Research by a PhD student from the University of Otago found huhu larvae (Prionoplus reticularis larvae) have a higher protein percentage than beef and lamb.
Food science doctoral student Ruchita Rao Kavle set out to analyze the nutritional value of native New Zealand larvae, which are traditionally known for their high fat content.
Rao Kavle’s research backed up this claim, but it was the high protein levels at all four stages of larval development that really stood out.
“The protein content ranged from 26.2% to 30.5%, which is high compared to other common protein sources such as beef (21%), lamb (20.3%), chicken (17.4 percent), soybeans (13 percent) and chickpeas (20.5 percent),” she said.
“We also found that the larvae were rich in essential minerals which all play a vital role in human health and nutrition, the most abundant being manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, copper and zinc.”
Huhu larvae are not commercially available in New Zealand, but Rao Kavle said his research has shown that it would be possible for a 60kg person to meet their daily protein requirements by eating 170g, or about 75 larvae.
To gain the equivalent amount of protein, the same person would need to eat 230g of beef.
“Compared to beef, a smaller amount of huhu needs to be eaten, but some people would find it off-putting to eat 75 larvae,” she admitted.
Rao Kavle’s study supervisor and co-author, Dr. Dominic Agyei, said the research, recently published in the International Journal of Food Science and Technology, highlighted the nutritional value of the traditional food source through scientific evidence.
“The focus is on indigenous foods, especially their unique nutritional and health properties, and on alternative proteins,” he said.
Wild huhu larvae that were harvested from a pine woodland site in Dunedin were used in the study and although they were found to be nutritious and safe to eat, the study authors recommended that they be consumed in moderation.