Oh, Christmas fruitcake, oh Christmas fruitcake. How beautiful your maraschino cherries. And yet how widely reviled and ridiculed you are. But there are stranger confections you could place on the Christmas feasting table.
For instance, why not pack your next holiday treat with mealworms? According to a new study, they’re as good for the environment as they are good for you.
A lot of insects are edible. Some people even claim they’re delicious. In Sardinia, Italy, for example, there is a sheep milk cheese called casu marzu which comes embedded with cheese fly larvae that can jump six inches into the air when disturbed. Like anything, they are probably best ingested with moderation. Earlier this year, a man choked to death after eating handfuls of mealworms and dozens of giant cockroaches in a gnarly eating contest. Just sayin'.
A study released last week from Wageningen University in the Netherlands, revealed that mealworms—the kind commonly used as fishing bait—are a more environmentally-friendly source of animal protein than the kinds we usually consume.
Led by Dennis Oonincx, a graduate student at the university, researchers investigated the production lifecycle for mealworms (not technically a worms, but darkling beetle larvae), assessing the amount of energy use and land use went into producing a kilogram of edible mealworm protein, along with the amount of greenhouse gases it produced. The researchers then compared it using the same terms of environmental impact to the production of chicken, pork, beef, and dairy.
Their analysis showed that production of a single kilogram of edible protein from chicken, milk, beef or pork products required similar amounts of energy but resulted in higher greenhouse gas emissions and required much more land. Among the reasons, researchers noted, was that mealworms do not produce methane gas, have a high reproduction rate, and convert their food very efficiently.
According to an article published in the Atlantic last fall, the Dutch have been working for a while to turn mealworms into a viable food export. A few restaurants there have put mealworms and other insects on their menus.
A company called “Bugs Originals” has distributed freeze-dried mealworms and locusts to a major Dutch wholesaler, offering pesto-flavored “bugsnuggets” and chocolate-dipped “bugslibars,” described in the Atlantic article as “chicken nuggets and muesli bars, respectively, infused with ground-up mealworms.” Researchers in Holland hope to develop a viable process for isolating the mealworm protein to use it in processed foods. The process, for now, is expensive and difficult.
The latter prospect is bound to be more palatable for some people. But in the meantime, I thought I’d share some a few mealworm recipes I found online for the types of sweet treats the more progressive among you might try sneaking into the Christmas buffet.
The first, found on a website called Insects Are Food, is for Banana Worm Bread. Serve it in place of fruitcake with coffee after that Christmas ham!
Banana Worm Bread
½ cup shortening
¾ cup sugar
2 bananas, mashed
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup chopped nuts
¼ cup dry-roasted mealworms
Mix together all ingredients. Bake in greased loaf pan at 350 deg F for about one hour.
The second, for Mealworm Cookies is taken from Haocheng Mealworm, Inc., a Chinese mealworm exporter.
550 ml (1-1/4 cups?) all-purpose flour
5 ml (1 tsp.) baking soda
5 ml (1 tsp.) salt
250 ml (1 cup) softened butter
175 ml (3/4 cup) white sugar
125 ml (1/2 cup) crumbled dried mealworms
175 ml (3/4 cup) firmly packed brown sugar
5 ml (1 tsp.) vanilla 2 eggs 360 grams (1-1/2 cups) chocolate chips
Place the cleaned and prepared insects on a cookie sheet and dry in the oven for 1 -2 hours at 100 (200). Preheat oven to 190 (375). In a bowl, mix the flour, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, cream butter, white sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla. Stir in eggs. Gradually add the flour mixture. Stir in chocolate chips and mealworms. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto a cookie sheet, and bake 8- 10 minutes.
This next one comes from Abigale’s Edibles, a website devoted to cooking with insects:
One egg white
Three teaspoons of sugar
Lightly toasted mealworms (up to 2 cups)
Whisk the egg white lightly with a fork until some foam forms.
Add the sugar a little at a time, stirring occasionally.
Taste the mixture – it should be fairly sweet. Add extra sugar if necessary.
Put the toasted mealworms into a bowl. Spoon the egg white mixture over the mealworms until they’re lightly coated, like dressing on a salad. Be careful not to use too much of the egg white mixture!
Spread the mealworms on a sheet of parchment paper on a baking tray in one even layer.
Bake at 290F for 10-15 minutes or until brown. They may still feel a little soft – that’s okay. They’ll harden a bit after they come out of the oven. … Sprinkle them on salad, enjoy them with some cheese or eat them with some raisins and nuts. Send me a message if you think of other ways to eat these morsels. … Add some herbs or spices (rosemary or thyme work well) to the sugar mixture before coating the mealworms for a more exotic flavour.
Perfect, too, for those of you planning New Year's Eve parties, since we'll be resolving to do better by the environment, right? Enjoy, everyone!
Lead image via Camillies Vita-mealies