Mealworm burgers: Scientists explore a scary meat substitute


Would you like a meaty and flavorful mealworm powder seasoning with your food?

It’s a question you might soon hear at dinner, or at least that’s the hope of scientists at South Korea’s Wonkwang University.

Researchers In Hee Cho and Hyeyoung Park presented their development of a meaty mealworm flavor at the American Chemical Society’s fall meeting, according to a press release on Wednesday. Their research, they say, is a response to the dietary demands of a growing global population and the looming climate crisis.

« The global food market continues to grow, but there is still a need to explore new food materials and/or develop new food products as food resources are gradually running out, » Cho said in a news briefing posted on the American Chemical Society’s YouTube account.

The insects are « really environmentally friendly and more efficient than typical livestock, » Cho said.

And they are a good source of protein.

Despite their ecological and nutritional benefits, mealworms still face a challenge that prevents them from easily ending up in meals: the ick factor. Customers are simply disgusted by the mealworms, Cho said.

« Many consumers don’t like their physical appearance, » she said at the press conference. « Thus, most insects have been used in crushed or powdered form as food additives. »

Cho and Park’s research focused on the flavor possibilities associated with mealworm powder, exploring how different forms of cooking can produce different flavor profiles that could make the insects more appealing to eat.

Specifically, the researchers seasoned the mealworms with amino acids, garlic powder, onion powder, and mushroom powder, and experimented with different cooking methods. Ultimately, their goal was to perfect a « meaty » flavor that would be satisfying and familiar to consumers. People trying to reduce their meat intake could use a mealworm additive to satisfy their meat cravings, for example.

Heating the mealworms with sugar produced the most popular « meat » flavor, according to the ranking of volunteers who tested the different formulations. The scientists hope their work will « help the commercial development of meat-like and savory flavorings and seasonings, and encourage the convenience food industry to include edible insects in their products. »

« Insect farming requires only a fraction of the land, water and food compared to traditional farming, » Cho said. « Edible insects are superfoods. »

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