Eating creepy crawlies could be the cure to ending world hunger.
Scientists from South Korea say mealworms, or beetle larvae, taste like real “meat” after they’ve been cooked with sugar.
In a press release, Dr. Hee Cho, project leader from Wonkwag University, said, “Recently, eating insects has become of interest because of the increasing cost of animal protein, as well as the associated environmental issues.”
By 2050, the global population will reach 9.7 billion – a significant jump from the current 8 billion – so meat alternatives have become highly desirable because of their environmental impact.
The methane cows produce contribute to climate change, so beef substitutes are needed to combat it.
Mealworms, which can be ground up and spiced to taste just like real meat, may provide a substitute for those unwilling to give up their hamburgers.
According to researchers, critters are a terrific source of nutrients the body requires, comparable to those found in meat. They have been demonstrated to lower cholesterol and inflammation while enhancing heart rhythms.
“Insects are a nutritious and healthy food source with high amounts of fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and high-quality protein — like meat,” Cho said. “Mealworm contains beneficial essential amino acids and is high in unsaturated fatty acids.”
Unlike other countries, many places do not consider insects delicacies, but Dr. Cho is working to change that stigma because the squeamish might not voluntarily eat slimy worms.
“Mealworm is one of the most widely used edible insects in the world. However, edible insects are not universally accepted in our food cultures due to their repellant appearance and unique flavor characteristics,” added Cho.
In this study, Cho’s team examined mealworms throughout their lifecycle, identifying volatile hydrocarbons that evaporated and left strong scents behind.
The scent of raw larvae varied depending on the cooking process and included notes of damp dirt, shrimp, and sweet corn. Mealworms that had been steam-cooked gave off sweet corn scents; roasted or deep-fried larvae had an oilier aroma.
Researchers discovered that the worms had more similarities to food than just smell – they produced chemicals similar to those found in meat and seafood.
An experiment was conducted with various amounts of mealworms and sugar to determine which sample had the most “meat-like” scent.
“As a result of this study, 10 of the reaction flavors were optimized based on consumer preferences,” said co-author and graduate student Hyeyoung Park.
Researchers hope their findings will influence the mass production of worm meat by repurposing beetle larvae as faux beef.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization claims that eating insects is “a healthy and highly nutritious food source with a high content of fat, protein, vitamins, fibers, and minerals.”