Is Dairy-free, Insect-based Cockroach Milk Really a Superfood?

It's hard to think of anything desirable about cockroaches, including anything involving eating something they produce. But cockroach milk is a thing—in fact, it's considered a superfood. Here's what you need to know about cockroach milk, whether it's actually a superfood and its potential health benefits.

Technically, cockroach milk is not milk but a yellowish fluid that solidifies into crystals in the stomachs of roach offspring. Cockroach milk reportedly packs protein, amino acids, and healthy sugars.

What Is Cockroach Milk?

The buzz regarding cockroach milk and its supposed health benefits began in 2016 when a team of researchers conducted a nutritional analysis of the milk-like substance that female Pacific beetle cockroaches produce. 

The researchers claimed that the substance that the insects typically feed to their offspring might be among the most nutritious substances on the planet.

The 2016 study published in the Journal of the International Union of Crystallography found that cockroach milk contains three times more calories than the equivalent mass of buffalo milk. At that time, buffalo milk held the prize for the most calorie-rich milk from a mammal.

Cockroach milk also contains protein and amino acids, which are valuable to human health. Protein helps produce and repair cells. When digested, proteins break down into amino acids. In addition to breaking down food and repairing cells, amino acids are essential for growth and development.

Is It Safe?

As disgusting as it may sound, cockroach milk appeals to many scientists and consumers. After all, there is a growing demand for dairy-free alternatives to cow's milk and ice cream.

Cockroach milk could be a potential alternative for people with dairy allergies or intolerances and those looking for more sustainable, environmentally-friendly food sources.

However, the authors of the Journal of the International Union of Crystallography study said there was no evidence that cockroach milk was safe for people to consume. They also pointed out that cockroaches only make a tiny amount of the fluid. So, producing enough to sell it commercially could pose a serious challenge.

In an email to Health, one of the study's authors explained that it's not possible to "milk" cockroaches in the same way as cows or other mammals. One of the most feasible paths forward would be through genetic engineering. Theoretically, researchers would put genes from the cockroaches into yeast cultures that could produce the same fluid commercially.

"I think it unlikely that anyone will be drinking it soon," Barbara Stay, PhD, professor emerita at the University of Iowa, told Health. "I have no idea how costly that would be to establish and then produce in any quantity."

Other Insect-based Foods

Still, some are finding other ways to harness the power of insect-based foods. Cricket-based protein powder is being used to make gluten-free bread.

The South African company Gourmet Grubb created ice cream produced with "EntoMilk," a milk alternative made from a tropical insect known as the black solider fly. The company's products are not available in the United States. But Gourmet Grubb presented its ice cream—available in peanut butter, chocolate, and chai flavors—at a 2020 Design Indaba conference for emerging designers in South Africa. 

According to a study published in 2016 in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, insects contain essential vitamins and minerals, including iron. Iron solubility, a measure of how much of the mineral would be available to humans, was significantly higher for insects than for sirloin beef.

And eating insects certainly isn't new: A 2013 United Nations (UN) report noted that more than 1,900 species of bugs were considered food sources in different cultures worldwide.

A Quick Review

Until insect milk becomes widely available, plenty of dairy-free alternative products exist. But it may only be a matter of time before an insect-based product joins them on grocery store shelves. Perhaps in the future, it won't even seem that weird.

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  2. National Library of Medicine. Amino acids.

  3. da Rosa Machado C, Thys RCS. Cricket powder (Gryllus assimilis) as a new alternative protein source for gluten-free breadsInnovative Food Science & Emerging Technologies. 2019;56:102180. doi:10.1016/j.ifset.2019.102180

  4. CNN Business. This luxury ice cream is made from insects.

  5. Latunde-Dada GO, Yang W, Vera Aviles M. In vitro iron availability from insects and sirloin beefJ Agric Food Chem. 2016;64(44):8420-8424. doi:10.1021/acs.jafc.6b03286

  6. United Nations. The latest buzz: Eating insects can help tackle food insecurity, says FAO.

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