This is the most detailed blog post about Buffalo worms on the internet.
So if you're looking for a way to:
- Boost your Iron intake
- Eat more protein
- Meet a new superfood - the buffalo worm
And you're not feeling nauseous when thinking about the idea of eating BUGS
Then you'll LOVE this article.
Let's dive in.
Here are 8 most interesting facts about the Buffalo worm (Alphitobius Diaperinus).
1. Buffalo worms are a top food to prevent iron deficiency
Are you suffering from abnormal levels of fatigue?
Perhaps accompanied by anxiety?
Chances are that you are affected by iron deficiency, a lighter form of anemia.
The good news for you are that there is a still little known edible insect that can easily boost the iron content in your diet: the buffalo worm.
A smaller cousin of the yellow mealworm. Its scientific name is Alphitobius Dipaerinus and it is also often labelled “the lesser mealworm”.
Bugs have more Iron than Beef
In November 2016 the buffalo worm rose to fame as a top iron-rich food.
It featured in an article published by the prestigious Scientific American magazine: "Edible Insects Have More Iron Than Sirloin Beef".
The article was based on a study by the Journal of agricultural and food chemistry: "In Vitro Iron Availability from Insects and Sirloin Beef" .
True, the buffalo worm had to share the limelights with three more insects.
The study covered also grasshoppers (Sphenarium purpurascens), crickets (Gryllus bimaculatus) and yellow mealworms (Tenebrio molitor).
But the buffalo worm came out on top:
The buffalo worm has also more proteins and less fats than it cousin the yellow mealworm.
But what makes it really unique is IRON. More specifically, the BIOAVAILABILITY of iron.
Our bodies are great at absorbing Iron from Buffalo worms
For example crickets do have quantitatively more iron that the buffalo worms.
But the wormies make it more available to the human organism.
The solubility of iron was found to be better in insects than in red meat. But the researchers of King’s College (London), the authors of the study, went further.
They wanted to check how much iron from edible insects is actually absorbed by human cells.
The number they were interested in was the content of Ferritin, a protein that stores iron, in the cells.
The results, presented in the table above, were stunning!
A Potential Solution for Malnutrition
Keep in mind that in the US alone about 10 million people suffer from iron deficiency (a lighter form of anemia).
The numbers grow to hundreds of millions for the whole planet.
Iron deficiency is a risk for people on diets with low or no content of meat.
Either because they are not in the possibility of getting enough of it or because they refuse it.
Think of large numbers of people in low income countries, for example, but also of vegetarians.
The question is open (also to heated debate!).
Yet it is good to know, for vegetarians and vegans, that an alternative to red meat exists.
Their diet is often at risk of causing iron deficiency problems.
Vegetarians and vegans can eat several iron rich vegetable foods.
But their iron is not so easily available to the human organism.
While iron from buffalo worms, as we have seen, is even more bioavailable than red meat.
So, if you need an iron boost in your diet, go for the lesser mealworm recipes!
2. The Buffalo worm is not really a worm but a beetle. With a weird nickname.
The "buffalo worm" (* scientific name: Alphitobius Diaperinus) is an edible insect that is becoming rapidly famous.
Another common name for it is: the lesser mealworm.
The reason: the buffalo worm is very similar to the mealworm, but much smaller, one of the smallest edible insects on the market.
A buffalo worm may reach 1 cm. at the most.
This minuscule, but VERY lively critter is not really a worm but the larva of a beetle. With a weird nickname - “buffalo” - whose origin no one seems to know.
When the buffalo worm turns into an adult beetle it becomes even smaller, about 6 mm.
What on earth does such a small creature have to do with the mighty buffalo?
Why is the lesser mealworm also called buffalo worm?
Try to ask around a little and you will see that no one really knows it...
Well, the fact is that in the United State a “buffalo beetle” had been known since the 19th century.
Have a look at this pics.
It really looks like a buffalo, doesn't it? This "buffalo" is not our buffalo worm but a cousin: a carpet beetle (Attagenus unicolor).
