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Overwhelming taste of mealworms

Hello people!

I recently had an insect-dinner (we had I believe a total of 12 dishes which had insects in them), and I have to say: it was delicious! Especially Grasshopper Wok and Buffalo Patty were really nice. However, all the dishes which had mealworms in them had VERY strong flavours from the mealworms. It was so overwhelming that we all agreed that the dishes which had mealworms in them were not tasty.

Have you also encountered this problem? We didn't use that much mealworms in the dishes and I'm wondering if there is anything we could do about it to make them as tasty as grasshoppers :)

Have a nice day!



  • Has nobody encountered this yet? :\

  • Hi EntoJesse, - I think the taste of the mealworms is due to the way it's larval exo-skeleton's chitin binds proteins in comparison to cricket non-larval exo-skeleton. Although not specific for mealworms, one insect cuticle (exo-skeleton) found 56% of chitin is bound as glyco("sugar")-protein by co-valent bonds, 25% of chitin bound to protein by hydrogen bonds, 14% of the chitin linked protein as water soluble, 3% chitin to protein bonds are double covalent & 2% van der Waal force binds them.

    Consider, again though not specific for mealworms, that silkworm cuticle's 1,380 genes at larval molts show 290 genes active for peptides (protein building block) that act in signaling & 13 genes up-regulated specifically at molting. As for cricket cuticle, & of course mealworm cuticle, it should not be assumed the same protein/peptides are in it's cuticle when one eats the insect.

    Chitin is not a single uniform molecule; it's component GlcNAc, acetyl glucosamine poly-saccharide ("sugar"), can form as different oligo-mers (repeat sequences). The different sequences of GlcNAc oligo-mers engenders different length molecules & the longer (higher molecular weight) the GlcNAc oligo-mer the more protein can bind to it.

    Temperature change, like cooking, influences the acetamide methyl groups of a GlcNAc oligo-mer. This results in change to a methyl group & that interacts ( on a micro-molar scale) with protein binding to the chitin - essentially making more protein capable of tagging on to the chitin.

    What we perceive as taste of the cooked mealworm is due to "aromatic" parts of a protein binding to chitin. "Aromatic" is from sulphur molecules (ex: a di-sulphide) which makes up a core part of a protein.

    When heated the "aromatic" structure's H+ ions rotate, changing orientation of that "aromatic" residue in relation to the "sugar" built into the exo-skeleton's chitin & this allows the protein H+ to bind to a chitin "sugar". As for how resilient any H+ from a protein binds to any chitin GlcNAc length oligo-mer's "sugar" that depends on where the "aromatic" array is found on that protein.

    In addition to the "aromatic" structure's influence on the chitin the acet-amides compounded in with the chitin poly-mer can shift their (the acet-amide's) position on the poly-saccharide when altered by heat. With heat the poly-saccharide loosens with stretching & this gives any "aromatic" proteins with indole rings a better ratio of surface contact with the chitin.

    Thus a new "aromatic" protein can bind it's -OH (hydroxyl) to a chitin -OH3 of a polysaccharide ("sugar"); the -OH gives an H+ that the polysaccharide takes, thus binding the protein to the chitin. In addition acet-amide of GlcNAc can bind to a hydrogen from the sulphur containing protein.

    As for why mealworm larvae exo-skeleton has more &/or unusual "aromatic" structures formatted into it's protein than crickets or (say) waxworms I speculate it has to do with the mealworm larval defense mechanism. My guess is the "aromatic" proteins are meant to signal the larvae's potential micro-bial enemies' own chemical receptors the larvae are to be avoided as a host because the mealworm larvae produce anti-microbial proteins. Of course, the opposite may also pertain - meaning the "aromatic" signal is for larval symbiotic micro-organisms to come closer to where the "aromatic" signal is.

