Is cockroach milk the new superfood?

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The idea is a bit disarming, but cockroach milk may be one of the most super of all superfoods. Don’t worry; you won’t be seeing cockroach milk in stores anytime soon, and if it is ever actually for sale, the word “cockroach” will be left out.

In July 2016, a group of stem cell biologists and chemists published a paper that got enormous media attention, due to the strange topic. The paper, published in the International Union of Crystallography (IUCrJ), concerned a novel discovery made by a team of 11 scientists spanning from Iowa to India, who investigated the nutritional concentration of cockroach milk. They found that it exceeded the food value of buffalo milk, the international standard for the most nutritious milk, by three times.

Cockroaches are among nature’s most persistent creatures. There are over 4,500 species of cockroaches worldwide. They have evolved over an estimated 320 million years and are exceptional survivors in the global ecology. Nutrition plays a role in this. And that’s where cockroach milk comes in.

There isn’t much cockroach milk in the world— that’s because only one species of cockroach, Diploptera punctata, or the Pacific beetle cockroach, produces milk. This is known as viviparity, in which developing offspring who hatch from eggs are fed milk by the mother. This milk aggregates in a brood sac within the uterus of the cockroach, and forms crystals which feed the young. It was University of Iowa biologist Barbara Stay who discovered that the milk turns into crystals in the guts of developing embryos. These crystals are exceptionally concentrated in nutrients.

The nutritional density of cockroach milk almost certainly is why the Pacific beetle cockroach achieves sexual reproductive maturity in less than half the time of other species.Due to the small size of a cockroach brood sac, and the even smaller quantity of milk stored therein, it is no easy task teasing out some milk. The cockroaches must be sacrificed, and the milk extracted from the body cavity with care. Tasked with this approach, the researchers involved in the study analyzed the milk, and found a complete food, rich in proteins, fats and sugars, along with a number of peptides, which are parts of proteins and can impart significant health advantages. The discovered that cockroach milk is three times as nutritionally rich a buffalo milk, and four times as concentrated as cow’s milk. And that’s a big deal.

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