Mosquitoes are part of the Culicidae family and are abundant, especially during the hot season! In addition to the itching caused by bites from these insects, they can carry certain viruses, such as malaria and Zika. But can we decrease our desirability to these predators without resorting to commercial products? Does food have an attractive or repellent effect on mosquitoes? According to experts, it seems that certain foods - or their compounds - have the ability to influence these annoying biters’ choice of future prey.
Foods that repel mosquitoes
Foods from the Alliaceae family
Garlic, shallots, onions, chives and leeks are part of the Alliaceae family. What do they have in common? They contain a substance called allicin, which is said to have the ability to repel mosquitoes. Ingesting these foods helps the body excrete this substance through the pores of the skin. However, to enjoy its benefits, it’s best to eat raw foods...which isn’t always the most appetizing! In fact, few people would bite into an onion as they would an apple. However, foods from the Alliaceae family can easily be added to a salad or a vinaigrette. As a last resort, you can press these foods to extract the oil in order to apply it directly to the skin, but your homemade mosquito repellent’s strong odour might offend others.
Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is very affordable and can be easily found in most supermarkets. This has the ability to modify your body odour, which repels mosquitoes. For more effective results, consuming at least one tablespoon (15ml) per day of pure cider is recommended. You can mix pure cider with maple syrup to facilitate its ingestion. Plus, apple cider vinegar is very versatile. In fact, it can be used for dressings, marinades, hummus, to prepare sushi rice, in a hot drink or even in some desserts. Don’t forget your bottle of apple cider vinegar on your next vacation, at the campsite or for your next excursions in the forest.
In addition to being an effective repellant when applied to the skin, lemongrass is often used in the manufacture of candles or products sold in aerosols to repel mosquitoes. This plant contains two natural substances called citronellol and geraniol which disturbs the nervous system of mosquitoes and then forces them to stay away. Lemongrass is an ingredient often used in Asian foods, such as soups, stir-fries, and sauces, and is used with different types of meat. It’s still uncertain whether ingesting lemongrass provides the same effects as its volatile release into the environment, but this avenue seems promising.
If you like spicy food, you’ll be happy to learn that hot peppers are not mosquito-friendly. It is in particular due to the presence of capsaicin, the molecule responsible for the hot sensation - or the spiciness - felt in the mouth, that they won’t want to bite you. This molecule is excreted through the pores of the skin and is believed to be a powerful irritant for mosquitoes. However, the beneficial effects follow a dose-response curve and the regular consumer would therefore be in a better position to take full advantage of these benefits. Spices like chili powder, cayenne pepper, pili-pili, or classic jalapeno and habanero peppers cook well and can be easily added to a variety of your favourite dishes. Whether it's soup, chili, spaghetti sauce, in a sandwich or even in salads, hot sauce can literally be used in everything!
Grapefruit contains a molecule called nootkatone. This gives grapefruit a characteristic scent that insects don’t particularly like. In fact, a biotechnology company is in the process of developing a nootkatone-based repellant approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States. This molecule has been studied, but there’s very little data to show that the amount exuded by our pores is sufficient to repel mosquitoes. As a bonus, this fruit contains many vitamins besides being very refreshing, so why not give it a try?
Foods that attract mosquitoes
There is little research linking food consumption to mosquitoes. However, a study published in the Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association has shown that consuming beer significantly increases the mosquitos’ attraction to humans. In fact, after consuming a 350 mL beer, participants were more likely to be bitten by mosquitoes than the control group. This isn’t attributable to the subjects’ sweat or to the increase in their body temperature, but rather to increased production of CO2 after consuming alcohol. Does this apply to all types of alcohol? This still remains to be clarified!
Have you ever noticed that when you’re playing sports, there are suddenly more insects flying around you? This is due to the lactic acid produced by the muscles. As salt is believed to be a compound that promotes lactic acid production in the body, consuming foods high in sodium will attract mosquitoes more. It would therefore be better to avoid chips and beer when hiking in the forest.
In short, mosquito bites are often inevitable even when using mosquito repellent. There’s not an abundance of scientific literature on the subject, and many tips are often based on personal experiences, but if they work for you, that's great! Otherwise, you’ll have to endure the itching for a few days!
Familiprix in collaboration with Hubert Cormier
- Panella, NA, Dolan, MC, Karchesy, JJ, Xiong, Y., Peralta-Cruz, J., Khasawneh, M., ... & Maupin, GO (2005). Use of novel compounds for pest control: insecticidal and acaricidal activity of essential oil components from heartwood of Alaska yellow cedar. Journal of Medical Entomology, 42 (3), 352-358.
- Shirai, O., Tsuda, T., Kitagawa, S., Naitoh, K., Seki, T., Kamimura, K., & Morohashi, M. (2002). Alcohol ingestion stimulates mosquito attraction. Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association, 18(2), 91-96.
- Straif, S. C., & Beier, J. C. (1996). Effects of sugar availability on the blood-feeding behavior of Anopheles gambiae (Diptera: Culicidae). Journal of medical entomology, 33(4), 608-612.