Blog

Grub's up!

By: Brendan Atkins, Category: Museullaneous, Date: 21 Jul 2014

Feeling peckish? Here's the solution.

Mealworms

Brendan Atkins © Australian Museum

It’s the monthly morning tea for staff on the sunny top floor of the Australian Museum Research Institute building, and the Entomology Department has done a fine job: plates of biscuits and cakes, bowls of strawberries and nuts, and . . . mealworms.

Not live ones, but fried, pre-packed larvae of the mealworm beetle, Tenebrio molitor. They could be just another brown, crispy cocktail snack (Larvets™, available in BBQ, cheddar or spicy Mexican), but I have to overcome a lifetime of cultural conditioning just to nibble one. At least they weren’t still wriggling.

Yet entomophagy (the consumption of insects for food) is not unusual in the world: think witchetty grubs and bogong moths in Australia, fried crickets in Thailand, grasshoppers (chapulines) in Mexico and chocolate-coated ants in Japan.

Food scientists predict we’ll have to embrace insect-eating to feed the millions of new mouths added to the human population each year. Insects certainly make an ideal mini-livestock: fast-growing, cheap to feed and house, and environmentally friendly.

Dried mealworms seem nutritious enough: around 50% protein and 28% fat (though you can swap these proportions in the fried products).

Is eating insects really so different to eating other types of invertebrates – prawns, mussels or calamari? My mind says no, but my heart says yes; cultural waters run deep, and insects have yet to find a place on the average Western table.

But if we do all have to start eating insects for the good of the planet, I’d go the cheddar flavour; the BBQ was a bit bland. Or cut out the middle guy and go vegetarian.

How about you – what insects would you recommend?