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Cockroach Milk: What Must Happen for It to Become a ‘Superfood Trend’

If the image of milking a cockroach has never entered your mind before, I’m sure you’re not alone. But, in the world of scientists who study cockroaches, you can, indeed, “milk” a cockroach. Not only that, it turns out the “milk” retrieved actually contains three times the energy of an equivalent amount of dairy milk. But before some entrepreneur starts selling the substance as a “superfood,” Forbes says that, first, only one species of cockroach produces this so-called milk and, second, you’re going to need a whole lot of cockroaches to get enough to drink. Even then, convincing people to drink it may be a whole other story.

The female Pacific beetle cockroach is the only known cockroach species to be viviparous, meaning they give birth to live young and “nurse” their offspring. As the embryos drink their mother’s milk, it concentrates inside their guts and forms tiny crystals, which are then considered a complete food with proteins, fats and sugars. In clinical studies, researchers found the milk crystal content rivaled some of the most nutritional attributes known to man. It’s the crystal proteins that scientists say they may one day be able to tap as a dietary supplement and then sell to the world.

It's hard to say whether this is good news or bad news, but as one of the researchers revealed (who lost a drinking game with fellow researchers and was required to give the brew a taste), cockroach crystal milk protein doesn't have that much flavor. That only leaves me wondering why, as a “whole food,” cockroaches are considered a delicacy in some parts of the world. But as a liquid harvest, the reality is that bioengineers are already working on ways to extract and mass produce cockroach “milk.”

I put “milk” in quotation marks because, really, are cockroach secretions truly the definition of we traditionally have identified as milk, which traditionally comes from a mammal? It reminds me of the bioengineered plants that are now being called “beef” — and which are the subjects of controversy right now, in a fight that’s been brewing for a couple years. Dubbed the “Impossible Burger,” this plant food has been bioengineered to taste and look beef-like, right down to the fact that it “bleeds” just like a real beef burger from a real animal.

The Impossible Burger’s maker, Impossible Foods, was founded in 2011 with the goal of eliminating the need for animals to supply protein and other nutrients and replacing the meat on your plate with replicas of the real thing. What’s missing here is that whole foods such as meat contain a complex mix of nutrients and cofactors that you cannot recreate by an assembly of individual components.

Outperforming nature is a tall order, though, and no one has succeeded yet. And besides, as a general rule, I believe man-made foods are vastly inferior to natural, whole foods and always will be. As such, I believe extreme caution is warranted when it comes to falling for fake food of any kind, whether it’s fake beef or cockroach “milk” entrepreneurs are thinking of selling. Not only that, you can just about guarantee that, as a processed food, it will also contain artificial coloring and other chemicals to make the foods palatable, as well as calories from added sugars, fats and carbohydrates — all things that are contributing to the world’s growing obesity problem, and are far from being “superfoods.”
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