Some communities in Western Kenya eat insects because of their nutritional value. Now researchers are in the process of making food to wean babies from these crawling creatures
Having your baby’s food with some grasshopper content is an idea many may cringe at, but one that they may soon warm up to owing to the numerous benefits derived from them.
A team of seven researchers from Egerton University, Njoro campus are working on making baby food using grasshoppers to fight malnutrition and address food insecurity.
“With the increase of food insecurity and the rise of protein-energy malnutrition cases in sub-Saharan Africa, there is an urgent need for innovative solutions,” says Dr John Masani Nduko, Principal Investigator and a food scientist, Egerton University.
The decision to specifically make baby food with the insects was informed by the rising cases of malnutrition among infants from rural and arid and semi-arid land (ASAL) regions in Kenya. In these areas infants are mostly weaned with high energy, but protein deficient foods.
It is estimated that over 26 per cent of children under five in Kenya have stunted growth due to lack of proper nutrition. Infants and growing children need plenty of proteins for their growth and development.
“Proteins are essential macro-nutrients that are important for the proper functioning of the human body.
Deficiency of proteins in infant diets is manifested by conditions like Kwashiorkor that could affect children’s physical and mental development, and in severe cases lead to death,” says Nduko. Insects have the potential to bridge this gap as many of them are high in protein, fat and mineral contents such as copper, iron, magnesium, zinc and vitamins such as Vitamin B2, Vitamin B5 and folic acid.
Grasshoppers are being reared in Njoro campus under the project that was initiated in 2015. In order to ensure that they are fit for human consumption the insects are reared in hygienic conditions and given quality feeds.
When they are mature they are harvested, freeze dried before the outer cover (exoskeleton) is removed. “We then mill them into powder ,which is mixed with malted finger millet flour,” says Dr Anthony King’ori, an animal nutritionist at Egerton University.
Malting of finger millet makes its starch more digestible for young children. Low consumption of proteins in sub Saharan Africa is attributed to high poverty levels hence most people cannot afford the nutritious, but expensive animal-sourced proteins. Insects have been found to be an equally nutritious alternative to animal proteins.
“Edible insects are very nutritious and have high protein content – 40 per cent for most insects, which is comparable to beef, pork and fish and fats.
The amino acid profile of most insect proteins meets the requirements of human beings even for infants,” reveals Dr Faith Toroitich, entomologist, Egerton University.
In addition to bolstering nutrition, grasshoppers have sterol compounds, which have the medicinal value of reducing serum cholesterol, fighting cancer, autoimmune, infectious and cardiovascular diseases.