Lesson #7: Cooking insects
>> Where to buy mealworms, how to store, cleanse and euthanise them and the most important – how to use them in the kitchen.
Many people agree with the saying that the most delicious food is the one you grow yourself. However, even if we don’t become farmers of edible insects, we can easily incorporate them into our kitchen. There’s no need to be afraid of buying edible insects from a local farmer, at a local market, or from any online store. Just as we’re used to buying eggs, poultry, or other types of meat this way, edible insects will soon have their local suppliers too. What’s more, unlike other agricultural products, they can be shipped live. If the outdoor temperature in summer doesn’t exceed a certain threshold, every farmer will be happy to send you his mealworms.
Mealworms in the kitchen
Insects for human consumption
Before we put insects on the plate, we need to clarify a few things. Perhaps the most important point is that only those insect species should be consumed, which have undergone a lengthy and complex approval process to be suitable for human consumption in Europe.
- Mealworm, Buffalo, Zophobas – Larvae
- Crickets – House and Field crickets
- Grasshoppers – omnivorous and migratory Locusts
- Argentine cockroach
Never consume insects caught in the wild. It poses health risks. Even if we correctly identify the species and avoid consuming something poisonous, wild insects can carry various pathogens. This risk is, of course, minimized on farms where insects are raised in a sterile environment.
Czech insect farms
Insect farming is slowly gaining momentum
The level of Czech insect farms is high; unfortunately, there are only a few of them.
The level of Czech farms is high. When purchasing insects, we can confidently trust even those who do not yet have registration for human consumption. Just as we can easily assess the health of a chicken or rabbit bought from a neighbor (by the way, they certainly won’t have that registration either), the same can be done at first glance with live insects. Insects must be vibrant and without obvious defects. Any deceased individuals are immediately removed – without concern, even if the insects are healthy, in a crowd of tens of thousands, there may still be a few dead individuals. However, if there are many of them, it’s a different matter to consider.
Cleaning of larvae
Larvae of mealworms are small and have a very fast metabolism. They can rapidly eliminate anything that doesn’t belong to the composition of their body (proteins, lipids, chitin, etc.). Experts claim that after a three-day fasting period, consuming mealworms is safe, regardless of what they were fed. As for raising them yourself, a mere 24-hour cleaning period is sufficient. The goal is to ensure that we don’t consume the content of their digestive tract (frass) along with the insects.
Purchased mealworms can be stored alive, preferably in a cool place. They won’t be bothered by it. Don’t worry, winter hibernation is a natural state for insects. The cold will slow down or almost halt their development, allowing them to last a long time. However, at higher temperatures than what we have in the refrigerator, we must eventually anticipate that some grown individuals may pupate and emerge as beetles. These beetles are much more mobile than the larvae, and they are true escape artists. In emergency situations, they might even clumsily take off. A forgotten food purchase could thus quietly turn into a hunting adventure within a few weeks.
Similar to regular meat, insects are not consumed raw, and we prepare them through heat processing. We euthanize the mealworms shortly before consumption, as thermally untreated, deceased insects quickly spoil (evident by blackening). For instance, attempting to sun-dry them won’t dry them but devalue them instead. However, the action of the enzyme responsible for rapid blackening can be easily prevented by any form of heat processing (> 80 °C), and once processed, mealworms can last quite a long time.
The simplest way to euthanize mealworms and prepare them for further processing is by drying them. An ordinary microwave oven is sufficient for this purpose. When set to the maximum power, insects are euthanized almost instantly, and perfect drying (with occasional stirring) takes only a few minutes. If dried correctly and quickly, mealworms will retain their golden color and become crisp. This method is particularly suitable for making snacks or as an addition to salads. Dried mealworms can be stored long-term in an open container, even outside the refrigerator, providing a readily available semi-finished product for your kitchen.
Another common way of processing is by placing live larvae into boiling water, which is then brought to a brief boil again. This not only leads to their rapid euthanization but also sterilizes any potential pathogens and removes mechanical impurities. This semi-finished product, prepared in this manner, is suitable for further use, for example as an ingredient in dishes prepared in a pan (adding it to the pan just a few minutes before finishing) or for further processing into mealworm puree. Cooked insects contain water and, therefore, do not have the same shelf life as dried insects. However, they can be stored in the refrigerator for several days.
Many people may initially prefer a more “hidden” consumption of insects in their ground form. Unfortunately, insect flour is not yet readily available, and its preparation is technologically impossible in the average kitchen. However, at home, we can prepare a so-called puree from cooked mealworms, which has a more versatile use in the kitchen than whole larvae. We euthanize the mealworms in boiling water and then thoroughly blend them into a paste using a mill or blender. Thanks to its neutral taste, we can incorporate puree into various recipes – muffins, pancakes, soups, sauces, ground meat, and more. Puree can also be preserved through a simple sterilization in the microwave, allowing us to store the “canned” mealworm product in the pantry or refrigerator for months.
Head Chef Petr Ocknecht
I would liken cooking with insects to Asian or Italian cuisine – fast cooking with high-quality ingredients.
Mealworms in the kitchen
As we mentioned in the Edible Insects chapter, although insects can more than adequately replace meat in terms of nutritional value, we must be honest and admit that we cannot create a full-fledged meat substitute from them. We cannot achieve the texture of a steak or cutlet through any method of preparation (at least not yet). Nevertheless, there are plenty of recipes that are small culinary wonders. My personal favorite is using ground mealworms in minced meat or burgers, both in the mix version with classic ground meat (1:1) and in the completely “meatless” version (with lentils or beans and red beets, pumpkin, zucchini, etc.)
Recipes: Insect burger
There are few dishes as unhealthy (and yet so delicious) as a fried burger. A meatless mealworm-burger is, therefore, an absolute gem for health-conscious food enthusiasts.
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