Insects could soon find their way into dishes on Europe’s dinner plates after mealworms were approved as human food.
Mealworms, which are beetle larvae rather than worms, are already used as an ingredient in pet food.
However, researchers said the “yuck factor” could take a while for the larvae to become a popular item on shopping lists.
Mealworms are the first insect to be approved for human consumption by the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA).
It paves the way for the use of yellow maggots whole and dried in curries and other recipes, as well as flour for making biscuits, pasta and bread.
They are high in protein, fat and fiber and are likely to be the first of many insects to appear on European plates in the years to come.
Mealworms were the first insect to be assessed by the EU agency under a “novel food” regulation that came into force in 2018 and sparked a spate of similar uses.
EFSA’s food scientist Ermolaos Ververis said: “There is great interest in the edible insect sector from the scientific community and also from the food industry.”
People in much of the world – including parts of Africa, Australia, and New Zealand – already enjoy hiding in insect bars and cricket burgers.
Once the European Commission ratifies EFSA’s approval, such foods will be available in Europe.
However, it is believed that the psychological barriers are particularly strong in Europe, which could take the yellow worms off the supermarket shelves for a long time.
Giovanni Sogari, a social and consumer researcher at the University of Parma in Italy, said: “There are cognitive reasons that arise from our social and cultural experiences – the so-called ‘yuck factor’ – that lead to the thought of eating insects To make Europeans repulsive to many.
“Such settings can change over time and exposure.”
EFSA said it had received 156 requests for “novel food safety assessments” since 2018, covering everything from algae-derived foods to a range of insects.