A tablespoon of sugar can help the mealworms go down.
Addition of sugars to cooked and powdered mealworms create a condiment with an appetizing meaty odor, the researchers reported Aug. 24 at the American Chemical Society’s fall meeting in Chicago.
Some insects have been found to be an environmentally friendly alternative to other animal proteins. because they require less land and water to breed (Serial number: 05/11/19). But many people in the United States and other Western countries, where insects aren’t eaten much, generally find the idea of chewing on insects unappetizing.
“Not many people are ready to fry up a whole pan of crickets and eat them fresh,” says Julie Lesnik, a biological anthropologist at Wayne State University in Detroit, who was not involved in the new research. Figuring out how to make insect-based foods more appealing could be key to making them more popular.
And a successful insect-based product could snowball similar foods. “It’s really cool that this research is going on, because at any moment this could be what people discover and then blow up,” says Brenden Campbell, an insect farmer based in Eugene, Oregon. He studied mealworms and created a company. he named Planet Bugs to, in part, make insect-based food products.
In an earlier study, chemist In Hee Cho of Wonkwang University in South Korea and colleagues analyzed the odors given off by mealworms that were steamed, roasted, or fried. Steamed mealworms produced a sweet smell, like corn, while roasted and fried mealworms released chemicals more similar to meat and shellfish.
In their latest work, the team identified which combinations of water, sugars, and cooking time produced a particularly meaty smell, and tested these concoctions on volunteers to find out which smelled the most appetizing.
Using insects ground up or in condiments, as Cho’s team did, could help people get over their doubts about eating whole insects, says Amy Wright, who has written a book on eating insects. (She, for her part, has no qualms. Wright, a literature professor at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee, used to have mealworms in her apartment, which she used in sandwiches and guacamole.)
“There are a lot of things that we find unpleasant, but we have designed them,” says Lesnik. “We’re seeing insects being treated like any other food, and yes, we’re talking about aroma… but that’s what the Doritos engineers are doing.”