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Sunday, 12 August 2007

Earthworm Burgers

August 2, 2007

Urban Legends 

An article in the Japanese Mainichi Daily News (which claims to be merely repeating a story that appeared in a magazine called Fushigi Knuckles) tells the story of the attempt to introduce Worm Burgers in Japan. An Aomori Prefecture company, so the story goes, tried to market worms as food for human consumption because of the high nutritional value of worms: Instead of a beef patty, the Worm Burger used ground worms, cut the onions a little, added wheat flour, a runny egg and blended in milk to make it go down easier. The magazine notes that despite the best intentions, the Worm Burger ended up as a major flop. Marketers had been targeting women and young people, but appear to have struggled to overcome worms' image as a bizarre food.

Maybe this really happened, but we are not sure. It's more likely that this is a recycling of the old Worm Burger urban legend from the late 1970s. This urban legend got launched when papers reported that food scientists were experimenting with earthworms as a source of protein. Take, for instance, this UPI article that appeared in a number of American newspapers in mid-December, 1975.

Earthworms May Be New Food Service

Sacramento, California

You may one day be eating earthworm casserole. And redworm cookies.

The lowly earthworm, ignored by almost everybody but the fisherman, is burrowing its way into the world of big business, and may be put to work soon to help man grow crops, dispose of garbage and even satisfy his dietary need for protein.

So says Frank Carmody, market development director for North American Bait Farms of Ontario, Calif., one of the nation's largest growing and marketing businesses ...

If produced in sufficient quantity at a cost competitive with other protein materials, he said, worms could be used as feed for pets, poultry, fish and other animals as well as food for people. Seventy-two per cent of a worm's dry weight is protein.

Sponsor of a worm recipe contest, North American Bait has received ideas for adding dried, crispy worms to salads, casseroles and cookies. Carmody says redworm cookies are "delicious."

After a few articles like this appeared, it was simply a matter of time before tales began to spread of McDonalds and other fast-food chains secretly using worms in their burgers. However, worms are in no way cost competitive with other sources of protein such as beef. So there's little reason to fear that fast-food chains will start padding their burgers with worms any time soon.

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