There are few people who see a cockroach jet out from under a heap of stinking trash and think, “I’d eat that.”
Roaches are dirty, universally reviled, and look a little bit like aliens—if you’ve ever found one scurrying around your kitchen and felt a wave of nausea wash over you, you understand. But it might be time to get a little more comfortable with these creepy crawlies. Turns out that milk crystals produced by one specific species—the Pacific beetle cockroach—are so nutritious that they could be our next trending superfood.
Sounds (extremely) weird—yes—but this species makes “milk” for exactly the reason you might imagine. Most roaches lay an ootheca, or egg case, containing 20 to 40 eggs that take a few months to hatch. Pacific beetle cockroaches are more like mammals: the mothers give birth to live young “embryos,” and produce a liquid—which happens to be rich in fats, sugar, and protein—that these embryos rely on for survival.
Stranger still, when the embryos are sliced open, the milk spills out from their stomachs like a silver fountain—under a microscope, it looks like an explosion of glitter. Gram for gram it’s one of the most calorically dense and nutritious foods on the planet. Does this mean we’ve finally found a use for cockroaches?
If scientists could find a way to develop an actual product from roach milk—which hasn’t yet been tested for human consumption, and might very well be toxic—it could offer a feasible solution to problems like world hunger and global malnutrition. But extracting protein crystals from cockroach embryos would be extremely tedious, researchers say. And of course, the idea itself is hard to swallow.
For the time being, we’ll get our insect kicks from cricket protein—but who knows? Adding a little glittery cockroach milk to our morning coffee could be the way of the future.
Photo credit: Getty Images