1. Food for the future

Food for the future

Cockroach milk, algae, cactus and jellyfish might not be your common supermarket shelf dwellers, but are potential foods of the future. In a planet with fast-dwindling resources, they could be the next nutrition providers

By: | Published: January 1, 2017 6:01 AM
Even today, people around the world recognise insects as a source of food and nutrition, with almost 1,900 species eaten across many nations. Even today, people around the world recognise insects as a source of food and nutrition, with almost 1,900 species eaten across many nations.

IN RECENT years, numerous reports have mentioned how the global population is expected to reach at least 9 billion by 2050. Growing population figures are, of course, nothing new. But the worrying fact that accompanies this is the eventual shortage of food. Scientists and researchers have warned that the world might not have enough food to feed people in the years to come if food productivity is not increased.

So what could possibly be done to add to the conventional foods consumed the world over? Enter cockroach milk. Yes, as absurd as it might sound, cockroach milk is currently the hottest dish in town. And if scientists are to be believed, it could soon be made into a food supplement or a potential superfood. This, after researchers found that a species of cockroach, the Pacific beetle cockroach, feeds its offspring a formula that is supremely rich in protein, fat and sugar. In simple food terms, chances are that in the years to come, you might start your day with a glass of cockroach milk.

Your stomach might have gone for a toss after the roach tale, but entomophagy—the practice of eating insects—finds its origins thousands of years ago. Even today, people around the world recognise insects as a source of food and nutrition, with almost 1,900 species eaten across many nations. In fact, you don’t have to go too far. In Chhattisgarh, chaprah is a dip made using red ants and their eggs. The ants are dried, crushed and mixed with salt, sweeteners and spices. Red ants contain formic acid, which is said to have medicinal benefits.

If that does not whet your appetite for the ‘unreal’, then there are also dishes like steamed hornets and snail stew in Kohima, Nagaland. Another popular dish—which might not sound too appetising—is found in Australia: witchetty grubs are full of protein, fat and vitamin B1, and other important minerals like potassium, magnesium and zinc. But wait? Did we also mention that they are large wood-eating larvae of moths? Yes. These grubs, which are found in Australia, feed on roots of bushes and trees. But despite that, they are considered an important insect food in the desert region. They can either be consumed raw or after being cooked, which makes them taste like chicken.

If you travel the globe with a plate and fork, you will realise that the world is full of some unreal items that could potentially become the foods of the future. They might not sound or look tasty, but are right at the top when it comes to nutritive value.

Fresh veggies: Algae, seaweed

For all you know, your next favourite dish might not come from the garden, but the ocean floor. Also known as seafood or sea vegetables, seaweed absorbs minerals from the sea, making it a rich source of elements needed for nutrition. Similarly, algae—like plants—can convert carbon dioxide (CO2) into oxygen. Both macroalgae (like kelp) and microalgae (single-celled organisms) have different species that are photosynthetic like plants. Using CO2, sunlight and other nutrients, algae can produce a biomass that is full of carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and other important minerals.

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Take arame, for example, which is a type of kelp. This brown algae has low fat and sodium, and is a good source of vitamin A, calcium and magnesium. It also packs a lot of iron and iodine. It is usually found and collected on the shores of Japan. Arame is generally used in miso soups, sauces, salads, or cooked with vegetables and beans. Red algae is another form of algae that could be served on a plate regularly. One of the most important benefits of red algae is that it promotes healthy circulation in the human body, regulates blood sugar levels and lowers cholesterol levels, as it is very high in dietary fibre. Researchers say that in the near future, algae will not only be a source of biofuel, but also a viable source of nutrition for many.

A taste of fungus & cactus

What if someone offered you corn fungus as a delicacy? Well, in Mexico, corn smut is known as huitlacoche and is used as a filling in tortilla-based foods like quesadillas and tacos. When smut grows on a corn cob, it alters the nutritional value of the corn. Corn smut contains more protein than regular corn. It is also rich in the amino acid lysine, which is needed for fighting infections and for stronger bones.

If corn smut comes straight out of the farm, the next potential food is as natural as it gets. Behind the prickly thorns of a cactus lies an edible plant. The Opuntia ficus-indica species of cactus is one such example. Known as nopal in Mexican Spanish, the pads of the cactus can either be eaten raw or cooked. The nopal cactus is a good source of magnesium, calcium and vitamin C. Some reports also mention that it can possibly be used to manage diabetes.

Speaking of calcium and vitamins, we all know the importance of a daily glass of milk. But in the future, your glass of milk might come from a plant variety from the cannabis (marijuana) family. But you can be assured that the milk made from its seeds will not give you a high unlike marijuana. Prepared by soaking hemp seeds and grinding them with water, hemp milk is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, iron, calcium and other vitamins. It is a wonderful alternative for those who are lactose-intolerant. Additionally, it has no fat and is cholesterol-free.

If you are a fish lover, the thought of eating a marine animal with a poisonous sting might not change your culinary habits. Or could it? Believe it or not but jellyfish could become a possible food source in the future. Jellyfish—those free-roaming sea creatures with a bell-like structure and poisonous tentacles—are made of three elements: water, protein and collagen. Some researchers believe they can be a good source of protein, while others suggest that consuming the collagen can help people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.

Global warming and over-fishing have led to a boom in jellyfish population lately (commonly known as ‘jellyfish bloom’), so there is bound to be no shortage of supply. Jellyfish delicacies are popular in countries like China, Japan and Korea, but there is still some doubt over its acceptance as a food source worldwide. But who knows? Maybe jellyfish salad and other dishes could be staple foods in the future.

A second thought?

While we have made a case for these items to be potential foods for the future, there are some possible downsides too. For instance, sea vegetables have always been surrounded by concerns of involvement of heavy metals. Sea vegetables and plants have the ability to soak up minerals from water and retain them in cells. This is said to be a problem in areas with polluted water. With harmful elements like arsenic and lead affecting the seawater, seaweeds and vegetables can absorb these unwanted pollutants and ultimately pass them on to humans.

And then there’s the potential superfood: cockroach milk. Questions remain over whether the formula could be toxic for humans or not. Moreover, it depends on how potential customers could react to roach milk at their nearest supermarket.

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