This small larvae form of the darkling beetle could well be the planet’s ‘biggest’ friend. Why? For one, it can replace animal meat for our protein needs and secondly because it has an almost magical ability to turn back the tide of toxic materials that have been thought to be indestructible until now.
Maybe you already know the mealworm from your hikes in the country, as you feed the wild birds along the way, or in your garden at home in your wild bird feeder. So much healthier for your garden friends than bread or stuffing their poor little bird bellies with peanuts.
Read on, and you too will be a big fan of this small, wriggly saviour.
Introducing the ‘meal’ worm.
As unpalatable as the idea of eating insects as your lunch might seem, this eco-friendly protein might just prove to be our planet’s saving grace.
Our options for sourcing meats may still seem bountiful, but looking to the future, the industry might not be able to sustain the needs of the consumer. The massive demand for meat consumption makes it almost impossible to sustain it’s current levels – especially when looking at the resources, time and energy it takes to deliver meat into the hands of the consumer.
This inefficient way of feeding the masses might result in meat becoming a rather precious commodity. Animal protein demand is expected to inflate by 70 – 80% 1Oonincx DGAB, de Boer IJM (2012) Environmental Impact of the Production of Mealworms as a Protein Source for Humans – A Life Cycle Assessment. PLoS ONE 7(12): e51145. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0051145 within the next 30 years. Studies have indicated for a long time that insects serve as a more environmentally friendly solution with regards to animal protein production 2Oonincx DGAB, van Itterbeeck J, Heetkamp MJW, van den Brand H, van Loon JJA, van Huis A (2010) An Exploration on Greenhouse Gas and Ammonia Production by Insect Species Suitable for Animal or Human Consumption. PLoS ONE 5(12): e14445. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0014445.
At the staggering rate and levels we currently consume meat, we might even end up having no choice but to adapt to a vegetarian diet, but why wait until then?
The consumption of mealworms dates back centuries even in the West and is said to have originated in the Mediterranean. These larvae can be found almost anywhere in the world, and they prefer dark, damp and warm locations where they generally enjoy feasting on plants, grains, spoiled food and all manner of decaying organic matter.
Mealworms are an essential part of the process of cleaning up waste organic matter. Their voracious consumption of these materials is helpful in aiding the ecosystem and ultimately, become a vital staple for the diets of many animals. Maybe soon you and I will be munching on these little critters at trendy bistros around the World.
Since mealworms aren’t warm-blooded like mammals, they expend far less energy per pound, so they require far less to survive. Meaning that less energy is used in their cultivation as a food source and in turn, ensuring that less carbon dioxide is then emitted into the atmosphere.
This insect larva is leading the way for a sustainable system of food production. Why? Incredibly, the UN has estimated that livestock production accounts for almost 18% of the planet’s carbon emissions 3LIVESTOCK’S LONG SHADOW environmental issues and options FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION OF THE UNITED NATIONS. Rome, 2006 http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/a0701e/a0701e00.HTM. These numbers will by no means lessen unless we reduce our overreliance on animal protein.
Future generations will thank their lucky stars that we chose innovative consumption over greed and well, ignorance. It will take time to develop a natural relationship with larvae as a food source, but when we look at what has been achieved in this field so far, the possibilities seem endless …
The Future Looks… Wormy
IKEA’s futuristic food lab, Space10, has set things in motion with a brilliant concept of replacing beef burgers with mealworms and root vegetables. Not too long ago, Medium took to the web and announced this crafty concept and tagged it as the “fast food of the future”.
There is nothing here that you would expect when thinking about the consumption of mealworms. Space10 has been at the forefront of pioneering a smarter way to eat and unveiled a total of 5 new futuristic dishes.
Does this buggy cuisine actually taste like you are eating insects? Not in the slightest. All it takes is some creative branding and smart copywriting to deliver this in neatly packaged food. Then the public will agree it is indeed tasty.
It will also take a fair amount of schooling ourselves in new cooking styles, but if it means that we are paving the way for the generations to come, then so be it.
