Culture The Beauty of Africa

Worms on the Menu: Meet South African Tribe That Eat Worms

south african tribe that eat worms
Written by Abraham Odhiambo

Have you ever heard of the South African tribe that eat worms? If not, there is no need to worry because you just came to the right place. Join me in embarking on a deeper exploration as we unravel the culinary gem of the Mopane worm which is a favourite delicacy in some parts of southern Africa.

From expensive supermarkets and big shopping malls to roadside food stalls, the worms are on the menu of almost every eatery. In this article, we bring you everything you need to know about the Mopane worms and the tribe that most enjoy them.

What Is the South African Edible Worm?

Also known as masonja, amasonja, matomani or mashonzha, mopane worms are edible worms in South Africa. A well-cooked mopane worm is a delicacy like no other for the taste buds and is not only a source of protein and vitamins but also holds cultural significance.

Mopane worms

The mopane worm is pretty and brightly coloured. Photo/ Pinterest.

To start with, mopane worms get their name from the mopane trees where they are harvested a few weeks into the rainy season before they turn into large Emperor moths. The worms, which are brightly coloured large caterpillars with little spikes on their backs, feed on the leaves of the mopane trees. They are hatched in the summer and can only be found in southern African countries.

Onto the South African tribe that eat worms, it didn’t start the practice recently. It is something they enjoyed even before the arrival of European explorers and settlers. Some communities in Zimbabwe have also been eating these worms for years as shown by a deposit of dried mopane found at Pomongwe Cave believed to be over 6,000 years old.

The mopane worms are a nutritional standpoint because they are a rich source of proteins, healthy fats, vitamins and essential minerals such as zinc and iron.

Which Is the South African Tribe That Eat Worms?

The Venda tribe in Mzansi considers worms a delicacy. It’s a fascinating aspect of their culture as it reflects a blend of nutrition, tradition and economic usefulness. This tribe lives near the South African-Zimbabwean border and speaks TshiVenda or LuVenda.

Similar to most other communities in South Africa, the Venda people came from the Great Lakes of Central Africa. They have an interesting mix of other cultures that appears to be incorporated among tribes in Central Africa and Eastern Africa.

South African tribe that eat worms

The Venda people of South Africa are known for eating mopane worms. Photo/ Morning Sun Nature Reserve.

How to Prepare Mopane Worms

The mopane worms are handpicked from the trees in the Mopane woodlands by women and children mostly for personal use. Once handpicked, they are well-cleaned and then sun-dried to be preserved. Mopane worms have an earthly nutty taste and can be eaten as a snack or as a stew alongside porridge made from maize.

Some members of the South African tribe that eat worms prefer taking the mopane worms when they are fresh from trees. When eaten fresh, they are usually less chewy with a unique flavour as they are undiluted by the flavours of onions, tomatoes and garlic. How you cook them also matters a lot. Here is a simple recipe on how to prepare the worms.

  • Soak the sun-dried mopane worms in a bowl of hot water for about two hours
  • Remove the worms and then place them in a medium saucepan
  • Cook for about 20 minutes
  • Heat oil in a different pan and then fry onion, garlic and curry powder
  • Add tomatoes and cook the mixture for five minutes
  • Mix soup powder with water and then add to the stew
  • Finally, take your mopane worms, stir to mix and then simmer for ten minutes before serving when warm
Mopane worms

Cooked mopane worms which are a delicacy among the Venda people in South Africa. Photo/Vocal

Cooked mopane worms. Photo/ Vocal Media.The mopane worms have become a major source of income for many people in recent years as they are sold at roadside food stalls and even supermarkets.

According to reports, it is estimated that roughly 9.5 billion mopane larvae are harvested in the mopane forest. The cost of all that mopane is about $85 million and the women from poor areas take about 40% of the amount as it is their main source of income.


Worms are protein-dense and some African communities enjoy them to the fullest. Truthfully, they are not everyone’s cup of tea but you still can acquire the courage to feast on them. Scientists have in the past indicated that people should consider eating worms as an alternative source of protein.


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About the author

Abraham Odhiambo

Abraham Odhiambo is a writer with interests in nature, travel, African safari and sports. I'm pursuing a bachelor's degree in Media and Communication at Egerton University.

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