Mealworms have become the first insect approved in Europe as a human food after the region’s food agency said that they are safe to eat.
The decision by the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) paves the way for the yellow grubs to be used whole and dried in curries and other recipes and as a flour to make biscuits, pasta and bread.
The EFSA said it had found the mealworms or Tenebrio molitor larva were safe to be eaten “either as a whole dried insect or in the form of powder” after an application from French insect-rearing firm Micronutris.
“Its main components are protein, fat and fibre,” the statement said but warned that more research needed to be done on possible allergic reactions to the insects.
The move by EU’s food watchdog is the preliminary step needed before officials can decide whether to allow the beetle larvae to be sold to consumers across the 27-nation bloc.
It is bound to give some tough competition to the vaunted Mediterranean diet and the French ”bon gout”.
Despite their name, mealworms are beetle larvae rather than worms and are already used in Europe as a pet food ingredient.
The burgeoning insect farming industy in Europe welcomed the decision and said they hoped to see authorities give permission for yellow mealworms to be marketed to the public by the middle of this year.
“The release of this document indeed represents an important milestone towards the wider EU commercialisation of edible insects,” Antoine Hubert, president of the International Platform of Insects for Food and Feed, said in a statement.
The Italy-based EFSA has more insect investigations on its plate and is also set to examine if crickets and grasshoppers are fit for consumption.
People across much of the world – including parts of Africa, Australia and New Zealand – already enjoy tucking into insect bars, cricket burgers and other grub-based foods.
They are already available for human consumption in a small number of EU countries and are more widely produced for use in animal feed.
The industry says it expects the European market for insect-based food products to grow rapidly in the coming years and for production to reach some 260,000 tonnes by 2030.
Some sociologists, however, believe psychological barriers particularly strong in Europe mean it will be some time before the yellow worms start flying off supermarket shelves there.
“There are cognitive reasons derived from our social and cultural experiences – the so-called ‘yuck factor’ – that make the thought of eating insects repellent to many Europeans,” said Giovanni Sogari, a social and consumer researcher at the University of Parma in Italy.
“With time and exposure, such attitudes can change.”
EFSA said it had received 156 applications for “novel food” safety assessments since 2018, covering everything from algae-derived foods to an array of insect species.