The carpet beetle is an extremely annoying household pest.
You can find a full and very angry description of its behaviour in this article published in 1894 (!) in the "Ann Arbor Argus"!
"Seen under a microscope, his resemblance to a buffalo is so striking that none will dispute the fitness of his name".
Here is the solution to our little mystery.
The larva of the carpet beetle is nearly identical to the lesser mealworm.
With one difference, the first one is hairy and the second one is smooth.
Larva of the carpet beetle.
Larva of the lesser mealworm.
Probably, the two insects confused some noobies.
Both wormies started their modern careers in the pet reptile feed industry as "cleaner crews".
Beetles are scavengers: these little guys are very efficient in eating all sort of debris.
So they are used to clean the containers of other insects used as reptile food (like the popular Dubia roaches).
They will both eat dead insects, molted exoskeletons, frass, remains of food (even molding food, that they particularly like), parasite mites...
Alphitobius Diaperinus (the buffalo worm) has smooth larvae and can thrive on vegetables and cereals.
So in the last few years, the buffalo worm has been discovered also as human food.
Popularity came as a consequence, so the name "buffalo" stuck with the lesser mealworm.
Here you can see how small the adult buffalo beetle is, a little smaller than in its worm-larva life stage.
3. Buffalo worms are legally authorized feed for fish for human consumption.
Another turning point in the success of the buffalo worm as food came about in the summer of 2017. Then the European Union approved Regulation No 2017/893 that authorises the use of insect proteins as feed in aquaculture .
Seven insect species were authorized , among them the buffalo worm.
Why is this important?
There are three main reasons:
The demand for farmed fish is growing.
The result is a severe depletion of the natural reserves of wild fish, used to make fish meal to feed farmed fish.
2. The hygiene standards on animal feed are very strict in the European Union.
They were tightened after the "mad cow" disease crisis. For this reason, farmed insects fed to fish that gets eaten by people must be completely safe. Same standards as if they were produced for human food.
This is stated by Persistence Market Research in a study published on April 25th, 2019
4. Buffalo worms could be the first insect to be authorized as Novel Food by the European Commission.
Since January 2018 the new Novel Food Regulation is the legal basis for the market of edible insects in the European Union. Insects are defined as "Novel Food".
They need to get a specific authorization from the European Commission to be lawfully placed on the market.
Some exceptions allow to sell insect products that were already legally marketed before 2018.
There are five requests to authorize Novel Foods on the table of the Commission now: one of them is for the buffalo worms.
The buffalo worm should be "legalized" on the EU market later in 2019.
The request for authorizaion was presented by one of the big players in the industry: the Dutch Proti-Farm.
A few years ago Proti-Farm bought the historic insect producer "Kreca".
"Kreca" has been active since 1978 in insect breeding.
They decided to scale-up the production of just one of the ten edible insects they were producing: the buffalo worm.
Good business sense.
Have a look at this market study, published by ABN AMRO bank and the Brabant Development Agency: "Insect breeding: small sector, big opportunities”. Subtitle: “Success factors: knowledge, capital and chain approach”.
“The lesser mealworm is the most suitable for large-scale production. This is because, if properly cultivated, it can be grown in less than a third of the time compared to the other two mealworm species. In addition, the protein percentage is highest and tests have shown that the lesser mealworm has the best composition for human food applications”.
You can read all this in the report.
This is good news for several startups that have been developing innovative food products based on the buffalo worm.
Proti-Farm aims at producing several thousands of tons of lesser mealworms a month.
This is possible thanks to a completely automatized mass farming system.
And it means LOWER PRICES for everybody.
High prices are still one of the obstacles to insect foods going really mainstream. Another one is a still uncertain legal framework. This is why the success of Novel Food applications is so important for the future of entomophagy in EU countries.
