Termites are a highly regarded food throughout sub-Saharan Africa. They are eaten raw, fried, or roasted and are found widely in village markets. The fungus-growing termites of the genus Macrotermes (family Termitidae) are the most widely used as food.
The large winged adults (sexual forms) are collected as they emerge from the nests on their mating flights at the beginning of the rainy season. They are strongly attracted to light and this behavior is utilized in harvesting them. The high termitaria of some species of Macrotermes are a spectacular feature of the African landscape; they are even considered private property in some areas. In southern Congo (Kinshaza), the termitaria average three to five per hectare and may cover 4.3 to 7.8% of the miombo woodland. The flora of the mounds is characteristic and quite different from that of the surrounding miombo, thus increasing habitat diversity. This diversity is in danger of being lost, however, because in suburban regions and towns, the characteristic flora and fauna are being destroyed and the mounds converted to other uses.
Winged termites are a rich source of fat; analysis of M. subhyalinus in Angola yielded an energy value of 613 kcal/100 g and M. falciger in Zimbabwe a value of 761 kcal/100 g on an ash-free basis. Protein and fat content of the latter were shown to be 41.8 and 44.3%, respectively, on a dry weight basis. In addition to the winged adults, soldier termites are also eaten.
The high regard in which winged termites are held in Zambia has been documented by Silow in 1983 and appears typical for other countries in Africa: "The Mbunda, Nikangala, Lucazi, Luvale, Cokwe, and Yauma generally agree that the meat of Macrotermes spp. [winged sexuals] is better than meat of animals, birds, [or] fish. Perhaps one or another of the edible caterpillars is comparable with them, but most of my informants are of the opinion that [Macrotermes] or honey is the best existing food." Silow notes that there are a few people who simply do not like termites and that some missionaries have condemned termite eating as a heathen custom. But he further states that Bemba, Namwanga, Nyanja, and Nsenga whom he has met unanimously declare that Macrotermes winged adults "are more delicious than anything else, or at least among the most delicious dishes."
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