Have superfoods such as acai berries and leafy kale started to feel a little mundane? Well, hold onto your hats, because an international team of scientists has just released a study that’s sure to shake things up.
What’s the new super-supplement that’s making waves? Cockroach milk.
And, by milk, we mean the cockroach equivalent to breast milk—not like almond milk that’s made by grinding up the substance, then sieving the resulting liquid through a cheesecloth. (Don’t worry, we’re not sure if we’re relieved or not, either.)
Anyone who remembers this scene from Meet the Parents might be wondering, “How on earth do you milk a cockroach?”
The answer, thankfully, is that you leave it to the experts.
Will Any Cockroach Do?
First, know that this isn’t an excuse to stop doing the dishes in hopes of attracting your next meal.
Instead, out of the impressive 4,500 species of cockroaches that currently exist to plague our collective nightmares (despite only 30 being considered pests), there’s just one that feeds its young a milky substance.
Photo by Joseph Fuqua II via University of Cincinnati
The Pacific beetle cockroach (Diploptera punctata), better known by its common name, the beetle mimic cockroach, is not the same pest you might see scurrying around on your kitchen floor. It’s a much smaller species that’s native to the tropical forests of the Polynesian islands, though Wikia states that its habitat extends from Asia, across the Americas to Hawaii.
More beetle-like in appearance than it’s creepier cousins, the Pacific beetle cockroach shares one notable trait with humans: it births live young instead of laying eggs.
Photo by Emily Jennings via University of Cincinnati
Subsequently, this species provides nutrients from their bodies to their young, similar to the nourishment provided by breastfeeding in humans.
“Not only are they carrying their offspring, but they are prodding them with a milky secretion,” Emily Jennings, a doctoral student at the University of Cincinnati Department of Biological Sciences, tells LiveScience. “The milky secretion is made up of carbohydrates, protein, and other nutrients necessary for baby roaches.”
Jennings’ own research doesn’t pertain to using the Pacific beetle cockroach’s milk as a nutritional supplement, but, instead, focuses on the four stages of its reproductive cycle in hopes of understanding how stress during pregnancy could affect both the mother and her offspring.
That being said, she’s learned quite a lot about certain nutrients that are stored in the female roach’s body to nourish her offspring—nutrients that the recent study says can be just as beneficial for humans.
What Are the Benefits of Cockroach Milk?
According to Structure of a heterogeneous, glycosylated, lipid-bound, in vivo-grown protein crystal at atomic resolution from the viviparous cockroach Diploptera punctata, the International Union of Crystallography study that’s ignited this roach milk madness, there’s an extra step before the liquid becomes a super-nutrient.
When the Pacific beetle cockroach nymphs ingest their mother’s milk, it crystallizes in their stomachs, as shown in the video above. (Video via The Washington Post.)
Here’s where it gets impressive: A single cockroach milk crystal contains all the essential amino acids, plus carbohydrates and lipids. Additionally, it’s supposedly more than three times the energy a person can get from buffalo milk. (The previous top contender.)
According to Grub Street, that means that each individual cockroach milk crystal is basically a fully balanced meal unto itself.
Australia’s Special Broadcasting Services (SBS) reports that the benefits don’t stop there. Because of its crystalline nature, the milk releases protein at the same rate that your body consumes it.
Professor John Carver, the Director of the Research School of Chemistry at the Australian National University, explains that the milk is of an entirely different composition to mammal milk.
“They've found out that it's actually composed of protein, and also lipid – or fats – and lots of sugars. There’s the three components that are really important for nutrition, and so it's a highly nutritious source of food for the growing cockroach.”
Carver tells SBS that, because of its high protein content and time-released nature, cockroach milk crystals could make it an ideal post-workout supplement.
How Do You Incorporate Cockroach Milk Into Your Diet?
Don’t worry, cockroach milk isn’t yet available for human consumption. Additionally, because cockroaches lack nipples and can’t be milked in the traditional sense, the substance would have to be produced in a lab.
“They wouldn't go and kill lots of cockroaches for it,” Professor Carver clarifies to SBS. “They would isolate the gene for this protein from the cockroach and then express it and grow it up in a yeast system in very large microbiological vats and produce large quantities.”
According to Professor Carver, doing so would take quite a bit of technology. However, he says that the process isn’t too far off from those that we already use to create large dietary supplements.
Even before we start growing vats of cockroach milk, some additional research is needed to ensure that roach milk isn’t toxic to humans.
What Does Cockroach Milk Taste Like?
Subramanian Ramaswamy, a biochemist at the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine in Bangalore, India, told The Washington Post that one of his colleagues once ate a sprinkling of the crystals. (After losing in a drinking game, just in case you’re curious.)
The colleague’s assessment? “He said it doesn’t taste like anything special,” said Ramaswamy.
During a time when the dairy industry is coming under increasing scrutiny for both the use of antibiotics and greenhouse gasses that result from bunches of cows, the nutritional value of cockroach milk could be an exciting alternative.
Will We Soon See Cockroach Milk Products or Dietary Supplements in Our Health Food Stores?
From the optimistic tone taken by researchers, production could be on the horizon. However, it’s important to point out that this high-calorie protein source is never going to be for those trying to lose weight, and likely isn’t even required for most western diets—where we are already eating too many calories per day.
But for those who struggle to get the required nutrients and calories of a balanced diet, cockroach milk could prove to be an inexpensive and efficient protein supplement.