AI: Tea made of Insect Poop
You might have heard of Kopi Luwak or Cat Poop Coffee, an Indonesian coffee made from beans digested and excreted by civet cats.
I love coffee. I mean, I LOVE COFFEE. I would inject it if I could. But…no. No to civet cat poop, for a wide variety of reasons.
But insect poop tea? Well, actually, that sounds pretty interesting.
I noticed this new publication this week:
Xu L., Pan H., Lei Q., Xiao W., Peng Y. & Xiao P. (2013). Insect tea, a wonderful work in the Chinese tea culture, Food Research International, DOI: 10.1016/j.foodres.2013.01.005
Pu-Erh (pronounced ‘poo-air’) is a type of tea that is fermented before drinking. Like wines, these teas grow more valuable with age, and have a rich taste. Poo Poo Pu-Erh (really, not making that up) is a special type of tea from the Punnan region of China made of droppings from insects eating tea leaves.
Several different species of insects and plants are used to form a whole array of possible tea tastes. The most common seems to be a moth with the charming name of the Tea Tabby. Basically, you put out a rack of tea leaves, add caterpillars, and then use a sieve (or hand pick!) out the feces.
(As a side note, this is an Elsevier journal, and they have pay-walled this paper so you have to pay $35 to see it. I would have expected at least SOME editing for a paper whose authors’ first language is clearly not English.)
Note that the poo looks a lot like pellets. That’s a unique characteristic of caterpillar digestive systems–they wrap their their poo inside a little chitin layer, sort of like a spring roll.
Insect feces tea is priced with a huge range–I’ve seen between $250 and $1000/lb, so it is quite the delicacy. If someone offers you a cup of this tea, it is a high compliment indeed! Drink it!
People pay that price for a tea made out of insect poo ecause it is supposed to have a wide range of healthful properties. The paper I linked to above did an analysis of what chemicals are in the tea, and it certainly contains lots of antioxidants and a wide array of amino acids. Does it actually make you any healthier? Probably not any more than any other tea, really. But it’s pretty damn interesting.
I have written several times before about how we have all sorts of insects in our regular food supply, but just pretend not to know. There’s nearly always a detectable amount of insect parts in your coffee or chocolate, for example. Most of the rest of the world (i.e, outside North America and Europe) eats insects on a semi-regular basis.
Why do we get squicked so easily by the concept of insects as food, or insect products in our food? Would you drink insect poo tea? Why or why not?
The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3pm ET.