It’s vital to change the bias that has for long been associated to the consumption of bugs – especially if we want to know that there will be ways to feed ourselves when older, more familiar methods of producing meat-based food sources are no longer in practice.
The Secret Benefits
Sitting down for dinner in 20 years from now might be a completely different experience, but if we do what is necessary, the possibilities of adapting to a smarter form of food production would be far higher.
Imke De Boer and Dennis Oonincx, a pair of scientists from the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands, published their studies via PLOS One 4Environmental Impact of the Production of Mealworms as a Protein Source for Humans – A Life Cycle Assessmen. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0051145 and have determined that the cultivation of beetle larvae as a food source, allowed for the use of less land and less energy per unit of protein.
In more revolutionary environmental research surfacing from Beihang University and Stanford, studies have shown that mealworms not only hold the key as a food source to our Planet but also combat one of the biggest enemies of our Planet today: Plastics, especially Styrofoam.
This non-biodegradable nightmare is one of the most significant problems our eco-system is facing, but now it would seem like environmental science is facing an exciting new chapter in saving the planet.
According to a Stanford Engineer, Wei-Min Wu, mealworms can live on a diet of Styrofoam and other types of plastic 5Biodegradation and Mineralization of Polystyrene by Plastic-Eating Mealworms: Part 1. Chemical and Physical Characterization and Isotopic Tests. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.5b02661S. The consumption of plastic has no adverse effect on the larvae itself and their studies documented 100 mealworms as they consumed between 34 and 39 milligrams of Styrofoam a day.
The research delved deeper into the mealworms’ consumption of Styrofoam and found that the plastic they ate had been transformed into worm biomass, carbon dioxide and biodegradable waste. The waste matter was put to the test and proved to be strongly compatible with soil for plants and crops.
Discovering more insects that potentially could be able to degrade plastic in pollution management safely is critical, but the discovery of mealworms and their amazing little guts is a positive glimmering, shining hope on a dark topic that could critically save our planet from our toxic plastic overload.
From Farm To Food
To document the absolute necessity of sustainable food sources, we’ll need more examples of ways to enjoy this somewhat progressive option.
The idea of eating bugs in general and worms in particular does not currently have an appetising vision, perhaps understandably so, but taking care of our planet will require far greater efforts from ourselves. Especially if we continue in the present modes of production, packaging and consumption.
Let’s have a look at what we can do with mealworms and how we can prioritise the care of our planet with smarter eating…
IKEA’s Space10 6https://inhabitat.com/space10-is-taking-on-fast-food-with-bug-based-burgers-and-meatballs/ pioneered this movement, and it’s very exciting. It’s a hopeful, fresh take on a very outdated form of animal protein use and quite simple to prepare in the average kitchen.
Combine 100g of beetroot, 50g of parsnip, 50g of potatoes and 50g of mealworms. Mash them all together with a dash of avocado oil and seasoning of choice, work it through a meat mincer and voila! You are now the proud producer of meatless patties.
Dress your burger with a relish, beetroot and blackcurrant ketchup, chive spread and hydroponic salad mix – the future of pub grub has never looked so good.
Trying alternative proteins is the aim of the game and dipping your toes in the local produce pool, will ensure that your carbon footprint remains minuscule.
Mince your mealworms with carrot, parsnip and beetroot for a wickedly delicious take on the traditional meatball – only this time, you are taking into consideration the kind of impact animal protein production has on the environment.
Serve your ‘neatballs’ with mash, gravy and lingonberry sauce.
Tomatillo Grasshopper Taco
Naturally, baby steps are needed with this food movement. It might be a better option to ease the public into the idea of bugs as food by mincing mealworms into vegetables and sauces, but should you feel the need to step it up, look no further than a taco…
Frying up dried Chapulines with onion, jalapenos and seasoning creates a wholesome, earthy taste that can be accompanied with tomatillo sauce, fresh guacamole for a brand-new take on lunch. For first-timers, we suggest serving your insect meal with margaritas to ease the experimental phase of replacing meat with bugs…
Why not? If you have come this far, there is no turning back. This is where the brave take one giant step for mankind. This unique recipe blends fresh sweetcorn, thai curry, with something a little different to make for one fantastic 'critter fritter'.
