Kuwait City, Kuwait: Jassem Buabbas, a Kuwaiti businessman who has spent years growing “superworms” for animal feed, now hopes that the organisms will make their way into Gulf citizens’ diets.
Buabbas put the worm-like larvae of the darkling beetle, famous for their high protein content, into a transparent box on a bed of bran and cornflour in a small, dark chamber outside Kuwait City.
He puts the mature beetles for mating in another.
“My ambition is for worms to be a successful food alternative for humans,” he told AFP.
Insects are consumed by around two billion people in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, with an estimated 1,000 species found on their plates.
But, in addition to typical diets, cricket spaghetti and mealworm smoothies have become the latest food trends in some major cities around the world, with edible insects being touted as a sustainable alternative to traditional protein sources.
Some Gulf states have a practice of consuming dried and baked locusts, which can be found in plague-like quantities. Some see them as a delicacy, albeit their consumption has declined in recent years.
While superworms, which are in high demand among birds, fish, amphibians, and reptile owners, have yet to be certified for human consumption in Kuwait, Buabbas is optimistic that people will be eager to give them a try.
He wants to take his firm beyond the pet sector and put invertebrates on meal plates in the Gulf, which would be the first of its kind.
He’s currently experimenting with recipes before approaching the Kuwaiti authorities for permission.
“I have so far created three types of sauces… and colleagues of mine have tried and liked them,” said Buabbas, who apart from breeding superworms works in the government sector.
The European Commission authorized dried mealworms for human consumption in May after the EU’s food safety agency decided they were safe to eat.
The judgment was a win for Europe’s booming insect farming business.
Have you ever tried them?
Buabbas said his interest in the mysteries of superworms led him to Thailand in 2018 to study more about the animals that are popular snacks there.
“At first, I was disgusted by them, but… then I got used to the worms, understanding their behavior and what poses a danger to them,” he told AFP.
Every day, he spends two hours with the animals, feeding them oats, bran, potatoes, and carrots while also adjusting humidity and temperature.
Every three months, he produces between 3,000 and 6,000 worms, with up to 10,000 on rare occasions.
The superworms take around 90 days to mature to the point where they may be sold, weighing around a gram and measuring six centimeters (two inches) in length. They sell for $3 per pound of larvae.
Customers buying thousands of dollars worth of superworms at a time to feed their cardinals and nightingales, according to Buabbas, has made the superworm industry profitable.
He used to carry crates of worms to other Gulf countries, particularly Saudi Arabia before borders were blocked due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Buabbas uses social media to promote his business while developing superworm recipes that he claims will integrate components of local cuisine.
When asked how they tasted, he replied that he had no idea. He hasn’t tried them yet.
With AFP inputs.