If you think that locusts are used as food in Africa and the Middle East only, you are deeply mistaken. We eat dishes of insects on a regular basis too. This food is very good for health. For several decades chitin and its derivatives have been added to foodstuffs, medicines, cosmetics, and even suture (the material – silk, catgut, nylon, or wire – used to sew up a wound). The Japanese were the first to embrace the chitin fashion, the Americans and Europeans soon followed suit. Russian manufacturers finally adopted the technique too.
Chitin is a principal constituent of the exoskeleton, or other covering, of insects, crustaceans (crabs, shrimps, lobsters) and insects (beetles and butterflies). Besides, chitin occurs in a cell membrane of yeast, algae and fungi.
Chitin additives are used to make food look more attractive and enhance its flavor. They are also used as preservatives. Some people use them as food supplements. Chitin diet is exceptionally good for health.
The chitin additives can work wonders:
- protect the human body against the harmful effects of radiation;
- suppress the growth of cancer cells;
- prevent the development of myocardial infarction and stroke by boosting the effect of blood-thinning drugs;
- increase immunity levels;
- help control cholesterol levels in the blood ( especially in case of atherosclerosis and obesity);
- combat inflammatory processes;
- enhance regeneration of tissues
Chitin is the second (next to cellulose) most widespread organic matter in the fauna. Some scientists even maintain that humankind will switch to the chitin diet in the near future. Sam Hudson, a professor of chemistry of polymers at the University of North Carolina, recently made a statement about the beautiful “chitin-coated” future that is “as limitless as the number of food products that can be made using chitin.”
The chitin story began in 1811 when Professor Henri Braconnot, the director of a botanical garden in Nancy, France, did research on a chemical makeup of fungi. He came across a strange substance, which failed to dissolve in sulfuric acid. The substance proved to be chitin. Soon it was also found in insects’ wind sheathes. The substance was officially given a name in 1823 (from the Greek word chiton – tunic). In 1857, chemists managed to produce chitosan, a new substance, out of chitin. However, nobody but a handful of researchers studied chitin in the next hundred years.
Human beings first came to taste arthropods ages ago. According to Leviticus, the third book of the Bible, there are the so-called “clean” and “unclean” insects i.e. the former are fit and the latter are unfit for eating. For example, locusts and grasshoppers fall under the category of “clean” insects. John the Baptist lived on a diet of honey and locusts while in the desert. The Romans are thought to have had a relish for honeyed locusts. Legend has it that the wives of the founder of Islam Muhammad sent dozens of cooked locusts to their spouse. Boiled ants were served at dinner parties at the court of Montezuma. Some peoples in Africa and the Middle East still have a penchant for bugs and spiders. A visitor may be startled to see locusts in the market or in a posh restaurant.
It is worthy of notice that the first diet of insects was devised in the late 19th century. In 1885, the British explorer and natural scientist Vincent Holt called on the public to embrace entophagy (eating of insects) as opposed to eating meat. Holt was unaware of the beneficial effects of chitin and chitosan yet he maintained that “insects are more beneficial and cleaner as nutrients because they feed on vegetable food only.”
Comparative nutrition information in grams per 100 g of product
Grasshoppers: proteins – 20.6; fats – 6.1
Dung beetles: proteins – 17.2; fats – 3.8
Termites: proteins – 14.2; fats – 2.2
Bees: proteins – 13.4; fats – 1.4
Beef: proteins -23.5; fats – 21.2
Translated by Guerman Grachev
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