The mere mention of cockroaches sends a shiver of revulsion down nearly everyone's back, but scientists decided to look to the loathsome critters as a possible source of protein. No joke. A trending topic on the health subredit unearthed an obscure study published this month, which found that milk proteins discovered in cockroaches could be just the supplement you're looking for.
An international group of researchers found that a specific breed of cockroach, which gives birth to offspring developed inside the mother's body instead of hatched eggs, produces a crystalized milk protein that provides embryos access to a constant supply of complete nutrients. One of the study's authors, Sanchari Banerjee, postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Stem Cell Science and Regenerative Medicine in Bangalore, India, told The Times of India, "Milk protein crystals are like [a] complete food. They have proteins, fats and sugars, and all the essential amino acids." According to the study, these roach proteins have three times the energy (calories) of an equivalent amount of dairy milk.
So, Will There Really Be a Roach Protein Powder?
And if there were, would you eat it? Chances are, the answer is no, which is why scientists are looking to use the gene sequences from the roach milk protein to create a synthetic alternative, according to researcher Ramaswamy Subramanian, Ph.D., Senior Professor and Dean of inStem, the Institute for Stem Cell Science and Regenerative Medicine.
"Nobody will eat anything from roaches," he told Times of India. "Also, now we can actually recreate these things," he said.
Registered dietician Christine Gerbstadt said that while interesting, she's not whipping up roach smoothies anytime soon. "Call me old-fashioned, but I still recommend whey protein, hemp protein, and egg as my go-to sources," she said. Still, that got us thinking... besides cockroaches, what other "weird" sources of protein are there?
While you can't go wrong with the tried and true, there are plenty of offbeat protein picks if you're looking for a little reprieve from your go-to fish or chicken, but you're not exactly ready for cockroach powder. Read on to discover four more unusual sources of protein.
Cockroaches aren't the first bugs to be tapped for their nutritional value. Cricket protein powder, energy bars, and even roasted versions of the insects have made their way into the marketplace. "Insects are a very high quality source of protein, and it’s a complete protein, providing all the essential amino acids,” says Christopher Mohr, Ph.D., R.D. Try adding the insect flower into muffins, desserts or veggie burgers; 2 tablespoons of the flour offers up 10 grams of protein at just 90 calories.
Peas are an often overlooked vegetable, but at 7 grams of protein per half cup serving (coming in just under 60 calories), they are a smart pick. While pea protein powders have recently gained popularity, Gerbstadt advises eating peas as a snack or adding them to a meal, such as a salad, for a more cost-effective and simple way to reap the nutritional benefits.
A complete source of protein, Inca nuts are rich in fiber and antioxidants, too. A one ounce serving of the snack has about 8 grams of protein and 170 calories, but comes with a high price tag of about $20 per pound according to Gerbstadt. Almonds, walnuts, and peanuts remain cheaper, albeit more pedestrian, options.
A Spanish and Portuguese favorite, Gooseneck Barnacles may not sound or look appetizing, but are popular among the foodie crowd. Similar in texture to octopus, barnacles are a complete protein and nutritionally like lobster, shrimp, and other crustaceans, says Gerbstadt. Lobster, for example, has 17 grams of protein per 3 ounces and 95 calories. However, they can be difficult to find and expensive, but are the perfect choice if you can get your hands on them—and you're feeling adventurous.