Worms can be raised or found in the wild and used to improve the soil for gardens and flower beds. I’ve realized through my vermicomposting efforts that I could easily raise a seemingly endless supply of worms. With such enormous populations available and the ease at which it is to raise significant numbers, you may have wondered whether or not worms could serve as a nutritional source for humans. I’ll admit it. I wondered and did a ton of research on the topic. Here’s the bottom line:
Can you eat worms? Many Worms can be eaten and actually offer impressive protein content along with calcium, iron, and essential amino acids. While proper preparation and precautions are necessary, many worm species are eaten in various cultures around the world.
Worms have been evaluated as a viable protein source for the following scenarios:
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- Alternative to depleting animal food sources such as meat and fish
- Survival situations where maintaining caloric intake is essential to life
I reviewed multiple scientific literature sources during my research and found that, while the idea of eating worms may seem unappealing in the western culture, there is a diverse and long history of worms as a food source in other parts of the world.
What Countries Eat Worms?
The idea of eating worms is not new at all. In fact, according to authors Zhejun Sun and Hao Jiang, earthworms have been eaten for centuries in China. They also note similar practices in Taiwan, parts of Venezuela, and Western Europe as well as parts of South America and Africa (source).
And there are many other parts of the world where earthworms have been consumed by people for many years (source). In fact, there are online stores such as Thailand Unique that sell dried earthworms specifically for consumption, like their Earthworm Jerky, for example.
Worms Are A High Protein Food Source
One of the most compelling arguments for worms as a food source for humans relates to their high protein content. This study found that earthworms offered up to 71% protein by dry weight. Additionally, the fat content is lower than some other more common foods that are currently consumed for protein. In fact, Sun and Jiang compared the protein and fat content of earthworms against multiple other food sources. Below are some of the most noteworthy comparisons:
|Food Source||Crude Protein||Fat|
Source: Future Foods, Sun and Jiang
A study conducted and published in a 1997 edition of Ecology of Food and Nutrition surmised that the nutritional analysis of earthworms could serve as a viable protein source for humans. (source)
And so, from a protein standpoint, worms actually stand up pretty well.
Earthworms Offer Other Nutrients Too
But protein alone does not a meal make. What about other important nutrients? As it turns out, earthworms offer an impressive array of other nutritional ingredients including essential amino acids, iron, calcium and more (source). They also contain prosperous and trace minerals although the amounts differ based on the soil that the worms were harvested from. As a rule, studies find that wild earthworms usually have higher concentrations of nutrients than commercially available worms. This is likely due to the quality of the soil.
And it goes way beyond worms, too. In fact, there are over 2000 known insects that are edible (source)
Should You Cook Worms Before Eating Them?
It is best practice to cook any animal or insect prior to consuming it. Earthworms can pick up and carry bacterial pathogens from the soil (source). If not cooked thoroughly, you run the risk of infection from these pathogens.
This is true of most raw meat sources. Beef, eggs, and fish all carry a level of risk when consumed without proper cooking. So it goes with worms.
That being said, Bear Grylls from Survival School reports that earthworms can be purged by soaking them in water and then eaten raw in a survival situation. Watch this short but informative three-minute video where he educates and challenges kids in his Survival School program with eating live earthworms:
How To Clean Worms Before Cooking
Dr. Rafael D. Guerrero III, executive director of the Philippine Council for Aquatic and Marine Research and Development, advises washing the worms in running water and then placing them in a container with moist tissue for a period of no less than 12 hours to purge them of impurities (source).
In survival situations where moist tissue is not available, the Outdoorlife website recommends substituting with damp grass. They also recommend frying as a means of cooking the worms (source).
Despite the stigma associated with it in western culture, many species of worms can be eaten and in fact, are consumed as part of a regular diet in many countries. From a nutritional standpoint, worms hold their own in terms of providing a sustainable source of protein and important vitamins and minerals. Whether you are seeking to expand your dietary experiences or just honing your survival skills in case of an emergency, properly cleaned and cooked worms are a legitimate consideration with research-supported evidence of their nutritional value.
Did this article make you consider going vegan? Maybe you would rather use worms to compost your kitchen scraps and reduce landfill waste? Be sure to read Is Vermicomposting Vegan?