Dairy milk is so 2017. On that note, leave soy and almond milk alternatives on the shelf. Scientists are turning to cockroaches – yes, the survivalist creepy crawly – as a potential superfood substitute for milk. It may sound gross, but milk found in the insects is reportedly amongst the most nutritious substance on Earth.
The Pacific beetle cockroach, found on Pacific islands like Hawaii, gives birth to babies instead of laying eggs. Embryos developing in the mother’s brood sac receive their essential nutrients, amino acids, and carbohydrates from protein-rich crystals found in the mother’s milk. In 2016, a study published in the Journal of the International Union of Crystallography found that the roaches’ milk is four times richer than that of a buffalo’s (the previous top contender) and helps baby roaches develop with “alien” speed.
“The crystals are like a complete food – they have proteins, fats and sugars,” Sanchari Banerjee, one of the main authors of the study, told the Times of India. “If you look into the protein sequences, they have all the essential amino acids.”
This lactose-free post-natal fluid – which is apparently pale yellow in color and doesn’t taste like anything – may be on its way to becoming the next trendy superfood. South African company Gourmet Grubb says it’s working to develop a version of the milk dubbed “Entomilk” from sustainably-farmed insects. According to the company, farming insects is 90 percent more viable than farming cows when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions – cow burps and farts accounted for 39 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture in 2011. On the other hand, dairy alternatives like almond milk require a serious amount of water.
But it’s not that easy to milk a cockroach. The whole process is quite labor-intensive and requires a perfectly-aged roach. At 40 days, the insects begin lactating for their offspring. At that time, scientists either have to kill the roach and carve out its midgut to extract the milk – a process that takes an entire day for two or three bugs – or substitute a filter paper in the brood sac for the embryos and leave it there.
Even if you’re down to slurp back some cockroach milk, there is no evidence to suggest it’s actually safe for human consumption. Instead, the team is working to genetically engineer a yeast that produces the same milk as the cockroaches.