How to cook mealworms in healthy food

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The researchers say mealworms can be steamed, stewed, and even thoroughly fried. Javier Zias Photography / Getty Images
  • Researchers report that mealworms can be cooked into tasty and healthy seasonings and snacks.
  • In their study, the researchers steamed the worms, heated them, and fried them thoroughly.
  • Experts say insect-based foods are becoming more popular and could provide a healthy and environmentally friendly alternative food.

The future of sustainable food consumption may be with the humble mealworm.

But first, scientists need to convince more people to take it.

A South Korean research team set out to do this by testing different ways to prepare mealworms, including steaming it, which produces sweet corn-like aromas, deep frying it, giving it shrimp-like features, as well as heating it with sugar.

The researchers reported that cooking mealworms with sugar produced “meat-like” properties.

These “interaction flavors” were then refined into 10 categories based on consumer preferences, the researchers said, in the hope of paving the way for worm-based foods in the future.

“Recently, eating insects has become a focus of interest due to the increasing cost of animal protein, as well as the associated environmental issues,” said In Hee Cho, PhD, principal investigator from Wonkwang University in South Korea, in a press release. .

The results were presented at the fall meeting of the American Chemical Society this week. The research has not yet been reviewed or published.

Experts say making good-tasting food is a big part of winning the battle for consumer interest.

The rest is cultural – including overcoming the “shit” factor that some might have to eat bugs.

“The main challenge for insects like the food industry is to overcome public stigma,” said Jeff Tomberlin, PhD, director of the Center for Environmental Sustainability through Insect Agriculture in the Texas Department of Entomology.

“Convincing Westerners that insects are whole or as a safe and delicious ingredient will take time,” Tomberlin told Healthline. “However, if one looks at other foods that have faced the same challenges, I am confident that insects like the food and feed industry will have the same success.”

Tomberlin compared getting people to accept insect-based foods similar to the journey that sushi took from something disgusting to an everyday item. The same is true of lobsters, which were once considered a food for the poor and are now a delicacy.

Tomberlin also noted that insects are incredibly effective waste processors from a sustainability perspective. He referred to black soldier fly larvae that have been approved as livestock feed, aquaculture and more recently for pets.

“This species, which I have studied for more than 24 years, is the crown jewel of the industry. The larvae can eat just about anything, including waste, and they can turn that into a high-protein, high-fat insect biomass.”

And eating insects, while not common worldwide, is not uncommon. About 2.5 billion people worldwide make insects a part of their diets, such as meat or fish, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

“I am a firm believer in the promise of insect protein to solve some of our toughest nutritional challenges,” said Jennifer Kaplan, MBA, director of sustainability at C16 Biosciences and food system sustainability coach at Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. .

“We already see high-end culinary celebs like Jose Andrés, Noma founder Rene Redzepi and Klaus Meyer serving up dishes of insects. We need insect protein to get into the mainstream,” Kaplan told Healthline.

There are signs that people in the United States may be more willing to accept insect protein as an alternative to meat than one might think. A recent study from consumer insights platform Veylinx found that nearly three in 10 Americans expressed an interest in purchasing insect protein.

But even if you can get Americans to eat insects, they may not be able to buy them for human consumption.

Cutworms are a staple food for pets, but Food and Drug Administration regulations have historically focused on keeping insects away from human food — not making them an essential part of the product.

Instead, the agency has provided guidelines that can be considered informal acceptance of insects as food, but the rules surrounding this are vague.

However, changes may be on the horizon. In July 2022, the European Food Safety Authority approved small mealworms for human consumption after approval of yellow mealworms the previous year. This could pave the way for other regulators to follow suit.

“I think we all realize we have limited resources on this planet,” Tomberlin said. “We need to be wiser in how we manage them and be as efficient as possible. I think insects as a potential food or animal feed offer opportunities to increase that efficiency, diversify the economy, create economic opportunity, and reduce dependence on imports, all while protecting the environment.” “

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