Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Warning: Contents under pressure may explode (a lesson in cooking insects)

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is part 3 of 3 in a series of posts on entomophagy: the act (and art) of eating bugs. Click here for part 1, and here for part 2.

We all remember Boyle's Law, right? It's the law that states that if you increase temperature, or decrease volume, pressure will increase. What happens when you have too much pressure?


I was going to have them for lunch on Monday, but it was a holiday, so neither my roommate nor I had class. When Tuesday came around I expected, first of all, that my roommate would not be passed out on the couch, but also that he would be leaving for class at some point. Turns out his class ended a week before mine. I didn't want to have to explain my bug-eating to him, nor to be caught gagging in front of him (which I expected was a real possibility).

Finally I got a chance to cook these suckers up. My roommate had stayed up late, and I was up early. No chance of him waking up to find me sucking down worms. Granted, breakfast isn't the meal I had envisioned having bugs for, but I guess if I can have cold pizza for breakfast and waffles for dinner, anything goes.

I threw them in the freezer to immobilize them and then I headed for the shower. By the time I was done, they should be ready to go. And sure enough...

I had fasted them for a little over a day to "clean them out." Now I picked out the obviously dead ones (they were ghastly misshapen). From here, it was into the colander for a good rinse, to get off the flour and such that was still stuck to them.

Notice that they're not all straight as a spaghetti noodle anymore. If the thought of them moving bothers you, might I suggest cold water? I rinsed them in hot water and their little legs got to moving again. I quickly switched to cold water and that was the end of that.

Meanwhile I was heating a small amount of oil on high heat. I wanted them to be crispy critters--I had a feeling that I'd have a hard time stomaching them if they weren't good and crunchy. I failed, however, to take into consideration how their hard chitinous "skin" would behave like a pressure cooker. The instant I added the worms to the oil they started exploding. I ducked out of the way to avoid the napalm-like shrapel being flung from my would-be breakfast, spilling worms that hadn't quite made it into the oil across the stove. I turned the heat down some and flung the remaining worms from a safe distance. Though they too exploded, it was with considerably less force that the first batch.

After that, it was a relatively calm procedure. I cooked the worms until they were darkened and crispy, and then I removed them to some paper towels on a cooling rack. With a sprinkling of salt, they were done. Some of them looked like in the picture above. Others looked like this:

Completely translucent. I mistakenly thought that this was a skin or something left over from one of the worms molting (which, according to, they'll do 9-20 times before they morph). Then I realized that it had actually exploded with such force that all of the insides had been ejected. All in all, this is how my batch turned out:

Like I said, just some salt for flavor.

Then came the eating part of this experiment.

They didn't smell bad, and they certainly didn't look bad for being bugs and all. I'm definitely part of that western civilization that has ingrained in its collective psychology that bug-eating is gross. My stomach was doing flips just at the thought of it.

The first bite was the worst, mostly because I expected it to be. The second was a little better, but not good. Finally, after the third or fourth, I mostly got over the fact that I was eating bugs and was able to enjoy them.

You'll have to excuse the lack of shave and the crazy hair, I hadn't made it that far yet this morning when I was taking pictures. But really, they tasted pretty good. Nutty, I would say. I was having a hard time deciding what kind of nut they reminded me of, and I finally zeroed in on almonds. Yup, just like almonds. Although, I find the texture of the worms to be much nicer than almonds. The worms are pleasantly crunchy, but smooth (on account of the oil, no doubt), whereas almonds are almost... chalky? Not quite, but if you eat many almonds I'm sure you know what I mean.

I did decide however that I didn't much care for the ones where all of the guts had exploded out of them. The chitin by itself wasn't particularly flavorful, and the texture, while not bad, was lacking something. Ultimately, I stuck to the worms that had guts intact.

I'm impressed. I expected something much worse. I'm not sure how I would handle them if they weren't fried to a crisp, or milled into a flour as many have suggested, but certainly like this they were quite delicious. They would also probably go good with ketchup, now that you mention it.

Granted, with their $5.95 price tag, it's not something I would make a habit of buying. But, given the relative ease with which they can be bred, I would consider keeping live mealworms for food. NYWorms provides instructions for keeping your mealworms, and though they mention that the adult beetles can fly, they note that given a supply of food they usually won't. They claim to not use any kind of lid or screen on their bins. Your mileage may vary.

Hopefully this set of posts will inspire you to give bugs a chance, and mealworms or superworms are as good a place to start as any. In following posts, I hope to post of list of edible plants from PFAF that do well in partial, or dappled, shade. I'm working on it now, but it's considerably larger than the list of shade-loving perennials... naturally. You'll hear from me when I get it done (there might be a bit of a hiatus on account of final exams coming up soon).

Until then...

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is part 3 of 3 in a series of posts on entomophagy: the act (and art) of eating bugs. Click here for part 1, and here for part 2.

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