Bees may be serving up humanity’s next big food … and it isn’t honey

Sometimes an idea is just too delicious to ignore.

That’s how thousands, probably millions of people around the world have reacted to the notion of turning bee brood into human food.

Yup, bee brood. That’s the larvae of bees that live inside the thousands of hexagonal chambers that collectively make up a beehive’s nursery. They’re white, maggot-like things.

Yummy.

For clarification, people in countries like Canada aren’t necessarily eating a lot of bee brood, at least not yet. What’s caught a lot of interest in the last couple years in the developed world is the idea of eating bee brood, rather than people actually doing it.

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However, bee brood has long been eaten in developing nations and among indigenous peoples. The world’s poor have proven canny at discovering sources of available protein and other nutrients in their local environments.

But among the privileged classes, bug-munching has gone distinctly out of fashion. It’s hard to find a restaurant that offers insect delicacies.

However, a restaurant in Copenhagen, Denmark, has pioneered much bee-based cuisine, including appetizers and brood beer. That has grown out of the work of a Danish scientist who has been laying out the opportunities and issues around the potential of using bee babies as food.

Annette Bruun Jensen is a noted international bee researcher. Along with a team of researchers, she released a report in October 2016 that caught fire around the world.

It not only discussed with considerable detail the technical challenges of brood extraction, handling, storage and preparation, but ventured into the realm of the culinary with example recipes, such as:

  • Thai bee larvae and weaver ant eggs, with sour fermented bamboo shoots
  • fresh pea and bee larvae soup
  • honey bee larvae granola
  • bee larvae ceviche

Apparently the possibilities are endless when you give a chef a bowl of larvae. According to Bruun Jensen’s 2016 study, bee larvae can taste like “raw nuts,” “avocado,” “vegetal,” and “meaty,” depending on the taster and brood treatment.

While the study attracted a lot of interest because of the unusual and exotic nature of the topic, it wasn’t prompted by frivolous concerns.

Harvesting bee brood could have serious practical value for beekeepers and society.

For beekeepers, much bee brood is literally thrown away every year as a way of controlling the spread of the varroa mite.

Yet the brood are proven to have high nutritional value, and the human race is expected to have a growing demand for protein and other high-value nutrition in coming decades.

The combination of the beekeeper’s need to dispose of brood and humans’ need for food has taken the idea beyond momentary online interest. It is still being talked about more than a year after being published.

It’s actually not a new idea, and certainly not unheard of in Canada.

In the May 1960 edition of Bee World, two Canadian researchers discussed the idea in the article Bee Brood as Food.

B. Hocking and F. Matsumara examined references from the 1950s to humans eating bee brood, and noted the same desire to reduce biological waste and produce food that Bruun Jensen’s team acknowledged.

“At the time of killing, colonies may contain half (a pound) to five lb. of mature capped brood,” Hocking and Matsumara write.

“The world balance, or imbalance, of human food and human population suggested that its utilization should be investigated.”

They mention that Japanese canned bee brood was available in Canada.

The researchers suggest that harvesting bee brood could produce a foodstuff worth more than $4 million in 1960 dollars, which was almost as much as the value of the honey crop.

Very little bee brood harvesting has occurred in Canada but the idea is back in the public eye and Bruun Jensen’s paper provides all the basics for farmers or cooks interested in exploring this bold new culinary frontier.

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