What Do Worm Burgers Taste Like?
An Honest Review of Bugfoundation Edible Insect Burgers
Sept. 9, 2018
May 5, 2019
May contain affiliate links.
Greetings from Germany!
I'm excited to be here for many reasons, one of which is that I finally get to try worm burgers! What am I talking about? Believe it or not, burgers made with "worm" protein—I'll explain the quotation marks later—are something of an upcoming trend in Europe. Currently, you can buy worm burgers in The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland. At this moment worm burgers tend to be only in specialty supermarkets, but Ikea's research hub Space10 is currently experimenting with making burgers—and even their famous meatballs—out of mealworms. Because the availability of worm burgers varies considerably depending on your location—Ikea's aren't available for sale anywhere—I did not include any worm burger recipes in my entomophagy cookbook. But as a avid bug eater and burger lover, I'm excited by the potential of this food item. I did get a chance to try wormburgers last week, and I'm happy to review them for fellow lovers of bugs and burgers alike.
The worm burger that I got to try was by the German startup Bugfoundation. This burger is currently available in The Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany, but not necessarily in all parts. I'm not going to pretend to be an expert in German food laws, but I think that they decide whether or not insects are edible on a state-by-state basis, so you can't actually get the same products everywhere. Or something.
All I know is, wormburgers are not currently available in Berlin, but they are available in Munich. So naturally, when I found out a friend of mine was going to be visiting me from Munich, I begged her to pick up some worm burgers and bring them to me in Berlin (wouldn't anyone?).
Note: Bugfoundation's worm burgers come in two sizes: normal burger size, and mini slider size. We did not know that and accidentally bought the minis. What the Cookie Monster is to cookies is what I am to burgers, I love them more than anything and want to throw them at my face is a big sloppy mess, so I would have preferred to try the big burger size. Of course, when your friend goes to several grocery stores to get you the hard-to-find, specialty novel-food item you request, and then drags it with her on a bus for several hours, you don't quibble over the details. But just so the rest of you know: Bugfoundation worm burgers come in two sizes. When you're at the grocery store, look at which size you're getting.
And here's where I explain the quotation marks. Bugfoundation's edible insect burgers aren't made from the kind of worms you're probably imagining. Bugfoundation's burgers are made from buffalo worms, which are actually larvae of the beetle Alphitobius Diaperinus, a species of darkling beetle. The mealworms in the Ikea burger are the same, the larvae of the Tenebrio molitor, another species of darkling beetle. Pretty much any time you hear someone talking about eating worms, they probably are not really wormy worms, in the sense of an earthworm, they are probably larvae that resemble worms, like buffalo worms, mealworms, wax worms (caterpillar larvae of wax moths) or silkworms (larva or caterpillar or imago of the domestic silk moth, Bombyx mori).
This a common misconception, as evidenced by this amusing addendum in an article from The Guardian about Bugfoundation burgers:
This article was amended on 23 April 2018 to make clear the burgers are made from insects called mealworms, not from earthworms.
Calling these little guys "worms" isn't really incorrect because "worm" is not a scientific term, but it's a little imprecise. No judgement; I do it too. I just thought I'd clarify.
My Preconceptions and Bias
Here's the thing. I did not know that I liked tempeh until I went to Indonesia. In the United States, my experience with tempeh was always in the context of vegan/health food, in which people were describing tempeh as some kind of meat substitute. But tempeh tastes nothing like meat. So in those instances it always came up short in my estimation. As a consequence I thought I hated tempeh, because I associated it with that feeling of disappointment due to my inappropriate expectations.
Several years later, I went to Indonesia, tried some really good nutty tasting thing that was firm without being crunchy, mild, unassuming, and wholesomely satisfying. I couldn't believe this marvelous thing I was thoroughly enjoying was something I'd spent years thinking I hated. It turns out, when you let tempeh be tempeh, tempeh is delicious.
Next, I love eating bugs. I love that roasted mealworms have this smoky flavor, and a super delicate crunch. I love that silkworms have a double texture, first the outer skin like a light wrapper, and then juicy, meaty insides. I love crunching on chitinous crickets and grasshoppers, and in fact I didn't start eating shrimp tails until I started eating bugs, and now the tail is my favorite part of the shrimp—the crunchy cherry on top! I don't eat bugs to save the world, or reduce my carbon footprint, or increase my protein and other nutrition intake—though those are all valid reasons to eat insects. Honestly, I just like to eat bugs. They offer flavor and texture that is not available with any other food ingredient. So even though I understand, on a cognitive level, why companies try to reduce the "ick factor" by grinding bugs into powder or otherwise diminishing their bugginess, on a visceral level, that always kills some of the joy for me. Imagine a world where someone is trying to market beef to non-beef-eaters, so they take a beautiful, juicy, glorious steak, and then they dry it up and grind it into powder. Why would you do that?!? That's how it feels to me, when people make bugs un-buggy.
