The dining-room table was set with roses and silver candlesticks. At one end, near a grandfather clock, sat two plates of mealworm fried rice. “So, a small lunch,” said my host, Marian Peters. “Freshly prepared.” The inch-long larvae, flavored with garlic and soy sauce, reminded me in texture of delicate, nutty seedpods. “Mealworm is one of my favorites at the moment,” Peters told me, speaking of the larvae of the darkling beetle (Tenebrio molitor Linnaeus). When they’re fresh, she added, their exoskeletons don’t get stuck in your teeth.
Based near Amsterdam, Peters’s company, Bugs Originals, has put freeze-dried locusts and mealworms on the shelves at the 24 outlets of Sligro, the Dutch food wholesaler. It has also developed pesto-flavored “bugsnuggets” and chocolate-dipped “bugslibars”—chicken nuggets and muesli bars, respectively, infused with ground-up mealworms. Both, like Peters’s chicken-mealworm meatballs, await approval for sale across the European Union.
The company’s goal is to get consumers to embrace bugs as an eco-friendly alternative to conventional meat. With worldwide demand for meat expected to nearly double by 2050, farm-raised crickets, locusts, and mealworms could provide comparable nutrition while using fewer natural resources than poultry or livestock. Crickets, for example, convert feed to body mass about twice as efficiently as pigs and five times as efficiently as cattle. Insects require less land and water—and measured per kilogram of edible mass, mealworms generate 10 to 100 times less greenhouse gas than pigs.