A Wiggly and Sustainable Protien Source


I recently came across this article about some scientists who propose farming silkworms on future long-term space missions as a better food source than other animals.

…[T]he insects breed quickly, require little space and water, and generate only small amounts of excrement, which could serve as fertilizer. Plus, silkworm pupae are mostly protein, the team reported, and when it comes to essential amino acids, they contain twice as much as pork does and four times as much as eggs and milk. Even the insect’s inedible silk, which makes up 50% of the weight of the dry cocoon, could provide nutrients: The material can be rendered edible through chemical processing and can be mixed with fruit juice, sugar, and food coloring to produce jam, the researchers reported.

They don’t discuss the more general possibility of silkworms as a food, except to mention that silkworms are sometimes already eaten in China. I see more far-reaching implications, as a lot of people who are vegetarians or semi-vegetarians for environmental reasons might be willing to eat silkworm pupae if they can really be raised using so few resources.

Unfortunately, silkworms do not have an entry in the USDA’s nutrient database, but I did manage to find a few firsthand accounts of tasting silkworms. Two of the accounts involved eating the silkworms straight from the can from which they come, brined, but I’m not so sure that’s how they’re supposed to be consumed. Neither of the reviews were particularly favorable. (Example quote: “This was like chewing on tiny bones. The good news is I was immediately distracted by the unexpected squirt of briny liquid that shot out into my mouth.”) Perhaps they just need to be prepared properly. The next article I found described the author making a pizza with the pupae, which apparently turned out no better than eating them straight. Damn our stodgy western palates.

Photo from Bert Christensen's Weird & Different Recipes

Finally, I found the simple preparation that I felt would best suit the silkworms. A seemingly authoritative website, “Bert Christensen’s Weird & Different Recipes,” recommends simply frying the worms in oil (see photo). The recipe submitter notes:

(The silkworms) tasted pretty good. You have to remove the midgut which is the only recognizable organ in the whole pupa. I suspect that the pupae were in a diapause stage, therefore all the rest of the adult tissue was not formed yet. The texture was sponge-like. Slightly salty. Lots of fat. Presumably very nutritious.

Looks delicious to me. Next time I’m at the Asian grocery store, I’m keeping my eyes peeled for a can of silkworm pupae. This is the future of food, people.