I'm not trying to convince anyone of anything; I know that food preferences are deeply personal, and most US Americans and Europeans don't have the same attitude towards bug eating that I do. I'm just explaining this to acknowledge my very strong subjective bias in this review.
The Taste Day 1: First Impressions
Okay, okay, quit with the blah blah. How do wormburgers taste?
The Bugfoundation wormburger tastes like meaty falafel. It's a good falafel, like someone had somehow infused chickpeas with meat by soaking them in broth overnight (could you do that? I don't think that would work work but it's an interesting idea). It's not a bad thing—meat falafel is pretty good, it turns out—but I feel like I need to come out and say that burger is not the closet comparison; falafel is. The texture is very falafel-y. That's why I went into my long bias-acknowledgment in the preceding section. If I were a skeptical passerby on the street, not at all interested in entomophagy or sustainability, I may have developed the same unfortunate attitude towards edible insect burgers that I had towards tempeh for so many years:
"You say this tastes like (whatever) but maybe you don't eat that thing because this doesn't taste like that thing you say it does..."
The wormburger did not have the same juiciness and fattiness of a real burger. It was a a bit meaty, and pretty bready. However, when I shifted my thinking away from thinking "burger" and more towards "falafel", "meatball", or just a nonspecific, "thing I'm eating for dinner", it was pretty good. And actually, to be fair, I'm mentally comparing it to some of the best burgers I've had in my life, like the Platonic Form of a perfect burger, which is asking a lot. I mean 90% of burger burgers fail to meet this expectation, as well. I have, unfortunately, in my life, eaten too many thin, boring, unremarkable beef burgers that were not nearly as good as the Bugfoundation edible insect burger. But I guess when we're trying something new we have a completely different set of expectations than when we're doing something we've done countless times before.
In fact, a few days later my friend bought some veggie burgers from the supermarket—something made primarily with lentils—and I have to give credit where it's due, that the Bugfoundation edible insect burger was far superior to the veggie burger. The lentils kept falling out of the veggie burger, and in general it kinda reminded me why vegetarians have a reputation among non-vegetarians as being untrustworthy food reviewers. I may be criticizing the Bugfoundation worm burger on the grounds of it not being especially burger-like, but it was far more burger-like than the veggie burger! But again, I'd prefer to give it a new category distinction, like a "protein fritter" to put it in the falafel family, rather than compare it to something it isn't.
The Taste Day 2: Developing the Relationship
The next day, we ate the Bugfoundation wormburgers again. But this time, we treated them a little more like the food that we thought they wanted to be: meatballs. Meatballs aren't really meant to be that beefy. Meatballs are supposed to be bready. So we thawed out the bugburgers, mashed them together, rolled them into little balls, and cooked them in the pan with a little bit of oil, just like any other meatball.
If we had thought ahead we could have have been extra thematic with cricket or mealworm bolognese sauce by One Hop Kitchen and cricket pasta by Bugsolutely, but it was a spontaneous meal decision; basically we were pressing our ears to the little burger patties and trying to let them whisper to us what they wanted to be. Next, we tossed them with some spaghetti, meat sauce, and freshly grated cheese.
And it was delicious.
You can't approach food expecting it to be what you want it to be, you need to accept it for what it is. In my VERY subjective opinion, the Bugfoundation edible insect burger makes for an okay meat burger, a good veggie burger or falafel, and a delicious meatball. I'd like to reduce my meat consumption without making my palate suffer, so If I lived in a place where Bugfoundation edible insect burgers were accessible I would buy them on a regular basis and use them to make meatballs for spaghetti, meatball subs, meatloaf, gyros, and occasionally as burgers, but only when I'm making a huge loaded burger. Because at the end of the day, most of the time when you eat a burger it's not really about the beef but more about the sum of its parts—the cheese, the onions, the tomatoes, the mushrooms, the bacon, the avocado (this is sounding like a really amazing burger)—so I think in a simple burger I'd be too distracted by the falafel-ness of the edible insect patties, but in a huge loaded burger the bugburger would fit in just fine.
Where Can You Try Worm Burgers for Yourself?
Bugzz Insect Cuisine is a food cart in Amsterdam specializing in insect burgers and "Bitter Balzz" (insect meatballs)
The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany:
Bugfoundation burgers can be purchased from select Rewe supermarket locations
Essento burgers and meatballs are at Coop supermarkets
I'm Mic. I love reading about, writing about, thinking about, photographing, and especially eating, food. Especially bug food. Enough talk, let's eat!