Here are the four categories of buffalo worm raw materials that entopreneurs will be able to source legally:
1. whole blanched and frozen;
2. paste: whole blanched, grinded and frozen;
3. whole: blanched, frozen and freeze dried;
4. powder: whole: blanched, frozen, freeze dried and grinded.
And these are the buffalo worm food products that will be legal in all the EU member countries:
5. The life cycle of the buffalo worm is twice as fast as the mealworm's
Did you know that the lesser mealworm is an exotic insect? Its origins can be traced back to sub-saharian Africa.
The etymology of the name, though, is Greek, from “αλφιτον” (alphiton – flour) and “βιος” (bios – life).
Just as its larger cousin Mr. Tenebrio Molitor, the yellow mealworm, the buffalo worm loves to live in grains, if it gets a chance to infest food stores.
As we have seen, the buffalo “worm” is really a beetle, not a worm. Its larval stage, after it hatches from the egg, is the one in which all mealworms look like worms.
They have three pairs of small legs attached to the thorax, just below the head.
This enables buffalo worms to burrow and wriggle around very fast.
Even if they have to drag their very long abdomen, the body part where all the fat needed for development gets stored.
The lesser mealworm has the same type of life cycle as the yellow mealworm.
Beetles are one of the insect species that undergo a complete metamorphosis in four stages: egg, larva, pupa and imago (the adult insect).
There are two main differences between the life cycles of buffalo worms and mealworms:
- The life cycle of the buffalo worm is about twice faster ( = or half shorter) than the mealworm's life cycle. About a month in optimal conditions.
- The buffalo worm needs higher temperature and humidity than the mealworm. At least 30 C temperatures and above 70% relative humidity... Like we do 😉
"Cosmopolitan" is another adjective that you will find in the scientific description of the lesser mealworm. Alphitobius Diaperinus has spread all over the world and is at home everywhere. But it still thrives best in "tropical" conditions of high temperatures and humidity.
6. The buffalo worm loves to live with the chicks.
Wherever it be in the world, there is one place that the buffalo worm especially loves to make its home in: a chicken coop!
More precisely, chicken litter.
This explains its third most popular name: the litter beetle.
The buffalo worm can chew also wood, polystyrene, even fiberglass! In other words, building and insulation materials of chicken coops.
The buffalo worm happily burrows into these materials when it's time for it to pupate.
Transforming from a "worm" into a beetle requires spending many days as a motionless pupa.
So burrowing into a protective material is a survival strategy.
The poultry industry has not much understanding for the safety worries of the lesser mealworm.
A Bad Boy among Edible Bugs
Most literature on Alphitobius Diaperinus that you can find focuses on means and method to get rid of it!
Damaged infrastructure can cause a whooping 67% extra energy costs in chicken coops.
The heating bill for chicken coops can go skyrocketing in the winter!
Buffalo worms form colonies of several thousand individuals.
This makes for a lot of burrowing! But damage to infrastructure is not the only reason why the litter beetle is a serious pest in the poultry industry.
Alas! Our friend the buffalo worm can carry around quite a few dangerous pathogens. Salmonella, Escherichia coli are the most famous, but there can be more.
And viruses too.
Buffalo worms farmed for human consumption are reared in completely different conditions.
Hygienic standards of the farms are strict
Feed for the critters, processing after slaughter.... Everything is streamlined to avoid any food safety risk for customers.
This is why you should buy only food-grade buffalo worms especially farmed and processed for human consumption!
This way you will be sure that they have been reared only on safe feed.
Usually the feed is completely vegetable.
The buffalo worms then are sterilized by blanching and freezing.
7. The buffalo worm is the strongest when it comes to nutritional values.
The content of protein in Alphitobius Diaperinus larvae is very high.
The buffalo worms consist of 35% dry matter of which 60-85% is crude protein.
All essential amino acids are present, and minerals too in respectable percentages.
Buffalo's are rich in iron, as we have seen, but also zinc.
