How to Flavor Insects By Herb-Feeding Them
How to gutload your bugs for better taste
Sept. 2, 2018
Jan. 8, 2019
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Herb-feeding is the area of entomophagy that has the most exciting, and vastly unexplored, culinary potential. Essentially, many bugs have digestive systems which are such that, to a person, they will pretty much taste like whatever the insect ate. This quality makes it especially important that you eat insects that are meant to be consumed by humans, and have accordingly been fed high quality ingredients. It also means that you can pretty much make the insects taste like whatever you want. Ginger basil worms, anyone?
Okay, I'm exaggerating when I say that you can make insects taste like whatever you want—it has to be something they actually want to eat. Trying to flavor insects with something they don't want to eat will essentially be the same as purging them—that is to say, surrounding them with food they're not interested in is the same as starving them. For example, I was not terribly surprised when my coffee or chili bugs didn't taste any different from regular bugs, but I couldn't resist trying!
What you need to herb-feed insects:
- Live insects—I did mealworms Update: Waxworms and Hornworms also work!
- As many plastic containers, with lids and air holes, as flavors you want
- Oats, coarsely ground
- Something slightly moist, like a carrot, potato, apple, or even clean, damp, sponge.
- Herbs. Can be fresh, or finely ground.
- Honey, if herb-feeding waxworms.
How to Herb-Feed Your Bugs
Make sure the plastic containers are clean, and have adequate ventilation, such as tiny air holes at the top. I drilled mine in with a small dremel drill. Alternately, you could replace the lid with a tightly-fitting mesh cover. Anything that will allow air to pass, but prevent anything else from getting in or out, is fine.
Prepare Their Environment
Mealworms like to live in oats, partially ground with a blender of coffee grinder, so there is lots of meal for them to wiggle around in. Mealworms will also need a moisture source, like fresh carrot or potato slices, or even a few stalks or leaves from fresh greens. You will not need to change this out if you are only herb-feeding them for a day or two, but if you will be trying it for longer periods, you will need to make sure you replace it before it starts to rot. Next, just add a lot of fresh or dried herbs to the oats, and stir them around.
Update: Waxworms also like to live in oats, but they do not need a moisture source, and like to eat honey. If you are going to herb feed waxworms, you need to mix the herbs in the honey, and them mix in in the oats until you have a slightly crumbly, but not too sticky, environment for them.Hormworms are the easiest of the three: they don't even need oats. Just food.
Transfer insects to their new, flavored environment, and let them hang out there for a few days. It's best if you can keep the temperature a little warm so they will stay hungry and active; somewhere between 80-90°F (26-32°C) is good, but no more than 100°F (37°C). If it is too cold, they will not eat much and the insects will be fine, but it will have been a wasted project.
After a few days, remove insects from the environment and transfer to a freezer to euthanize them. Make sure that you only transfer living bugs to the freezer, and discard any dead ones. This should be easy to tell as the dead ones will be stiff and black, but when in doubt you can always poke them and see if the poke makes them wiggle. I can speak from experience that picking them out one-by-one is incredibly time-consuming, and if you're going to do this very often you're best off getting something to sift with, like the Pupae Sifting Tray from Space Coast Mealworms, or anything with holes big enough to let the oats through but keep the insects inside.
Prepare insects as desired. The more briefly boiled, the stronger the flavor will be. If boiled for 5 minutes, the insects will have only a hint of the flavor, almost like an aftertaste. After being boiled for 2 or 3 minutes the flavor will be much more perceptible. If quickly blanched for 1 minute or less, the bugs will retain as much flavor as is possible, but the safety is debatable. I recommend boiling as briefly as you feel comfortable, keeping safety in mind, and then roasting.
That's it! I have personally had great results from herb-feeding mealworms with cinnamon, basil, ginger, cloves, and rosemary, but I suspect that's only a fraction of the possibilities.
This information is included in Bugs for Beginners, a cookbook which teaches Westerners how to prepare and safely eat insects. Text may include affiliate links
I'm Mic. I love reading about, writing about, thinking about, photographing, and especially eating, food. Especially bug food. Enough talk, let's eat!