Overcoming the ‘yuck issue’: Yellow grub turns into EU’s first insect meals

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LONDON (Reuters) – Mealworms may be found in Europe’s pasta bowls and evening meals soon after becoming the first insect to be approved as human food in the region.

Wednesday’s decision by the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) paves the way for the yellow maggots to be used whole and dried in curries and other recipes, as well as flour for making biscuits, pasta and bread.

Despite their name, mealworms are more like beetle larvae than worms and are already used as an ingredient in pet food in Europe.

High in protein, fat and fiber, they are likely to be the first of many insects to appear on European plates in the coming years, EFSA chemist and food scientist Ermolaos Ververis told Reuters.

Under his supervision, mealworms were the first insect to be assessed by the EU agency as part of a “novel food” regulation that came into force in 2018 and triggered a spate of similar uses.

“There is a lot of interest in the edible insect sector from the scientific community as well as the food industry,” he said.

People in much of the world – including parts of Africa, Australia, and New Zealand – already enjoy hiding in insect bars, cricket burgers, and other maggot-based foods.

Once the European Commission has ratified ESFA approval, Europe will join them.

However, some sociologists believe that psychological barriers, which are particularly strong in Europe, will take some time for the yellow worms to fly off the supermarket shelves there.

“There are cognitive reasons arising from our social and cultural experiences – the so-called ‘yuck factor’ – that make the thought of eating insects repulsive to many Europeans,” said Giovanni Sogari, social and consumer researcher at the University of Parma in Italy.

“Such attitudes can change over time and exposure.”

EFSA said it had received 156 requests for “novel food safety assessments” since 2018, covering everything from foods made from algae to a range of insect species.

(This story corrects the addition of the dropped word “way” in the first paragraph.)

Reporting by Kate Kelland; Adaptation by John Stonestreet