Microbiome-Guided Exploration of the Microbial Assemblage of the Exotic Beverage “Insect Tea” Native to Southwestern China

Xin Mao, Peter Kusstatscher, Haoxi Li, Xiaoyulong Chen, Gabriele Berg, Maofa Yang*, Tomislav Cernava*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Insect tea is a unique beverage that is native to Southwestern China and traditionally produced by local farmers in an elaborate process. It consists of insect larvae excrements that are commonly obtained from meal moths (Pyralis farinalis Linnaeus 1758) reared on a specific plant-based diet. We have reconstructed the whole production process under laboratory conditions in order to obtain microbiome-level insights into this uncommon beverage and to trace back the origin of the prevalent bacteria in the final product. The bacterial community composition was specific for each production stage, with a high proportion of Streptomycetacea, Pseudonocaridaceae, Enterococcaceae, and Enterobacteriaceae in the insect tea. A large proportion of the constituents was traced back to the producing insect (13.2%) and its excrements (43.8%), while the initial plant-based substrate for tea production was found to contribute only 0.6% of the traceable bacteria in the final product. Moreover, an enrichment of Enterobactericeae was observed during the analyzed process steps and verified with complementary analyses. The cultivation experiments indicated a high occurrence of viable bacteria in the tea at 2.7 × 105 ± 1.2 × 105 cfu g–1. The isolated bacteria included Bordetella petrii and Enterococcus spp. that were recovered from a commercial product. By implementing an integrative approach, the insect tea was shown to harbor a species-rich bacterial community that can be traced back to certain plant and insect microbiome constituents from distinct production steps. Moreover, the microbial profile of the insect tea was found to be unique for a food product so far and contained several bacterial groups that are considered from the current perspective as food contaminants or yet unreported in other beverages. Due to the high number of viable bacteria, the tea harbors a so far undescribed dynamic component that might have implications for human health.
Original languageEnglish
Article number3087
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jan 2020


  • Chong Cha
  • Enterobacteriaceae
  • food microbiome
  • insect tea
  • Pyralis farinalis
  • tea microbiome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Microbiology


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