A comparison between different edible insects can be seen in this table, from a study of the University of Wageningen (Netherlands):
What makes the buffalo worm unbeatable is the combination of high values in proteins + iron + zinc. Crickets and locusts can compete in protein content, but not match the buffalo's high values for all the three factors together.
Here is some more data, specific for the buffalo worm:
8. The taste of the buffalo worm can blend in both sweet and savory recipes.
How do lesser mealworms taste?
The taste of the lesser mealworm is significantly different from the yellow mealworm.
In general it is more delicate and pleasant.
Most often it is described as similar to peanuts or cashew nuts.
With the advantage of making it a precious ingredient for both sweet and savoury recipes.
The lesser mealworm has a thinner exoskeleton than the yellow mealworm.
This is why it is more palatable: less chitin, a softer bug, a more delicate taste.
A smaller quantity of chitin also makes the buffalo worm more digestible.
Its proteins are easier to access for humans.
Want to try?
Here are two easy suggestions, one savory and one sweet, for your first experiments.
A) Buffalo worm burgers.
Chances are that if you know about the buffalo worm it is thanks to the Bug Foundation.
This young German startup got on the market in three countries (Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany).
They chose a tasty mass product: a burger. More precisely, a Bux Burger.
In the spring of 2018 the Bux Burger got media success when it hit the shelves of the Rewa chain of supermarkets.
This is the first time that buffalo worms got so much press attention all over the world.
Some previous similar cases of bug burgers use mealworms.
Like Essento's in Coop supermarkets in Switzerland, ore Ikea.
Burgers are a brilliant idea to counter the "yuck factor" and encourage a wider public to try insect foods.
Nothing beats cooking your own creations at home.
So, instead of buying already made industrial burgers, you may want to make your own.
Let's devote some time to studying some basic bug burger science. Then you can add your own variations and preferences to a basic recipe.
If you want to play it safe, use buffalo worm flour in the mixture for the patty.
Up to some 30% of the total mass is a standard percentage to go by.
If you want to coax diffident friends into trying a bug delicacy the soft way, use insects in powder form.
It makes the bugs invisible.
But if you want to recreate a "minced meat" effect in the texture, freeze dried buffalo worms are the choice.
Freeze drying has the advantage of preserving the original characteristics of food.
It removes the moisture from the ingredient after freezing.
Adding water you can "revive" it.
Freeze dried buffalo worms are not completely raw.
For safety reasons (* eliminating possible pathogens) they are also blanched before freezing.
They need more handling than flour or simply dried and/or frozen insects. i.e. one more passage: re-hydration.
Place freeze-dried buffalo worms in a bowl of lukewarm water and let them soak for about 10 minutes. They will at least double in size.
Avoid excessive moisture that could make the patty crumbly.
Simmer the buffalo worms in a frying pan for a few minutes.
You can add chopped onion in this phase, and also mushrooms.
They are a very useful and tasty addition to burger mixtures.
Buffalo worms are very small, so take care not to burn them or dry them excessively.
Don't use too strong a flame or keep them on the fire for too long (3 to 5 minutes should do).
A traditional burger would be 100% meat, plus the seasonings chosen by the individual cook.
The burger would not need a binding element, because that role is played by the fats and juices of the meat.
But a bug burger cannot be 100% bugs.
Insects require more work from the human digestive system.
Caution! You can be allergic to bugs
If you're allergic to shrimp, you might also be allergic to bugs.
Even if you have no allergy to seafood, you can still be allergic to edible insects!
Buffalo worms like other insects contain chitin from the their exoskeleton.
And a high concentration of nutrients.
This is why you would not want to exceed a max. 30% of buffalo worms in your patty.
Bug Burger Ingredients
A classic basic mix you can use for your patties (makes 4 pieces):
- 1 can of beans ( 15 oz / 400 gr.), choose the ones you like best: pinto, kidney, white..... If you want to use dry beans and cook them yourself, use approximately half the quantity. Instead of beans, you can use chickpeas.
- 1 small onion.
- 1 clove of garlic.
