As anyone who’s recently strolled down the natural-foods aisle at the grocery store can attest, alternative milk is big business these days.
From lactose intolerance to worries about overconsumption of calcium and an increased risk of cancer, health-conscious America’s growing aversion to cow’s milk has resulted in all manner of “milks” derived from items that have nothing to do with mammals — cashew milk, flax milk, hemp milk, quinoa milk.
While most cockroaches lay eggs, one particular species native to the Pacific Rim, the Pacific Beetle cockroach (Diploptera punctata), actually does give birth to live young. While it doesn’t have mammary glands to dispense liquid milk, it does produce protein crystals for its babies that scientists have found contain more than triple the energy of an equivalent amount of dairy milk.
"The crystals are like a complete food — they have proteins, fats and sugars. If you look into the protein sequences, they have all the essential amino acids," Sanchari Banerjee, one of the researchers who originally discovered the crystals, told the Times of India.
In addition to the voluminous protein content, the protein is also time released, which could be a boon for those struggling to gain weight and looking to add additional calories and protein to their diets.
"If you need food that is calorifically high, that is time released and food that is complete. This is it,” said Subramanian Ramaswamy, another member of the original research team, told the Times of India.
Though the protein crystals were first discovered in 2016, no companies have stepped forward to market them just yet. The closest analog is being marketed by South African company Gourmet Grubb, called Entomilk, “The Original Insect Milk.” The website carefully avoids specifics, claiming pending patents, but admits the process involves factory-farmed black soldier fly larvae, which look alarmingly like large maggots.
However, the resulting product not only resembles liquid dairy milk and can be used to make corresponding treats like ice cream (which the company also sells), Gourmet Grubb’s website claims Entomilk is a “sustainable, nature-friendly, nutritious, lactose-free, delicious, guilt-free dairy alternative of the future,” as well as “significantly higher in protein than regular dairy” and “very high in minerals such as iron, zinc and calcium.”
Harvesting black soldier fly larvae well may end up being easier than extracting protein crystals from D. punctata, however, as the latter must be individually killed and abdomens spit open to obtain the crystal. But, as Goop pointed out in 2017, the results may well be worth it:
“As might be expected, the process of ‘milking’ a cockroach is precise and laborious — but the outcome is flashy: When researchers in India analyzed the crystal structure of the milk in 2016, they discovered protein sequences with all the essential amino acids, plus proteins, fats, and sugars — and the milk turns out to be 3.5 times more calorie-rich than cow’s milk.”