Fermented bee larvae: a gift of the Mekong Delta’s cajuput forest

Nga Do
Cajuput trees blooms in November, feeding large numbers of honey bees in the Mekong Delta’s U Minh Forest. As local hunters plunder the hives of honey, they often grab a few larvae to eat as a prized source of protein. Traditionally, the larvae are gifted to relatives and friends during Tet (Lunar New Year Festival) in Ca Mau Province.

Nguyen Van Trang, a honey hunter with more than 50-year experience, said he often leaves a certain number of larvae behind, after harvesting honey to maintain the hive. “In cajuput blooming season, bees lay countless eggs that grow into larvae. People used to wrap them in leaves for baking or eating raw with salad.” “After getting bored with these dishes, they tried to ferment the leftover larvae and a new dish was born,” he said. 

Larvae are boiled before being separated from the comb. Then, they're salted and dried in the sun. Eventually, the resulting substance is mixed with ground fried rice. The fermented food is ready in 3-4 days after it turns a light yellow.

According to Trang, many people have begun to sell fermented bee larvae in recent years. Phan Van Ri, owner of Hai Ngo Fermented Bee Larvae Enterprise, said he sells around 1 ton of the product for VND80,000 (US$3.6) per kilogram. “Normally, fermented bee [larvae] can be stored for a week but it can lasts for a month if its refrigerated” he said.

Fermented bee larvae can be eaten with rice or with fruit like guava and tamarind, etc. Sau Su, a local resident in U Minh, said he always keeps fermented bee larvae in the house for friends and holiday revelers. “Normally after each meal, my guests will leave behind meat, fish, jam...but the fermented bee larvae dish is always empty,” he said.

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