The world’s population has been steadily rising for the last century. It’s estimated that the world population hovered around 1.6 billion at the turn of the 20th century, but by the year 2000 that number had reached close to 6.1 billion—an increase of almost 400%. Experts project that human population will hit the 9-billion mark by the year 2050. With such a rapid increase in population, scientists are struggling to find alternative food sources.
According to a study from October 2016, honey bee brood may be the future of our food. Honey bee brood is the name given to the larvae and pupae of the honey bee drones. Not surprisingly, it’s already consumed in many countries around the world: Mexico, Australia, and Thailand treat it as a delicacy.
But what makes it a viable food source is the fact that the brood is already being removed from the honeycomb by beekeepers. High quantities of honey bee brood provides a food source for the varroa mite, the parasite that is affecting honey bees around the world. By removing the brood, beekeepers deprive the parasites of their food source, and thus protect the bees.
Using that removed brood could be the solution for the dreaded food shortages. There is an abundance of brood produced by the honey bees, and most of it is going to waste. Brood farming would require very little arable space, and would cost a lot less than you’d expect. The brood has a crunchy texture and nutty flavor, and can be eaten both dried and cooked. In fact, it can be used to thicken soups, stews, and egg dishes. Its nutritional value (quality and quantity of protein and nutrients) is similar to beef.
Of course, honey bee brood farming isn’t without its challenges. Harvesting the fragile brood is challenging and can damage the hive. The high fat content of larvae and pupae makes it a food source likely to spoil if not processed properly or frozen. Rancidity is a very real possibility if steps aren’t taken to reduce brood contact with oxygen. While no cases of food poisoning from bee brood have been documented, there is very little information on the safety of consumption of this alternative food source.
But if the study proves anything, it’s that honey bee brood is a viable source of food to consider. With sufficient time and resources invested into studying honey bee brood, we may just be able to find a new way to feed ourselves when the human population of the planet grows out of control. Who knows: this time next century we may be subsisting entirely on a diet of bee brood and insect wings.
1. Bruun Jensen, Annette et al., “Standard methods for Apis mellifera brood as human food“, Journal of Apicultural Research, doi:10.1080/00218839.2016.1226606, published online 20 October 2016.