We all love the sweet and syrupy natural product called honey that honeybees make from the pollen and nectar they forage from flowers in their lifetime. Not only is it delicious and can be used for medicinal purposes , but it also does not spoil . However, can we consume and eat other parts of the hive, like the bees themselves?
Many cultures eat bees and include them in their local delicacy, such as in South America, many parts of Asia, Africa, and Australia, especially in tropical areas. You can consume bees from their different developmental stages, from honey bee brood or larvae, pupae, and even adult bees , and cook them in various ways.
Whether you like to eat bees or not, you can read along.
Can humans eat bees?
For a long time, people from all over the world have loved the sweet and sugary products that bees make from their collected pollen and nectar, called honey. You may even have a jar of honey in your kitchen cabinet right now. However, aside from this natural sugar, the busy honeybees can also be eaten.
It may sound odd to hear people asking if they can eat honeybees, especially in the US and most developed countries, but in many places and various cultures around the world, especially in tropical areas, it can be a natural food source and delicacy.
So, if you’re curious about eating bees, yes, humans can eat bees. In fact, they can be a good source of protein, fatty acids, and other nutrients. Some studies even proposed the potential of bees, especially the drones or male bees and their brood, to be a viable food source for future generations.
However, if you are allergic to bees, please do not try to eat these insects because they can be lethal.
Which cultures eat bees?
There are many cultures, especially in the tropical areas, that eat bees as their local delicacies. Also, besides Antarctica, honeybees are found on every continent. Since bees are also insects and are good sources of protein, it should not be surprising to know that many people around the world eat bees.
However, if you are concerned about the population of honeybees, don’t be. While some bee species are endangered or threatened, the honey bees are just fine and thriving. The population of honeybees has even increased .
While bees are not usually the first option you will pick on the table, sometimes, they can surprise you with their taste, and this is also the reason why many cultures include them as a local delicacy. Now, let’s check which countries are commonly known for eating the busy bees.
For example, in Japan’s Nagano Prefecture, Hachinoko, or bee and wasp larvae, is a popular delicacy among the locals and a challenge for tourists to try. The bee larvae are harvested from their nests. Then they add a little sugar and soy sauce. Then you have yourself candied bee larvae.
Of course, China should be here because apparently, they will eat almost anything, including bees. Many provinces in China offer golden fried bee pupae called yóu zhá fēng yǒng, which is entirely unsurprising.
According to the Journal of Apicultural Research, drone bee larvae and pupae have a nutty flavor and crunchy texture when eaten .
3. Aboriginal People of Australia
The aboriginal people of Australia are known to eat various food sources, including the honey and native bees .
4. Hazda People of Tanzania
The Hadza People of Tanzania include wild honey in their diet. But when they eat honeycombs, they don’t usually remove the bee larvae, so they are indirectly eating bees .
5. Other countries
Some other countries that include honey bee broods as their local delicacy are Mexico (South America) and Thailand (Southeast Asia). Cambodia is another Asian country that serves honeycombs with larvae in it as a local delicacy.
In the Philippines, eating smoked bee larvae after driving away the honeybees and harvesting the honey is quite normal; I even personally tried them. They have a weird texture and an exploding feeling from the bee larvae, but generally, they are okay.
What stage of bees do people eat?
Now that we established that bees are a viable food source for humans, it is still important to note that not all bees should be eaten. Most of the bees that are ideal food sources are the drone bees, which are male and are not as critical as the female worker bees since they don’t pollinate.
It has also been proposed through various types of research that as the human population is expected to increase to more than 9 billion people, insects can be one of the ways to sustain the possible food sources for humans.
Here are some of the stages of bees that people can eat.
1. Honey bee brood or larvae
The most common development of honeybees when they are commonly eaten is during their larval stage. These larvae can be eaten raw, fried, smoked, salted, and even added to other foods . The larval stage is when nurse bees feed nectar, honey, or royal jelly.
After the larvae mature enough, their cells are capped, and their body begins to resemble a matured bee. Similar to the larva, the pupa also doesn’t move as much or fly, so they can easily be collected and cooked for human consumption.
3. Adult bees
While most of the bees that are eaten are either larva or pupae, even adult bees are sometimes eaten. However, they are much harder to come by since they can fly.
What will happen if you eat bees?
If you have a severe allergic reaction to bee stings or pollens, you can avoid eating bees. However, if you’re generally healthy, then bees, especially the larvae and pupae, can be a good source of nourishment to your body.
What are the benefits of eating bees?
Since we’re already on the topic of eating bees, there are benefits to eating them. Here are some .
1. Protein and amino acids
Insects like bees are well documented as a great source of protein in the wild. They can also be used as an alternative to our usual protein sources like chickens, pork, and beef.
2. Fat and fatty acids
Fatty acids are also crucial to the human body because they are the cells’ energy sources and membrane constituents. They are commonly found in fruits, oils, animal fats, and fish.
Carbohydrates are the body’s natural energy source, which is crucial for our normal body functions. We commonly get carbohydrates from foods high in sugars, fibers, and starches.
Other non-honey parts of the hive people can eat
Aside from the natural honey that bees make and the bees themselves that are a common delicacy to some groups of people and cultures, other parts of the hive can also be used for food to people, including some with medicinal claims.
The honeycomb is where honeybees keep their larvae. They also keep their honey and pollen in it. You can enjoy eating the honeycomb and taste the full flavor of the fruit of the labor of the honeybees. It can also contain waxy cells that can be quite chewy .
Beeswax is a product derived from the honeybee’s honeycomb and mixed with pollen oil. Though it is not usually eaten as it is, it can be added to some food and drinks .
3. Royal jelly
In the hive, the royal jelly is what makes a larva their queen bee, which is what makes it “royal.” It is mainly composed of water, protein, sugar, fats, vitamins, salt, and amino acids . Though it is commonly used to improve symptoms of menopause.
However, royal jelly is commonly taken by mouth in the form of pills. It can also cause some allergic reactions in some people, especially those with allergic reactions to pollen and bees.
Finally, even the propolis or the resin-like materials used by bees when building their hive, which are commonly composed of resin compounds, beeswax, oils, and bee pollen, can, in one form or another, be consumed by humans to help improve various health conditions like diabetes, cold sores, and inflammation .
While bees are generally known to be honey-producers that humans consume and use in a wide variety of ways, some people from different cultures around the world find the hardworking honeybees a delicacy themselves.
The people who commonly eat these busy bees are from tropical countries, including all the continents except Antarctica. People who eat honeybees can choose from any stage of their development, including larval, pupal, and even adulthood.
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