From pest to dish:

he mealworm revolution.

The tenebrio molitor, commonly known as the mealworm, has drawn attention in recent years due to its potential as a protein source for both human and animal consumption. Mealworms present a sustainable option for food production and have potential applications across various fields. This article will address their characteristics, breeding process, and the possible future of this species in the food industry.

Characteristics of tenebrio molitor.

Native to Europe and now found worldwide, mealworms are beetles belonging to the Tenebrionidae family. Their life cycle comprises four stages: egg, larva (popularly known as the mealworm), pupa, and adult.

Larvae are the most familiar and utilized stage in feeding and can measure up to 2.5 cm long when fully grown. They are yellow in color and possess a robust exoskeleton.

Nutritional benefits.

Mealworms are an excellent protein source, with protein content ranging between 48% and 54% of their dry weight. Additionally, they are rich in healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. This composition makes them a nutritionally rich option for incorporation into both animal and human diets.

Breeding mealworms.

Breeding mealworms is a relatively simple process that can be scaled from small home productions to extensive industrial operations.

      • Feeding: Mealworms are omnivorous, and their primary diet consists of plant matter. They are fed a mix of grains and cereals such as oats, wheat, and corn, occasionally supplemented with fruits and vegetables to maintain adequate moisture.
      • Habitat: They are bred in plastic or wooden containers, layered with a cereal substrate. They should be kept in a dark environment with temperatures between 20°C and 30°C.
      • Reproduction: Upon reaching sexual maturity, adult mealworms reproduce, with females laying their eggs in the substrate. These eggs hatch after 4 to 20 days, producing new larvae.
      • Harvesting: Larvae are ready to be harvested once they reach their maximum size, right before transitioning into the pupa stage. They can then be processed for various applications.

Applications and future use

      • Animal Feed: Mealworms are used as feed in poultry, fish, and reptile farms because of their high protein content. They are provided live, dried, or in powder form.
      • Human Consumption: The FAO has promoted insect consumption, including mealworms, as a sustainable protein source. They can be incorporated into energy bars, cookies, pastas, and other food products.
      • Cosmetics and Pharmaceutical Industry: Chitin, a component of the mealworm exoskeleton, has applications in cosmetics and medicine production.
      • Sustainability: Compared to traditional livestock, mealworms require less water, food, and space. Additionally, they emit fewer greenhouse gases, making them a more sustainable option.

 

The tenebrio molitor, historically viewed merely as a pest, is emerging as a potential solution to current food sustainability challenges. Its easy breeding and versatility across applications position it as a valuable alternative in the global food production landscape. As the world population continues to grow and resources become scarcer, it’s likely that mealworms and other insects will play an increasingly significant role in future food sources.