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 do they provide us with nutritional value? Can humans eat earthworms?
Since we’re at the top of the food chain, you shouldn’t be too surprised to hear earthworms are included in gourmet (or not-so gourmet) menus around the world.
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).
Do Humans Eat Earthworms Today?
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”.
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), 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.
Earthworms Directly Used as Food – How to Eat Worms
Can humans eat earthworms? Yes, they can be eaten, not only can you eat earthworms, they may also have some medical benefits.
In addition to being used as medicine, earthworms are made into delicacies all over the world, including China, Vietnam, Thailand, and various countries.
Earthworms are already local specialties in some places.
Although, it hasn’t quite been fully accepted by people living in cities.
Most of the comments given by people who have tasted raw earthworms are well…earthy and soily tasting. Not particularly delicious.
This is not a surprise. The earthworm itself eats soil, and absorbs organic matter through the intestines and then excretes it.
It is normal that 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!
Here are some worm recipes you might find around the world:
Worm Dishes and Recipes
You didn’t think we were going to let you go without some worm recipes and dishes, did you?
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
- They are then seasoned
- An egg is cracked into the mixture
- 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
- Then fried
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 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.
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.
So, yes, we can eat worms and they’re quite nutritious. But the question is, would you? Or have you already? Let us know in the comments below…
After it rains, do you know why earthworms crawl out of the earth and can earthworms drown?