Cockroaches are one of the most resilient creatures on Earth. They can survive extreme conditions that would kill most other living things. Despite their hardiness, cockroaches are often seen as dirty pests that spread disease. This leads some to wonder — do humans actually eat cockroaches?
Do people eat cockroaches?
Yes, there are some human cultures that do eat cockroaches. However, this practice is not very common worldwide.
Cockroaches are eaten most frequently in parts of Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Americas. Some examples include:
- China – In some rural areas of China, cockroaches are fried up as a snack.
- Thailand – Deep-fried cockroaches are sold as street food.
- Australia – The aboriginal people of Australia are known to eat cockroaches raw or roasted over coals.
- South Africa – Cockroaches are eaten by the tribes of South Africa.
- South America – Indigenous tribes in the Amazon sometimes eat cockroaches.
However, in most parts of the developed world, eating cockroaches is taboo and uncommon. There are also many places globally where the thought of eating a cockroach is repulsive.
Why do some people eat cockroaches?
There are several reasons why cockroaches may be eaten in some cultures:
- They are a free and plentiful source of protein – Cockroaches have a high protein content, providing about 13 grams of protein per 100 grams. This makes them a viable protein source for people without reliable access to other meats.
- Survival food – When other food sources are scarce, cockroaches can help sustain people in dire situations. There are stories of refugees eating cockroaches to survive when fleeing violence and persecution.
- Tradition – In some cultures, eating cockroaches is considered normal and part of long-held food traditions.
- Taste – Believe it or not, some people eat cockroaches just because they like the taste and texture.
Are cockroaches safe to eat?
Eating cockroaches does come with some health risks:
- Allergies – Like shellfish and dust mites, cockroaches can trigger allergic reactions in some people.
- Gut parasites – Cockroaches can harbor parasitic worms and other microorganisms that can infect the digestive system.
- Insecticides – Cockroaches collected from urban environments may have ingested insecticides, which can be toxic to humans.
- Unsanitary conditions – Most cockroaches are not raised in regulated, sanitary conditions for human consumption.
That said, the risks of eating cockroaches are generally not that high, especially if they are thoroughly cooked. There are no records of anyone dying directly from eating a cockroach. The greatest danger would come from allergic reactions or parasite infections.
Do cockroaches carry disease?
Cockroaches can transmit several diseases, although most disease is spread through contact with their feces, saliva, or body parts rather than by eating them:
- Salmonella – Cockroaches can pick up this bacteria from garbage and sewage and then spread it by running over food.
- Dysentery – Cockroach feces can contain amoebas and other pathogens that cause dysentery.
- Typhoid Fever – Like with salmonella, cockroaches can transmit typhoid fever bacteria acquired from contaminated places.
- Gastroenteritis – The novel cockroach calicivirus has been linked to causing gastroenteritis (stomach flu) in humans.
- Allergies and asthma – Cockroach feces, saliva, and shed body parts can trigger allergic reactions and asthma.
Properly cooking and cleaning cockroaches before eating greatly reduces any disease risks. But cockroaches should still be avoided as food if there are safer options available.
Nutritional value of cockroaches
Cockroaches are quite nutritious, which is one reason why they are eaten. Here is the approximate nutritional content of cockroaches (per 100 grams):
As the table shows, cockroaches are packed with protein and important minerals like iron and zinc. The protein content is comparable to lean meat and fish.
Given the nutrients in cockroaches, there has been some interest in “cockroach farming” – raising cockroaches specifically for human consumption in a controlled way. Some advantages of cockroach farming include:
- Cockroaches have one of the best feed-to-meat ratios of any insect.
- They can be raised in small spaces on low-cost food like grain husks and fruit and vegetable waste.
- Cockroach farming has a very low environmental impact compared to raising traditional livestock.
- Farmed cockroaches have a consistent nutritional profile and are safer to eat than wild cockroaches.
However, cockroach farming is still a very niche industry. The cultural taboo around cockroaches makes them unappealing as a protein source for most. But researchers continue to study whether they could become a sustainable food source for the future.
Are cockroaches edible?
In summary, cockroaches are technically edible, given their high protein and nutritional content. People do eat cockroaches around the world, though only in certain cultures. However, there are some health risks with eating cockroaches, mainly from allergies, gut parasites, and insecticides. Cockroach farming under controlled conditions may offer a safer way to consume cockroaches. But the vast majority of people still find the thought of eating cockroaches to be disgusting.
While cockroaches can be eaten and have been eaten by humans historically and today, they are not commonly seen as a safe, desirable, or sustainable food source. The practice of eating cockroaches is unlikely to spread globally anytime soon. However, cockroach farming for human consumption may have some viability in niche markets or as an emergency protein source. More research is needed to make conclusions about the risks versus benefits of eating cockroaches in the modern age.