The United Nations had suggested mass-producing insects for food, with the world population expected to be around 9.7 billion by 2050. Currently, there are approximately 2,000 edible insects worldwide that are high in protein and can be substituted with the traditional proteins found in soy and meat. So with this in mind, scientists have begun to explore making edible insects more attractive to consumers and began experimenting with mealworms.
Researchers at the Wonkwang University in South Korea declared they created a taste from mealworms that resembles real meat when adding sugar to the slimy insect. The research team hopes that with their discovery, more people will be open to the idea of edible insects in a commercial setting, despite knowing there is still very much a strong stigma worldwide attached to eating insects. However, the UN is pushing to mass produce insects for food, stating that: "Edible insects can diversify diets, improve livelihoods, contribute to food and nutrition security and have a lower ecological footprint as compared to other sources of protein."
The team began analyzing the flavor profile of the mealworms and, with their research, found that raw larvae have similar flavors to wet soil, shrimp, and sweetcorn. So, with this information in mind, they evaluated how tastes would change once the insects were cooked down and sugar was added. And they found that steamed mealworms had a strong sweetcorn-like aroma while deep-fried and roasted mealworms gave off a shrimp-like and oily scent. The scientists added sugars to the mealworms in order to bring forth the Maillard reaction - a tactic that gives browned food a very distinct taste. The scientists worked with the Maillard method until they landed on a meat-like odor and flavor.
According to Dr. Hee Cho, the project's lead investigator, "Insects are a nutritious and healthy food source with high amounts of fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and high-quality protein, which is like that of meat." The team at Wonkwang University is using their findings to work toward the commercial development of more meat-like products and flavors to encourage people to start trying these potentially delicious meat substitutes. Stay tuned.