- 1 egg as binding (* vegan alternative: 1 tablespoon of ground flax seeds or chia seeds soaked in 3 tablespoons of hot water).
- 50 grams of bread crumb for more binding (facultative).
- your favourite spices (pepper, chili, cumin, cilantro...).
- Using the buffalo worms in flour format is a no-brainer: just add it to the final mixture.
- If you prefer the whole wormies, you can simmer them for a few minutes with the chopped onion and garlic.
- Grease the frying pan with a tablespoon of oil.
- Use a light flame to avoid burning either the onion and garlic or the buffalo worms.
- Add the wormies and vegetables to the mashed beans, binding ingredient and spices and mix them well.
- Divide the mixture in four balls and flatten them to a thickness of about ¾ inch – 2 cm.
- Cook them on the grill or in a frying pan, 3-4 minutes on each side.
Little trick: compensate the lack of fat from meat by oiling the pan or grill lightly. You will reduce the risk of having your burger crumble.
From this very basic and super simple patty recipe, you can develop all sorts of variations according to your personal taste.
If you already have experience with vegetarian or vegan burgers, you can have a lot of fun!
Here is a funny anecdote to round up this introduction to buffalo worm burgers.
Did you know that there has been a rumour circulating for decades about McDonald's adding worms to their burgers ?
The story actually originated from a very old (1978!) fake about Wendy's products.
Surely no one would have imagined that one day worms in burgers would be really put on the market!
B) Buffalo worm chocolate cookies
In these basic chocolate cookies, the buffalo worms play the role of peanuts or cashew nuts since their taste is similar to them.
Buffalo Cookie Ingredients
- ¼ cup Buffalo worms
- 7 oz/ 200 gr. Chocolate chips
- 2 Eggs
- 1 tablespoon Vanilla extract
- 1 cup of white Sugar
- ¾ cup of melted Butter
- ½ teaspoon baking Soda
- 2 cup Flour
- The oven must be preheated at 350 F /180 C, while you mix the ingredients for the cookies.
- Mix the flour and baking soda in a bowl.
- In another bowl beat the eggs with the melted butter, sugar and vanilla extracts until creamy.
- Combine all the ingredients, adding the chocolate chips and half of the mealworms.
- Space spoonfuls of the mixture on a baking tray lined with baking paper and bake for 15 minutes.
- The remaining half of the buffalo worms will serve as decoration sprinkled on the cookies.
NB You can bake cookies and also all sort of cakes also with buffalo flour.
Depending on the recipe and your personal taste, you can add to cereal flour(s) a 10% to 20% of this lesser mealworm powder.
9. Breeding buffalo worms at home is possible... but not as easily as breeding mealworms!
First of all, a word of caution:
if you want to farm both mealworms and buffalo worms, don't keep Alphitobius Diaperinus and Tenebrio Molitor in the same container!
Buffalo worms tend to attack mealworms in their vulnerable moments.
For example, when they are shedding their exoskeleton during molting.
Or when they are in their pupal stage, or when they emerge from pupa as new beetles.
The buffalo worm is a sub-saharan insect.
This means that to thrive at its best it needs a very warm and moist climate.
About 68 F / 30 C and at least 70% relative humidity will do.
Depending on where you live ( = your home climate) it might become a hassle to provide extra degrees and humidity to keep comfortable.
The lesser mealworm is described as "cosmopolitan".
In other words. that it can be found all over the world.
The buffalo worm does live in all climates, but how fast and easily it can complete its life cycle is another story.
This is relevant for industrial production.
If you only want to experiment a little, you can put up with longer life cycles and smaller fertility of your buffalo worms.
The lesser mealworm can live in containers with cereal substrate like the yellow mealworm.
But it is more keen on flying, so provide a cover, fitted with a fine mesh.
The buffalo worm is scared of the light: put some egg cardboard boxes in to help it hide. And / or pieces of cardboard, sponge, to lay their eggs in.
The most important question in buffalo worm rearing is to provide adequate feed to it.