- 50 g freeze-dried mealworms
- 140 g flour
- 140 g sweetcorn
- 125 ml milk
- 2 whole eggs
- 3 spring onions finely chopped
- 2 tbsp Thai curry paste red or green
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 handfull coriander leaves roughly chopped
- 2 tbsp avocado oil try coconut oil if you can't get avocado oil
- 2 tbsp sweet chilli sauce to server
Sieve flour, baking powder and the pinch of salt into a mixing bowl. Add the eggs and milk into the mixture, and then whisk to get rid of lumps.
Stir in the Thai curry paste until well blended and add the sweetcorn, spring onions, mealworms and coriander by stirring well. Get the oil hot in a frying pan and add a spoonful of butter.
Cook 3-4 minutes on each side and check the centre to ensure that the fritter is cooked through. Add more seasoning if needed.
Cook the remainder of the batch and add more oil if needed.
Serve with sweet chilli sauce and enjoy!
The Law Of The Land
Should you be on the lookout for eco-friendly farming options, look no further than adding homegrown mealworms into animal feed. Why has this method not been incorporated into the mainstream food source?
It could be because there are very little resources and information available. This process may well support the longevity of our planet’s bounty, but it is slow in becoming a viable option for a sustainable protein source.
Let’s take a quick look at how you can get your hands on mealworms, or how you can farm them and provide it as feed for wild birds and chickens. Say goodbye to overpriced non-GMO feed that breaks the bank and your heart…
Grow your own: Getting Started
- Purchase a 3 drawer (or more) plastic containers or storage units 7https://amzn.to/2kEWKe6. These will serve as the ‘homes’ in which your mealworms grow in. You will also need newspaper or egg cartons to place over the edible bedding to create the darkness mealworms require in order to thrive.
- Make sure that you have apples, carrots or potatoes available to draw the moisture that attracts mealworms. The base of the edible bedding can either be flour or oats8https://amzn.to/2suds3n and works wonderfully as long as you place it on a piece of cardboard.
Grow and Serve
- You will begin by placing edible bedding in the lower drawer and adding slices of carrot, apple or potato on top of the bedding. Once the bedding is flattened and dressed with the moisture-rich vegetables, you may add your mealworms.
- Start with around 2000 worms 9https://amzn.to/2sn2b5S to see how your farming method works, but make sure to cover the edible bedding and the worms with newspaper or egg cartons.
- Keep your drawers in warm areas to encourage the process.
- Worms will begin their transformation into pupae between the ages of 12-18 weeks. Should you come across dead worms in the lower drawer, don’t pull them out, as they become a part of the feed that other mealworms consume. Make sure to add newer pieces of fruit or vegetables once the older ones begin to dry out.
- Once the pupae turn white, they will slowly begin to transform into darkling beetles. As soon as they start to emerge and darken in colour, you may prepare your second drawer the same way as you did with the first to separate the worms from the beetles.
- Be sure to check the box for eggs. You don’t need to move them, but take it as a signal that you will soon have more larvae (mealworms) to replace your lower drawer with. Eggs will take between 4 – 19 days to hatch.
- You may add mealworms to your bird feed, and if you have extra mealworms on hand, you may go as far as feeding them to the pupae as well (is that cannibalism?).
Always observe and replenish your habitats and replace the bedding every 3 – 4 months. You may want to use a sieve to separate the worms from the frass (waste) and be sure to keep the frass available in a separate container for a month or so to be sure that no larvae emerge from the batch. Keep the frass and use it as a fertiliser for your garden.
Not convinced? You will be.
Eating bugs as is nothing new in some cultures, such as Mexico and most of South East Asia but in our overly fussy Western cultures, we need innovative influencers to get these tasty creatures on the culinary map.
Just when it seems that all is lost, and environmental disaster is looming, along comes a little friend from a surprising place. Let’s embrace this fantastic opportunity and lets ‘get buggy with it’.