In Western cultures, where insects are widely regarded as vermin, the yuck factor represents the biggest stumbling block to an impartial assessment of the culinary merits of silkworms. Not so in Asia's silk-producing countries, where the silkworm pupae left after the fibrous cocoons have been harvested are considered not only edible but downright delicious. If you prefer to make up your own mind, silkworms aren't difficult to find -- when you know where to look.
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Where to Find Them
Look for silkworm pupae in international markets that cater to Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai and Japanese clienteles, where they might be stocked frozen or canned with or without seasoned sauce. If you're after a specialty item such as Thai chocolate-covered silkworms, you might have to order online. However, if you find you like the taste enough to keep a fresh supply on hand, you can buy kits containing everything you need to raise your own silkworms in pet stores that cater to reptile owners, or you can order them from suppliers online. David George Gordon, author of "Eat-a-Bug Cookbook," says it takes about 1 1/2 months to grow silkworms from eggs to ready-to-eat stage.
Stir-Fried Silkworms With Vegetables
To sample Chinese-style silkworms, clean and rinse the pupae, heat oil in a wok and add ginger, garlic and scallions. After that, add the vegetables of your choice one at a time, with a little soy sauce, salt and pepper and any other seasonings you like, and, finally, the pupae. Stir for 3 or 4 minutes, transfer everything to a plate and serve with rice or noodles. David George Gordon suggests adding canned pineapple chunks, tomatoes and sugar for a sweet-and-sour version. Another approach: Briefly deep-fry the pupae until they're crisp and serve them with your choice of dipping sauce.
Silkworm Space Cookies
When Earthlings colonize Mars, they'll still need dietary protein but won't be able to get it from the traditional livestock sources. At a 2006 meeting of the Committee on Space Research in Beijing, a scientist from Japan's Aerospace Exploration Agency suggested that both soybeans and mulberry-- raised to feed silkworms -- should be among the plants cultivated in Martian greenhouses. That way, silkworm pupae could be raised, dehydrated, ground into powder and combined with rice and soy flours, soy milk and soy sauce to produce protein-rich "cookies." Home cooks interested in testing the palatability of this idea may want to experiment with sweet, neutral and savory versions of the dough recipe.
A Matter of Taste
Silkworms taste much like shrimp or crab, say some Japanese aficionados. Beth Greenfield, reporting on Asian insect cuisine for NBC News, agrees, describing the flavor as "briny, similar to dried shrimp, with a chewy consistency." In fact, crab, crayfish and lobster -- all considered delicacies in the U.S. -- are close relatives of insects, including silk worms.