    My suggestion for eliminating the un-savory taste of mealworm larvae is to eliminate the chitin before final preparation. Cook them 5 minutes, blend them in a small volume of clean (not cooking water) fluid (water, or even alcohol like wine) & rough filter/press out the chitin. Depending on one's recipe you'd need to evaporate off the fluid, shape the insect mass (egg or vegetable based alternative could bind it together) & sacrifice the visual impact of a bug ingredient.

  • How could one filter out the chitin? With an ordinary kitchen sieve?

  • Hi EntoJesse, - After blending pour everything through a tea strainer to catch the solid flakes. Then dump the mass of solids from the strainer into a cloth & press/squeeze/twist to get more soluble compounds out.

    I haven't work this up in a base cipher (ie: "x" % per "y") but here's data from a 5 minute fresh mealworm larvae boil. After cooking & blotting dry with paper toweling 29 grams of larvae was blended at high speed in 120 ml water. After filtering through a cloth with a weave similar to T-shirt fabric the chitin/pulp left in the cloth weighed 5 grams (from an initial 29 grams); I didn't use a hydraulic press on the chitin/pulp to expell the maximum moisturerom it; since chitin is cross linking of molecules I believe there were water molecules adsorbed in the polymer.

    Also, I haven't reverse calculated the chitin % separated so can't say how efficient this method is for isolating exo-skeleton cuticle only. One would have to factor in the water absorbed from boiling & here is my data on cooked larvae. A fresh weight of 657 gram washed & rinsed larvae cooked weighed 863 grams after boiling for a full 5 minutes & filtered whole in clothe lined kitchen colander. The cooked weight of the filtered whole mealworm larvae was 764 grams, so they took up an additional 14% of water during boiling.

    I did not hyrdaulic press those 657 grams fresh larvae before washing, rinsing or cooking to determine their initial fresh water content. The preceeding data for the 29 grams fresh larvae also does not take into account those larvae being washed. To wash the larvae they were submerged in water so that those which floated could be discarded & any substrate skimmed out; meaning the larvae could also have absorbed water during that process.

    According to (2013) "Larvae of mealworm (Tenebrio molitor L.) as European novel food" the fresh 3 month old larvae contain: 56.143 -56.397 % water, 17.189-18.65 % protein, 21.35-22.51 % fats & 1.436-1.664 % ash. I don't know (but assume some) how much ash was part of what I collected with my simple chitin filtrate.

    The same study describes how thee powdered (dehydrated) larvae protein, fat & mineral contents was double the fresh larvae level (gr. per gr.). See published research free full text=

  • I will try this and will post if it makes a difference :) Thanks!

  • Hi there @EntoJesse,

    I'm a rookie when it comes to growing mealworms, but I've been cooking insects for 10 years (mostly dried ones). I've noticed the flavour of mealworms depends a lot on what they have been fed. You can make them taste dramatically different by feeding them spices the last few days before you cook them (avoid spices that are directly toxic to them).

    The first mealies I tried tasted pretty dull - like paper with a weird aftertaste. After we bought our starter batch, my fiancé and I separated two handfuls and fed them a mix of rolled organic oats, wheat bran, durum wheat flour and a generous helping of powdered cinnamon. Of course, they had carrots for moisture.

    We kept them in that mix for 2 days before euthanising and boiling them in water, salt and sugar (250ml/1 cup water, 2-3 tsp salt, 2tsp sugar).

    The boiled mealies had a wonderfully creamy interior with a flavour similar to Scandinavian cinnamon buns (a bit of a "cookies-and-cream" kind of taste). The exoskeleton was slightly chewy, but thin. I would say they tasted pretty good.

    At the moment we are feeding with sesame seeds and cinnamon to see how that turns out.

  • @hjalmarssonsara, that is really smart! I will definitely try that :) I once went to a pigfarm in the Netherlands who fed his pigs a mix of ordinary pig feed and spices. They said the meat was tastier then normal pigmeat.

    This also brings opportunities for product diversification, you could have Cinnamon mealworms, Sesame mealworms, Rosemarin Mealworms etc etc. to match with certain dishes.

