Here’s a superfood you’ve probably never considered: cockroach milk. If you’re making a face right now, we completely understand. But serious scientists are investigating cockroach milk as a solution to worldwide hunger.
The Pacific beetle cockroach is the only species of cockroach known to be viviparous. Like mammals, they give birth to live offspring and nurse their young. The milk from the “brood sac” of the female may be one of the most nutritious substances every discovered. According to a piece on NPR’s The Salt, cockroach milk is:
Three times richer in calories than buffalo milk (the previous top contender for the most protein- and calorie-rich milk) … So could a competitive health-food market that already stocks cow, goat, almond, soy, cashew, hemp, rice and coconut milk now see cockroach milk as the next superfood?
In its reporting, CNN said:
Like other viviparous creatures, this species of roach nourishes its growing embryos with a protein-rich liquid secreted by its brood sac — the roach version of a uterus. Soon after the embryo ingests the liquid, protein crystals develop within its midgut.
The crystals contain a pale golden liquid that can be extracted. A member of the research team studying the milk, Sanchari Banerjee, told the Times of India:
The crystals are like a complete food; they have proteins, fats and sugars. If you look into the protein sequences, they have all the essential amino acids.
The milk is rich in calories and nutrients, which are time released. As the protein is digested, the crystal continues to release additional protein at an equivalent pace to continue the digestion.
It is not the cockroach milk per se that has captivated the scientific world. It is the fact that a single cockroach milk protein crystal has four times the nutrition available in cow’s milk. The next project on the horizon is to create a formula from genetically engineered (GE) yeast with a nutritional profile similar to that of the protein crystals. An article in Science Alert says:
An international team of scientists headed by researchers from the Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine in India decided to sequence the genes responsible for producing the milk protein crystals to see if they could somehow replicate them in the lab.
The protein in this source is extremely calorie dense, which would make it useful in areas at risk of food shortage. It would probably not be used in the more industrialized nations, where the average caloric intake is already too high.
However, as a food source for people without access to the food they need, cockroach milk and/or its GE yeast-derived equivalent could be tapped to relieve looming agricultural challenges globally. The long-term effects of this, of course, are completely unknown.