African termite alates for food
In Southern Africa, both Harvester termite alates (Hodotermes spp.) and Mound-building termite alates (Macrotermes spp.) swarm within a certain area usually once a year. These alates are winged termites, which are kept by termite workers within certain chambers in the mound. They represent both sexes and are released by the working termites after rains. Release is either at one go or staggered in more batches. What and how exactly this release(s) is(are) triggered is still unknown to science.
Termite alates swarming
If conditions are right, termite alates leave in great numbers simultaneously their nests or mounds. That’s called swarming. And it takes about 20 minutes for all of them to leave their home. After flying a maximum of 10 minutes long, they settle on the ground and shed their wings. This wing shedding does not need a big effort, as there is a predetermined breaking point at the axels. The triangular shaped axle points of the four wings will remain a lifelong on the termite.
After settling to the ground, females will lift their abdomen and release traces of pheromones, which attracts males. Therefore, often more males will follow one female. One male will succeed to move with the female to a batch of wet ground. And there they dig an about 2,5 cm / 1’’ deep hole, which they close immediately and start breeding a new colony.
Nutritional value of termite alates
Swarming termites are a feast for a wide variety of predators. All alates – if males or females – are filled to the brim with energy, which ensures, that two termite alates can breed and nurture six termite offspring’s in the first year, just by their stored energy. Further details to the fat body composition of termites can be found under this link.
In Venezuela, measurements of the nutritional value of termite alates were taken, which resulted in a value of 6,88 kcal/g dry mass. See this link.
Catching of termite alates and preparation by roasting
Man was for long time also one of the top predators. Nowadays however, eating insects is not én vogue any more and only the older generation in many African countries recalls their childhood feasts. At a sudden swarming outbreak, Mrs. Ampfarisaho (Ampfi) Tshitangomo of Venda cultural decent showed us, how these swarming termite alates were consumed in her village.
Catching termites singly is quite a work. Better to find the holes where the swarm is emerging from and scooping them up with both cupped hands is easier. After having a handful in hand, they should be thrown into a bowl with water. Due to the high surface tension of the wings in the water, they are not able to fly away anymore.
When enough termite are caught, they should be scooped in a hot frying pan without oil. Always fluffing them up with the fingers, they should not get burnt or stuck to the pan bottom, until they start to get crispy.
Thereafter salt is mixed into water and this salted liquid be poured over the semi-crispy termites in the pan. Again, fluffing up with the fingers – and being very careful not to touch the hot bottom of the pan. When the termites are crispy, they get rubbed with the fingers all over, so that they lose their wings. After putting them in a bowl (termites bodies and crushed wings all together), they will be brought outside. And by blowing into the bowl the crushed wing pieces will be removed.
Eating roasted termites
Thereafter the big feast is on. Roasted termite bodies taste very pleasantly like roasted peanuts – and they even got a similar addiction factor like peanuts have got. Its really difficult to stop eating them. All of us – also my wife and daughter – liked them a lot. Mrs. Ampfi rolled her eyes in remembrance to her time at home and the lodge cook laughed silently, because he is eating and preparing them for himself, whenever the opportunity arises.
For comparison I also ate raw and live termite alates. They tasted fresh and sweet and were not bitter or had any off-putting taste.
Lessons learned about eating termite alates:
- It is always a surprise when termite alates start swarming
- They can be caught in great numbers directly at their holes where they emerge
- Putting them into water will hold them securely
- Salting them improves their taste when roasting
- Saltwater distributes the salt more evenly compared to solid salt grains
- Wings should be removed by rubbing the termite bodies
- Roasted termite alates taste like roasted peanuts