Make Insects Your Next Meal
Mealworms have been consumed by humans for thousands of years, and there are many good reasons to give them a try.
My own thoughts on the matter are that I strongly endorse Entomophagy as a way of life, and am in no doubt that future generations will not think twice about insects derived fats and protein as a part of the standard diet – particularly for those of us with Western lifestyles (and attitudes).
But for now it is quite the taboo, this eating insects thing. It comes up every now and again in places like the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization, which gets a heap of publicity in the mass media for a week or two then goes away. Very few people that I discuss this with actually take me up on it, and give them a try – even when they agree with the reasons why.
This article is all about the practical aspects of preparing, cooking, and eating mealworms. The information is based on my own personal experiences, starting in 2011. So this will complete the two part series – how to eat them correctly, following on from how NOT to eat them. I will include references to the academic literature where required, and I’d encourage you to do your own research on the matter if at all in doubt.
How you go about farming mealworms for consumption will be covered in great detail for a future post, so for now just sit back and prepare to try something completely different, and hopefully not unpleasant.
How to Prepare Mealworms
Seeing how these mealworms are for you and not the fish, we will need to be very particular about how to prepare them – so two goals here:
- Kill the mealworms in a humane manner
- Ensure the mealworms are as hygienic as possible before eating them
These are the steps you take to do that
1. Collect Your Ideal Mealworms
The Darkling beetle remains in the larvae form for up to 90 days, so what you are looking for are mealworms more or less of the size and vigour as in the video below.
As in the video, get the quantity of mealworms you want into a paper or plastic cup and cover them over with a breathable lid, even some newspaper with an elastic to keep it firmly in place will do. Remove any mealworms that are not moving, damaged, or transitioning to the pupal stage.
2. Purging (Internal Cleansing)
Now according to some Online sources, you don’t need to purge the mealworms before you eat them, but if I’m going to clean my shrimp (prawns), then the same goes here. Additionally, some of the literature calls this out as a fairly standard practice from Africa to Australia (FAO 2010).
Leave your cup of mealworms in the cupboard for a day or two, making sure they have zero food with them. At this stage they are ready to go (jump to step 3 below), but if you want you could also try to flavour your mealworms prior to cooking – add in a couple of small apple pieces, carrot, crushed cinnamon sticks, parsley, and so on. What you get from doing that is the flavour of that food going into the mealworms. As they eat it they start to taste like it, just in the same way that beef, lamb, and pork can be affected by diet.
I’d suggest you avoid any citrus and overly watery foods – things like watermelon won’t work. All that liquid disagrees with them in a big way, and after a couple of days it will make them dead and therefore, inedible. I lost a few batches just by having too much orange mush in the cup with them.
My own favourite is cinnamon, so if you are unsure then start with that.
If you do flavour your mealworms, keep them eating it for 2-3 days, then remove all food for a day or two.
3. The Freezer
Put your mealworms into the freezer for 1-2 days at a temperature of -10° to -20° Celsius (0° Fahrenheit). There are some articles out there suggesting 15 minutes, but I can assure you that mealworms are very well adapted to shutting down (but not dying) in cold temperatures, in fact one way to prolong their larvae form is to put them into the fridge for months at a time. I once had them in the freezer for 8 hours and after 30 minutes at room temperature were all back like nothing had happened!
This step will ensure that the mealworms naturally shut down and remain in that state for long enough that any chance of returning have gone. It seems a little cruel until you consider how we dispatch some of the other animals we use for food. Insects might not feel pain as we know it (further reading with Smith 1991, DeGrazia & Rowan 1991, Gherardi 2009), but we should handle them as if they do.
You can leave those frozen mealworms for up to two months in the freezer, and if you plan on freezing them in batches then make sure to date the containers so you know what’s what. After a couple of months they will still be OK for the compost, for fish, or the chooks. And make sure you keep a lid on whatever container you use to avoid freezer burn.
This is what mealworms look like when frozen. Now let’s cook them!
How to Cook Mealworms
The first step here is to boil your frozen mealworms, to ensure they are clean of dirt or potential parasites (such as described in Omoto & Cartwright 2003). Keep them in the boiling water for 3 minutes, then drain out on a napkin or cloth. You can then go on and use the water in the compost bin, as it will have taken enough nutrients to still be useful.
Pat them dry and remove any mealworms that are obviously damaged or discolored.
Recipe 1 – Dehydrated Mealworms
This is a very easy way to cook mealworms and they taste great also. If you have yet to try a dehydrator, they can be used for plenty more things than preparing insects – drying fruits, vegetables, nuts, meat, ETC.
- Mealworms (easy huh!)
- Add mealworms to the dehydrator
- Leave them in there until golden brown
- Lightly baste with Olive Oil, add a pinch of salt
- Eat while warm
If you don’t own a dehydrator, you can substitute the oven grill just as easily – just keep the heat to about 50°C (122°F).
When they look something like this they are ready to eat.
Remove the head and legs if it helps (it did for me), but after a while it didn’t make any difference.
Recipe 2 – Mealworms with Garlic and Chilli in Butter
This is a recipe for mealworms that results in a lovely snack. I like to add salt at the end because it makes the whole thing feel like eating little roasted peanuts.
- Chilli Peppers sliced – with or without the seeds as per your preference
- Garlic diced
- Butter – salted or unsalted as per your preference
- Add butter to a moderately heated pan, allow to partially melt
- Add the garlic and chilli, sauté
- Add mealworms and mix well. If the mealworms start to ‘pop’, turn the heat down
- Fry until mealworms are crispy
- Season to taste
Keep a close eye on those mealworms as they cook – if they start to pop then turn down the heat. I’d suggest you sample one before finishing up, because their taste will change depending on how cooked they get. My own preference is to leave them on until crispy.
This mealworms are glazed just right, so eat one or all.
Recipe 3 – Mealworm Marrinade
This is more about flavoring mealworms than cooking them. Kind of like the thing you can do by adding cinnamon and so on during the purging phase. The following preparation makes for an effective marinade, and is one I’ve used on many occasions.
- Parsley chopped
- Lemon Juice
- Tabasco sauce
- Pinch of pepper
- Garlic sliced
- Add all the ingredients
- Close the lid and throw into the fridge for 3 hours
- Remove mealworms and cook or eat raw
So Where to Get that Next Meal?
So folks thanks for getting to the end! I hope you are thinking long and hard about Entomophagy and mealworms in particular. You can raise and make them into a meal all from your own home; they taste good, and are nutritionally excellent. There are plenty of recipes out there if you take a look, as more and more people get curious enough to give it a go and share their experience.
Bon appétit, and If you have any questions feel free to ask in the comments sections below.
Further Reading Of Interest
- Mealworms: The Other-Other-Other White Meat? (blogs.scientificamerican.com)
- The Sustainable Meat of the Future: Mealworms? (blogs.smithsonianmag.com)
- Mealworm is the new beef: Scientists say eating bugs is better for the planet (thesun.co.uk)