We know that earthworms are beneficial to the soil and increase the nutrient availability, provide a more stable soil structure and that their worm castings contain nitrogen which is ready to nourish and feed plants. We also know earthworms provide many insects and reptiles with a good meal too.
But can you eat earthworms and do they provide us with nutritional value? Can humans eat earthworms?
Let’s explore this topic in detail.
Are Earthworms Edible?
Since we’re at the top of the food chain, you shouldn’t be too surprised to hear earthworms are edible and included in gourmet (or not-so gourmet) menus around the world.
Edible worms continue the increasing trend of eating edible insects or bugs for various cultures and reasons.
So, why do people eat worms? For many reasons including:
- common edible worms being an available food source in some locations
The History of Humans Eating Earthworms
What you may not know is that since ancient times, earthworms were often recorded as having a high medicinal value.
For years, Indonesia, China, Japan, and the Far East have used worms in the treatment of various chronic diseases.
If we explore deeper, we can find earthworms being used in these places as antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer agents (more on this study below).
Ultimately, wild worms have been used for human consumption for a long, long time.
Do Humans Eat Earthworms Today?
While eating worms is not yet mainstream in Western culture, it is still a very common practice around the world.
Today, it is thought that worms are eaten in around 90 countries, including Asia, South America, Africa and in the West.
You can also buy dried earthworms in some Chinese medicine stores and in the Western world as “Earthworm Jerky”.
Are Worms Healthy to Eat?
Worms are a good source of protein, low in fats and contain many micronutrients (more on this in the next chapter), making them a healthy snack to dig into.
Food safety could be a concern, as they can carry parasites in the wild and you never know what a worm eats in the wild.
This is usually fixed by boiling or frying them before feeding on them.
Speaking of nutrition and health benefits, the hormones and proteins in earthworms have also been a major trend of discussion in recent years.
Studies have found that the Lumbricus rubellus (red earthworms closely related to red wigglers), thought to be native to Europe, but found worldwide, contain significant anti-blood clot properties.
This study also showed that earthworms can be used as medicine to improve blood clots, thickness, or diseases relating to elderly stroke.
Some places in Asia, like China and Japan already have worm hormone pills on the market.
Whether these supplements are effective is up for discussion and plenty more research is required.
Earthworm Nutritional Value
Earthworms are a good source of protein but a single worm won’t have the nutritional merits of other protein sources from other comparable foods with high protein content, like chicken.
Earthworms are very high in water (moisture) content and 100g of worms is estimated to have 70 calories.
Worms consist of the following macronutrients:
|Calories per 100g||70 kcals|
|Calories from fat (%)||26%|
|Calories from Protein (%)||74%|
Microutrients contained in worms:
- Amino acids (high in lysine and methionine)
- trace minerals
What do Worms Taste Like?
Most of the comments given by people who have tasted raw earthworms are well…earthy and soily tasting.
Not particularly delicious and some with sensitive pallettes may even describe it as “disgusting”.
This is not a surprise. The earthworm eats dirt, soil and absorbs organic matter and minerals through the intestines and then excretes it.
It is normal that many worms on their own would taste something like soil. What did we expect?
But, some countries like Vietnam don’t just eat them on their own. They make a meal of them!
This follows nicely into some recipes..
Worm Dishes and Recipes
You didn’t think we were going to let you go without some worm recipes and dishes, did you?
Earthworms are already local specialties in some places all over the world, including China, Vietnam, Thailand, and various countries.
Here are some worm recipes you might find around the world:
This is dried earthworm which is sometimes ground into “dragon” powder as it’s known in China.
Earthworms are dried to make traditional Chinese medicine or to be used in soups and other dishes.
Mainly, it is the wild Lumbricus rubellus species earthworm is used for this purpose on a large scale.
The process of drying worms
To make dry earthworms:
- they are first washed
- their internal organs are removed
- and finally they are dried on racks in the sun or dehydrator
After washing worms, they can be prepared using most methods including pickling, frying, frying, steaming, or even stewing. They’re versatile.
Cha Ruoi Omelette or Burgers – Specialty Street Food in Hanoi, Vietnam
There is a famous street food in Hanoi, Vietnam that is made with earthworms caught in mangroves and rivers – This species is the polychaete worm Tylorrhynchus heterochaetus, more commonly known as the mudflat worm or sand worms.
