THERE might be some misconceptions that mopane worms, also called masonja, fall under exotic foods or a meat group.
However, if you know your South African and African dishes, then you will know that these worms are a Southern African meat dish popular in Mozambique, Malawi, southern Zimbabwe, northern South Africa as well as north, east and central Botswana.
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According to https://www.ingwelala.co.za, the mopane worm is the larval stage of an emperor moth, and feeds predominantly on mopane trees. With a wingspan of up to 13,5cm, the adult mopane emperor moth is a magnificent and conspicuously large moth.
These worms get their English name from their preference for mopane trees – a relatively common species found in the northern areas of Southern Africa.
According to Taste magazine, mopane worms are generally cooked by soaking them in hot water for about two hours. Then you remove from the water and place in a medium saucepan. Cover them with boiling water and cook for about 20 minutes.
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While others prefer to roast or fry them, many experts agree that they have a lot of health benefits.
According to https://www.ingwelala.co.za, mopane worms provide a nutritious supplement as they are almost 60% protein, with significant amounts of phosphorus, iron and calcium.
This, according to dietician Sylven Masoga, is because the protein offered by these species is of a high biological value, offering more than 55g per 100g of serving. And protein is important in the formation and repair of muscles.
Masoga further explains that mopane worms contain high amounts of iron, calcium and phosphorus. Iron is required for the haemoglobin component contained within the red blood cells. And these cells are responsible for, among other things, the transportation of nutrients and oxygen to tissues around the body. Low levels of haemoglobin predispose one to the development of anaemia – a condition associated with fatigue and paleness.
According to the Nutrition Week website, kids from six months of age should be given mopane worms as a source of iron. Additionally, during pregnancy, iron stores are built up in the baby from the mother’s stores and her diet.
During breastfeeding, some iron is supplied from breast milk, but the baby also draws from their own stores.
At six months, these stores are used up, so the iron must come from breast milk and animal foods including mopane worms.