Termites: A Tanzanian Treat

Written by Thomson Safaris

They’re one of the most ubiquitous forms of wildlife in Tanzania, watching them move en masse is a truly unforgettable sight, and they’ve been a favorite food source for East Africans for hundreds of years.

No, we’re not talking about wildebeest; we’re talking about termites, whose massive, intricate tunneled mounds dot the plains of the Serengeti:

termite-moundIt may not have a lot of curb appeal, but termite mounds like this one can grow to over 15 feet tall, and hold as many as 3 million creatures apiece
Photo: Thomson Safaris staffer, Jackie Faria

Like ants or bees, termites are divided into different groups: workers build and maintain the mounds, soldiers defend against invaders (often fiercely; they’ll attack just about anything they see as a threat, no matter how big it is, locking onto it with strong pincers) and the winged alates—or “reproductives”— breed with the queen, tend the eggs, and periodically fly out of the mound in huge swarms, staking out new ground where they can settle down, ditch their wings, and start their own colonies.

Winged TermitesWinged termites
“Female Coptotermes formosanus”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Female_Coptotermes_formosanus.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Female_Coptotermes_formosanus.jpg

That freedom of movement comes with a cost, though:

It’s easier to catch, and eat, the flying termites (or kumbikumbi to Tanzanians), particularly when the start of the rainy season has them coming out of their fortress-like mounds in swarms.

It may make a westerner’s skin crawl, but in Africa termites are considered a delicacy. High in both protein and fat (a termite’s body is between 35% and 45% fat!), they reportedly have a delicious nutty flavor, and are served roasted, fried (usually in their own fat) and salted, or are simply eaten raw.

In fact, if termites have a drawback as a food source it’s their richness; 100 grams of termites has a whopping 560 calories. To put that in perspective, 100 grams of foie gras hovers around 460 calories. Even fast-food, the perennial culinary villain, is less caloric; a cheeseburger from McDonalds has just over half the calories—300—even though it weighs in at 114 grams.

Don’t worry though; when you go on safari you might spot termites bustling around their mounds, or even swarming, but you won’t be served any.

The Tanzanians will be saving that treat for themselves!

* If you’re feeling adventurous, the Eat-A-Bug Cookbook has recipes for everything from termites to honeybees!