Field of Science

Edible Stinkbugs

In recent years, there has been some discussion in certain circles about whether people in western cultures should become more accepting of the practice of entomophagy: that is, eating bugs. For the most part, insects do not play a big part in diets in the English-speaking world except indirectly. In other parts of the world, however, certain insects may be eaten with relish. One such insect is the edible stinkbug Encosternum delegorguei of southern Africa.

Edible stinkbug Encosternum delegorguei, from Dzerefos et al. (2013).

The edible stinkbug is a member of the family Tessaratomidae, one of a number of families in the stinkbug superfamily Pentatomoidea. Tessaratomids are mostly relatively large, flat-bodied stinkbugs, often with shining metallic coloration, found in warmer parts of the world. They are all plant-suckers; one species, the lychee stinkbug Tessaratoma javanica, is a significant pest of lychee crops while the bronze orange bug Musgraveia sulciventris is a pest of citrus trees in Australia. The edible stinkbug feeds on a range of tree species, belonging to a number of different flowering plant families such as Combretaceae, Fabaceae and Ebenaceae. Though widespread in southern Africa, their distribution seems to be patchy; only certain ethnicities have a tradition of stinkbug harvesting (Dzerefos et al. 2013).

Harvester collecting stinkbugs, copyright Cathy Dzerefos.

Edible stinkbugs are collected during winter (the dry season) when they aggregate in large protective clusters (up to football-sized) on particular trees. Like other stinkbugs, Encosternum delegorguei produce a foul-smelling defensive chemical from glands on the thorax. As well as smelling bad, this chemical can stain skin and may cause temporary blindness if it gets into eyes. Dzerefos et al. (2013) note that stinkbug harvesters informed them that exposure to the defensive chemical over several years could cause fingernail loss and wart growth. The chemical needs to be removed from the bugs before they are cooked for consumption because, as one harvester explained, "if you eat the unprepared one it will kill taste for a month".

Clusters of stinkbugs are collected live into bags which are then shaken to encourage the bugs to discharge their chemicals. Further processing could be done by two methods. Perhaps the more common method is to pinch off the head of each bug then squeeze out the contents of the thorax, after which the bugs are cooked immediately. However, the Bolobedu people (who collect stinkbugs more for commercial sale than for their own consumption) place the bugs into a bucket with a perforated base, then pour hot water over them and stir vigorously. The bugs discharge their glands into the water as the heat kills them. They are then rinsed off in cold water, then returned to hot water for about eight minutes, then spread out on bags on the ground to dry. Any bugs that had not fully discharged their glands before dying can be recognised by dark marks on the thorax and are discarded. Though slightly more involved than the waterless method, this process of preparation has the advantage that bugs can be stored for some time rather than having to be cooked immediately. Stinkbugs are usually cooked by braising in a frying pan with salt; they are supposed to have a spicy taste, like chili.

Basket of prepared stinkbugs, from here.

According to Dzerefos et al. (2013), many of the stinkbug harvesters they spoke to reported a decline in populations of the bugs in recent years. Potential reasons for the decline included drought and/or the felling of trees that would otherwise be used by the bugs as roosts. Could edible stinkbugs be more widely used commercially? Perhaps, but it should be noted that while some groups relish the bugs, their neighbours disdain the delicacy. Mind you, Bolobedu people apparently didn't eat the bugs themselves before the 1980s, only taking up harvesting them when co-workers in tea plantations taught them what a resource they had on their hands!


Dzerefos, C. M., E. T. F. Witkowski & R. Toms. 2013. Comparative ethnoentomology of edible stinkbugs in southern Africa and sustainable management considerations. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 9: 20.


  1. I've tried one of these at a South African insect BBQ (braai) put on at Wits University. As far as I'm concerned they taste like a stinkbug smells. Absolutely revolting !

    1. Wasn't there a line in one of the Terry Pratchett books to the effect of, "He had heard that it was an acquired taste; he quickly decided not to make the effort to acquire it"?


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