  • Thanks for your kind words @EntoJesse. I'd love to hear how your flavoured mealworms turn out! :). Perhaps we should start a thread for these kinds of flavouring experiments?

    One could probably also find a niche selling flavouring feed blends for amateur bug farmers.

    In addition to the actual "infusion" of the mealworm, spices (and "fancy" feeds) will add to the micronutrient content and fat profile of the animal (more vitamins/minerals and healthier fat), which is also the case with the pigs. One of the reasons I am trying to feed my mealies sesame seeds is that they contain much higher concentrations of calcium than milk powder (up to 8 times more) at a lower environmental footprint.

    Would be very interesting to do a nutrition analysis on mealworms fed the supplemented feed over an extended period.

  • We should indeed start a new thread :) I would like to try something with lemongrass or some kind of italian spice mixture. If you want, you can start a new thread and I'll post my experiences in it.

  • edited February 2015


    I would suggest trying the spices on a small sample population first in case it turns out to be toxic to them.

    By the way, this site suggests parsley as an option.

    Cheers, /Sara

  • Candied mealworms recipe from Abigale's Edibles.

  • That's an awesome-sounding recipe, @gringojay. I will try that with my cinnamon mealworms and post the results in the "unconventional feeding" thread.

    edited March 2017

    Hello @gringojay and all entomophagy enthusiasts, you seem to have a lot of molecular gastronomic knowledge, very interesting to hear about - I did not know that the high chitin could have a detrimental effect on the taste of mealworms, I did consider that their exo-skeleton would add some texture to the dish. I guess it is a balancing act, as chitin may also be a valuable nutrient - maybe making a stock on it would work, then again if it is dissolved I am not sure if it will have the same beneficial effect as a fiber, but maybe still as chitosan or other derivatives. Another thing I have been experimenting with is marination prior to cooking mealworms, such as in raw chopped tomato or avocado, which contain natural chitinase enzymes, breaking down some of the chitin as per length of exposure before heating, at least in theory - Heating should inactivate/degrade the chitinase enzymes and hence some chitin can be kept intact. I'll keep you informed if it changes their taste for the better, yet in my experience the unpalatability of the mealworm can be overcome through seasoning and long-term exposure - Kind of how you can adapt to the taste of liver or other somewhat unpalatable ingredients; you can learn to use it as an advantage in a dish as well, adding ingredients that complement the taste and thus levels out - Just the act of adding salt makes me associate mealworms with the taste of pork rinds/crisps without the overwhelming smell of ammonia.
    Sincerely, TKS

  • Hi TKS, - I am under the impression that human digestive gastric fluids severely degrade chitin-ase enzymes we ingest (if all are similar to avocado chitin-ase called Per a 1). The resultant byproduct peptides are reactive in people with allergies to avocado (& bannana, chestnut,kiwi, "latex fruits"). The reason chitin-ase allergic individuals don't react to things like green bean chitin-ase is because they are cooked & which apparently pre-treats the chitin-ase so gastric fluids that subsequently interact with it (chitinase) do not spin off peptides that cause reaction (allergy).

    Although I am not certain, there is only elevated chitin-ase enzyme levels in tomato fruit is from a plant that has been pathogen/bug challenged. The commonly found chitin-ase in tomato is found more in leaves & roots, since these are naturally prepared for external attacks in a way the fruit is less likely to be.

    Which makes me think marinating chitin in raw tomato is more just softening (hydrating) the chitin than cleaving it apart. If we take chitosan as an example of a more soluble form of chitin it ( chitosan) processing involves raising pH & not lowering pH( acidifying) like most marinades do. Chitin is not readily water soluble, so I assume stewing as a soup is not likely to alter it's sensory (mouth) feel; just maybe make it more hydrated.

  • Wow, marinating the insects sounds pretty good. Will try that too when my insects finally repdroduce to a state that i can eat them ^^

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