The mojojoy, the Amazonian larva considered as a superfood to fight world hunger (and which is a pest for some)

Is it possible that a larva is a ‘superfood’ and that on the other hand it ruins crops and causes economic losses? The two answers are positive and serve to talk about an insect that emerged from the incalculable biodiversity in the Amazon rainforest, which haute cuisine includes more and more in its menus.

As mojojoy is known in the indigenous communities of the Colombian department of Amazonas, in the extreme south of the country, the larva of the palm tree Rhynchophorus palmar, which is also called cucarrón, cigarillo, weevil, palm weevil, casanga, weevil, black weevil, coconut weevil, according states the Venezuelan researcher and historian Rafael Cartay on the page Del Amazonas.

The larva has other names in the South American Amazon. In Peru it is known as suri; in Ecuador as chontacuro, mukint or mukindi; in Colombia it is also called chiza and in Venezuela it is called palm worm, Cartay writes.

Beyond their names, which depend on where they are found, these developing insects have been ancestrally used by those Amazonian communities as part of their feeding, which according to studies is rich in proteins and fats, and due to its medicinal qualities.

Insects and food safety

The natives collect these larvae from the seje and moriche palms, mainly, and eat them raw, boiled or roasted. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) define entomophagy as the consumption of insects by humans and claims that it contributes to food security and to combat hunger in the world.

The international body proposes that “one of the many ways to address food safety” is through the breeding of insects due to its rapid reproduction and high growth rates. They are nutritious, since they contain high levels of proteins, fats and minerals, explains.

As an alternative, given the damage they can cause to crops, FAO says that they can be raised using various waste streams, especially food.

In the Amazon they are consumed by the indigenous groups Tikuna, Yagua and Bora and in Colombia they have been identified at least 547 species.

What are its health benefits?

While the health benefits depend on the nutritional content of the insects, depending on their life stage, habitat, and diet, protein and nutrients are “high quality”, if compared to those of meat and fish, according to the FAO.

In addition, they are important food supplements for malnourished children because they contain high levels of fatty acids and have a reduced risk of disease transmission to humans.

Among its components they also have fiber and micronutrients such as copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, selenium and zinc.

In its thesis degree on the nutritional characterization of mojojoy in the department of Santander, the Colombian Juan Sebastián Rangel found that the larva has 34.69% protein; 4.85% fiber; 17.3% fat; 0.11 mg of magnesium, 0.8 mg of potassium and 0.94 mg of phosphorus.

El mojojoy gourmet

When it comes to tracking this larva, beyond the Amazon jungle where its consumption also attracts tourists, it can be reached at the table of a haute cuisine restaurant in the Colombian capital.

It is common to see on Instagram images and videos of those who dare to try this superfood as part of their journey through unknown areas in the depths of Colombia, both in street food stalls and in specialized restaurants.

In one of the clips, a man eats one of these worms alive, but not before hesitating a bit, because it moves between his fingers. Those who recommend it warn that the head should be discarded. After he gobbles it up, the young man says it tasted like coconut.

In the networks there are also many records of restaurants that offer this dish with fine presentations and as an exotic food that is found both in Leticia, capital of Amazonas, and in Bogotá.

Here comes the plague

Despite all the nutritional properties that its intake has, farmers exterminate those also known as chizas, because in some regions they are considered a pest that causes crop losses of both palms and other plant species.

Mojojoy affects palm crops after the beetles lay their eggs inside the trunks and the young feed on them until they are rendered useless.

This underground larva kills plant roots and it can damage an entire crop of vegetables, tubers and greens. Their presence implies an increase in production costs because pesticides are used to exterminate them.

The female lays her eggs, even at depths between 20 and 40 centimeters, with an incubation period of one month. The larvae measure 5 mm at birth and go through three instars in eight months until they are white, have a dark brown head, a C-shaped body and three pairs of legs. pick up the Phytosanitary Cultivation Manual of the Colombian Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

In addition to palms, they affect a wide variety of crops such as potatoes, corn, beans, peas, spinach, lettuce, tree tomato, blackberry, onion, cabbage, both in low soil and above 1,000 meters above sea level. the sea level.

Among the ways of eradication used by producers are sun traps, due to the fact that adults are attracted by light, fungi, grazing and pesticides.

Is the solution extermination?

The larvae are important to the indigenous people of the Amazon region for their nutritional value, which guarantees their food security, and their medicinal properties. For this reason, the palms are planted so that they develop in them, despite the fact that they later die.

Some species of beetles are in danger of extinction due to their eradication, according to Explain Gabriel Colorado Zuluaga, coordinator of the research group in Ecology and Conservation of Wild Fauna and Flora of the National University of Colombia in the Amazon to the Ibero-American Agency for the Diffusion of Science and Technology.

As a different option, researchers from that university have studied ways to raise larvae without affecting plants sustainably for families. In 2016 they tested mojojoy breeding in different substrates such as sawdust from the aguaje palm with good results.

Nathali Gómez

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