It is no surprise that the Chinese have found clever ways to be resourceful during the past half century. When asked about our skewed westernized opinion of Chinese food, most of us jump out of our seats to grab the phone to order delivery, whether it is general Tso’s chicken or shrimp fried rice. Much like all ethnic food, Chinese food is limited to several popular options that appease its customer base in developed commercialized areas.

Imagine spotting a food cart thinking you could score a plate of chicken and rice but all that the cart served were scorpions, lizards, and fried spiders. This is the case in China in several populated areas. We usually say we’re afraid and critical of what is different and of what we don’t understand. In this case, we’re aware of these food options, however, we are not familiar with them. Overall, the idea of eating such insects and reptiles seems bizarre.

China has about 100 cockroach farms and new ones are opening as fast as the insects proliferate. The idea sounds trivial, however, there is a booming business when it comes to collecting and selling cockroaches. In 2010, cockroaches were being sold at about $2 a pound and have increased in demand and in price to about $20 a pound. Turning them into a delicacy is fairly easy: just take them out of their nests and dunk them in boiling water – which later dries them up like a chile pepper.

The bigger goal of using pulverized Chinese cockroaches is in the field of pharmaceuticals. Pharmaceutical companies throughout China are buying cockroaches from these farms and are using them to study their potential efficacy towards the cure for AIDS, baldness, and cancer. Li Shunan, a professor of traditional medicine, says cockroaches have an inherent immunity to many chemical and biological disasters.

“Cockroaches are survivors,” Li said. “We want to know what makes them so strong – why they can even resist nuclear effects.”

Li has claimed to be a beneficiary of cockroach research and application, as he mentions that he was once bald and used a spray containing pulverized cockroaches on his scalp which eventually helped grow his hair back.

Besides the value of using cockroaches as a source of protein and nutrition to feed much of China’s population, the enormous potential is seen in studying the effects cockroaches can have on human diseases. China is currently leading the movement when it comes to this kind of research and if more breakthroughs are made, it is not difficult to see other research facilities around the world jumping into this eccentric study.

“Cockroaches are very tasty, too,” Li says.

– Sagar Jay Patel
Sources: LA Times, Telegraph