There are two aspects to this:
- Favoring the healthy development of the insect in the first place.
- Obtaining nutritious larvae (worms) as a future food ingredient. Food that will contain good percentages of proteins, minerals and other nutrition factors;
Easier said than done: the buffalo worm is not so easily satisfied, when it comes to eating.
This does not mean that it will stop chomping whatever it can find.
But the results will NOT be the same with just any food.
One less known fact is that cereals can do more harm than good to the buffalo worm.
A little surprising, since the lesser mealworm infests stored grains and flours.
A study by the University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh (Growth and Development of the Lesser Mealworm, Alphitobius diaperinus (Panzer) (Coleoptera: Tenebrionidae) on Cereal Flours) revealed that "cereal flours reduced the growth of all the developmental stages of the beetle".
The researchers investigated the effect on the buffalo worm life cycle of four different flours: wheat, barley, corn and rice.
"The pupal and adult recoveries (%) were also lowered, and the larval and pupal durations were lengthened in the tenebrionid when grown on cereal flours".
The fecundity and viability of the eggs of Alphitobius Diaperinus was severely affected too.
Female beetles on a diet of cereal flours laid significantly less eggs.
The eggs of buffalo beetle raised on cereal flour were also much smaller.
Having a look at the content in proteins of these cereal flours gives us a hint on what the problem is.
Buffalo worms on this type of diet do not get enough proteins!
The relatives percentages are as follows:
- barley 12 % protein
- wheat 11,5 %
- corn 9 %
- rice 6.9 %
The study in its conclusions underlines that "for proper insect nutrition two factors are:
- the digestibility, i.e. availability of nutrients and the nutritive value of the foodstuffs;
- the qualitative and quantitative requirements of these animals.
If these two variables are not coordinated harmoniously, the result is metabolic injury or malnutrition".
In other words, we cannot expect the buffalo worm to build up all those lovely proteins ... if we do not give him enough proteins to eat!
A much newer study was published by the Journal of Insect Physiology. "Growth performance and feed conversion efficiency of three edible mealworm species (Coleoptera: Tenebrionidae) on diets composed of organic by-products )" .
Different "diets" were tested.
You may want to devote some times to reading it if you plan to take buffalo worm rearing to a more professional level.
10. Buffalo worms vs. Mealworms. Here are the main differences.
Let us see what are the main differences between the two cousins, the buffalo worm and the mealworm:
- Nutritional value. The buffalo worm has MORE protein and LESS fat content than the mealworm.
- Size. The buffalo worm is about half the mealworm (7 mm to 11 the larvae, 6 mm. the adult beetle).
- Length of the life cycle. Assuming best conditions for both, the buffalo worm needs about a month for its larval phase. The mealworm on average needs two months.
- Liveliness: the buffalo worm is much more dynamic than the mealworm, when exposed to the light. Turn on the light on it and you will see it frantically running around and burrowing into litter. If you want to get an idea of the buffalo's frenziness, see this short videoclip.
- Sensitivity to humidity during pupation: the buffalo worm needs at least 70% relative humidity. If possible, give it as much as 90% (otherwise he could go on strike = pupate a lot less). Tenebrio can do with 50-60%.
- Flying: mealworms (* the adult beetles) can fly too, they have wings, but they rarely do. It can happen if they are pushed by a food shortage, for example. Buffalos are attracted by the light. They can infest a house moving from poultry litter towards windows when the light is on. Court litigations between neighbours in the US happened because of litter beetle infestations!
- Softness of the exoskeleton: the one of the buffalo worm is thinner = less chitin = more digestable.
- Taste: Alphie tastes more nutty than spicy, as compared to his cousin Tenebrio.
- Oligominerals: the buffalo has one speciality, a high concentration of iron and zinc. This gives it a specific niche advantage over the yellow mealworm.
Have you enjoyed your first buffalo worm tour?
Alphie the buffalo has a great future, we are sure of this. So stay tuned for more, and we will keep you updated!