market could be scattered in areas where the worms are extinct in an appropriate ritual. According to this legend, this will bring the Mopane worms back.

Back to facts – Mopane worms are high in healthy nutrients. Their protein content is three times that of beef and it takes only 3kg of leaves to produce 1kg of worms whereas 1kg of beef requires 10kg of feed to produce. Analysis has shown that the worms contain 60.70% crude protein, 16.70% crude fat, and 10.72% minerals, on a dry matter basis.

Preparation as a food

As you can see from these photos, the Mopane Worms are quite big and juicy when initially harvested

Mopane worms are traditionally cooked in a stew containing tomatoes and onions. Mopani worms are being studied to try and find out more about the extent to which this resource can be harvested on a sustainable basis. In Zimbabwe, an organization known at “Global Facilitation Unit for Underutilized Species” has a funded program to prepare and can mopane worms …. in a can and ready to serve!

I’ll bet you were surprised at how serious this subject is!  MOving this article forward, here is the Kubu Lodge’s recommended cooking method for Mopane worms:

Young kids near a large pile of drying Mopane Worms

For the adventurous: Mophane Worms  – (known as “Phane”)

For 4 – 6 servings you need:

1 kg dried phane

1 tablespoon cooking oil

1 medium onion finely chopped

½ green pepper finely chopped

Salt to taste

1-2 cloves garlic finely chopped

  1. In a kitchen fry the onions in oil over low heat till soft and translucent, turn up the heat and add green pepper.
  2. Stir fry for a minute and add rinsed phane and garlic.
  3. Stir fry a further five minutes and then add ½ cup water and seasoning.
  4. Cook another 15/20 minutes till tender adding a little more water if necessary, do not let the dish become to watery.

A Properly prepated meal of Mopane Worms ready for consumption.

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4 Responses to Travel Tip/Food Tip – Have you had your Mopane Worms Today?

  1. [...] been there, I loved the food and felt it important to tease you wi… Read the rest here: Travel Tip/Food Tip – Have you had your Mopane Worms Today … Share and [...]

  2. zina on May 24, 2010 at 11:16 am

    Yummy!

    That looks so tasty,….especially since i haven’t had mophane worms in ages..

    Great article too…

    zina

  3. Top 5 unusual African cuisines | Africa Safari on December 9, 2011 at 4:30 am

    [...] Mopane Worms Over the past centuries, insects have been a fascination amongst humans. Some insects are [...]

  4. Nyaladzi Mphinyane on December 20, 2011 at 9:08 am

    hello am in Botswana and would like to knw if i could supply you with mopane worms

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