- These earthworms are first boiled softly to remove tentacles
- The live worms are then seasoned
- An egg is cracked into the mixture with the live earthworms
- Pork mince is then added (unless you’re hardcore, you may find a place that makes these patties completely out of worm meat)
- It is then pressed into a pattie
- The worms are then fried and put in a bun
I won’t include photos for this, as I’m a little worried that your body might not be able to stomach the sight…so here’s a video of the fried worms instead!
To be fair, it looks great once it has been prepared and people who have tried it speak highly of the taste.
The following recipes and dishes are relatively light.
This dish is pretty self-explanatory – prepare and season your worms to your preference and throw them in the deep-fryer as you would any other meat.
This dish looks the least intimidating of all earthworm dishes and is the one to start with if you’re curious.
It reminds us of the crispy shredded beef you get at Chinese restaurants.
Worm “Milk Soup”
This dish is known as “Milk Soup” in China, because the Chinese believe that it is a tonic for lactating mothers.
Ingredients and Preparation
Once you’ve acquired the dry/ground worms, the preparation method is not difficult:
- add chopped spring onions or scallions
- add Chinese five-spice powder
- stir-fry the dry/ground earthworm
- add boiling water
Fat Innkeeper/Marine Spoon Worm
In addition to the earthworms on land, people who live by the sea also eat a stubby type of sea worm, sometimes referred to as a sea intestine.
The scientific name is Urechis unicinctus, and in China is hilariously also referred to as a “penis fish” or a “fat innkeeper worm”.
A more commonly accepted name for this species of worm is marine spoon worms.
These kinds of worms are common in South Korea, Japan and coastal areas of China.
They are usually stir-fried. But in South Korea, it’s often eaten raw with salt and sesame oil or a red chili paste (gochujang).
Rarely, it is also ground into powder to make seasoning.
Taste Profile: Described as “sweet” tasting with a very chewy texture.
This is a sea worm sold at the market in Jeju Island, South Korea. The front hole will also spray water.
Here’s a dish where the sea worm has been stir-fried with leeks!
Finally, some cultures pickle their worms.
The method of pickling worms is to marinate them in salt for a few days, then put cooked glutinous rice, pepper and ginger in a jar for several months.
Can You Eat Worms FAQ’s
We found a few commonly asked questions online and answer these questions below:
Edible Worms List: Which Earthworms Can You Eat?
Most earthworms fall under the category of edible worms but when people discuss this topic, they often refer to larvae of certain edible insects that carry the name “worm” but technically aren’t earthworms.
For example, mealworms, which are the larvae of a beetle.
With this in mind, here’s a list of edible worms:
- Common earthworms (red wrigglers, nightcrawlers, jumping worms etc)
- Some marine worms
- Super worms
- Wax worms
- Silk worms
- Butter worms
- Agave worms (found at the bottom of Mezcal Con Gusano bottles, a popular alcoholic beverage in Mexico)
Worms you shouldn’t eat:
- Hammerhead worms (contain the same toxin as puffer fish)
Can You Eat Worms Raw?
It’s possible to eat worms raw if you’re in a survival situation (we see you, Bear Grylls), but it’s not recommended.
Worms can carry parasites in the wild and food safety should be a concern with cautionary measures taken where possible.
You never know the environment they’ve been in and what they’ve picked up.
But we realize if you’re in a bind, you’ll need your survival skills and if there are no other food sources, then..bottoms up!
If you can cook the worms first if at all possible, you’ll avoid any ill effects as worms are generally safe to be eaten.
We recommend frying them and any other insects you may come across that you fancy eating.
Should You Keep Worms in the Fridge Before Eating Them?
It’s not necessary to keep them refrigerated as long as their environment avoids the extreme temperatures of hot and cold.
However, it’s also fine if you want to keep them in the fridge as this isn’t too cold for most worm species. You can find out how long worms are good in the fridge in our comprehensive guide.
So, yes, generally eating worms is safe if precautionary measures are taken and they’re quite healthy and nutritious.
But the question is, would you? Or have you already? Let us know in the comments below…
On another note, gummy worms are a type you definitely can eat! But you may want to if you can eat gummy worms with braces or want to find out are Trolli gummy worms gluten free? Our guides have got you covered.