Some things taste like … prawns. Mopani Worms!


Sent: Tuesday, February 09, 2010 10:00 PM
To: H & M Paxton
Subject: Some things taste like prawns


I had a plate of Mopani worms when I was in Oshakati recently and was surprised that they tasted rather like gritty prawns. I wondered if things that didn’t taste like chicken, tasted like prawns. I went to work and did a bit of research…

Mopani Worms - available in the UK through £10.99 per packet

Mopani Worms - available in the UK through £10.99 per packet

Here are some thoughts from

“This could be a difficult question to really answer accurately. I assume that the crabs, shrimp, lobster and mudbugs were all cooked. I’m also going to assume that you’re asking about the taste of cooked bugs. I have only tasted a few different bugs and in my experience, all were deep fried and seasoned with salt, soy sauce or fish sauce. All had a taste reminiscent of salty potato chips. The problem really is that most insects are quite tiny, and unless you’re eating them raw or perhaps steamed, it would be tough to discern much individual flavour, beyond texture. I got the impression that their appeal, besides being a cheap and plentiful source of protein, was the crunchiness and saltiness provided by the deep frying and seasoning. Most people were eating them the way we would salty nuts or popcorn with beer. As seafood is much more precious and delicate, it isn’t desirable to give it that type of treatment when cooking.”

Now, on the other hand, if you’re wondering how insects taste raw, versus raw seafood, I can’t comment. I have no experience with raw bugs, and scant little raw seafood, beyond what might appear on a sushi platter in a higher end restaurant. In case you’re wondering, my deep-fried snacks consisted of a couple of beetles, a couple of crickets and a grasshopper or two. My SO indulged in a cockroach as well. Our comments were virtually the same for each, except that I found the grasshopper legs similar to chewing and swallowing splinters off a toothpick. Not a great sensation for me. The crickets and beetles were perfectly tasty. If I had them in a mix with seaweed and wasabi flavour cracker snacks, I’d probably eat them by the handful. BTW, I passed on the small snakes, scorpions and cockroaches. The 5 or 6 bugs I consumed were more than enough adventure for one meal.

I have seen recipes calling for insect larvae and I have a feeling that texture might be an issue here too. I would be less inclined to try something like this. You could argue that the texture might be similar to some seafood roe/spawn dishes, but I’m not sure I’d jump at those either.

For those who are interested, here is some more about the Mopani worm itself from

Mopane’s are a staple part of the diet in Southern Africa, they are harvested twice a year and sold in the local markets.

The mopane worm is the brightly coloured caterpillar of the Emperor Moth, which is one of the world’s largest moths, and the caterpillar lives on the leaves of the mopane tree – hence, it gets its name.

The worms are hand picked or shaken off the trees. The local collector’s squeeze the Caterpillars to remove their bright green ‘guts’ and then they are cooked in a cauldron of salty water until the water has evaporated, they are then dried in the Hot African Sun. Once dried, they can be stored for many months. Their protein content is three times that of beef, weight for weight, and they are traditionally cooked in a stew containing tomatoes and onions.

The biggest worms have the best flavour as they contain more fat ; the texture is similar to tofu or soya meat and they taste a little like dried fish, but they seem to soak up the flavour of whatever they are cooked with. Mopane’s can also be eated as they are as a snack like, ‘jerky’.

Our mopane’s are harvested from a University of Pretoria funded captive breeding project, therefore ensuring the preservation of the wild stocks of mopane’s, which are being over collected by the locals over zealous harvesting.

So, there you have it!



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5 Responses to “Some things taste like … prawns. Mopani Worms!”

  1. Hugh Paxton Says:

    I had mopane worms in Zambia. Seen em, eaten em, done it. Won’t do it again!
    Call me a bluff old traditionalist but I’m sticking to shrimp and prawns that don’t just taste like prawns but ARE prawns.



  2. Charles Paxton Says:

    You’re certainly in the right place for a prawn feast now! Tom Yam Khun and all that.

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  4. Panic Attack Says:

    Fantastic blog post! This could possibly aid many people learn about this matter. Would you like to incorporate video clips along with these? It could undoubtedly help out. Your explanation was spot on and owing to you; I perhaps will not detail all sorts of things to my friends. I can simply point them here.

    • Hugh Paxton Says:

      Thanks! Steve’s a great source of interesting material. All your Mopani worm questions will be answered, because my friend Steve is the chap who knows a thing or two about them.

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