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Dried mealworms are insect larvae that have been either roasted or freeze dried. They are typically fed to certain animals kept as pets, such as birds or reptiles. Although usually purchased at pet stores and bulk retailers, some people make their own dried mealworms at home. Drying preserves the mealworms, preventing them from decomposing while conserving their nutritional value.
Despite the name, mealworms are not really worms. They are grubs, which is another word for insects in the larval state. The technical name for the mealworm is tenbrio molitor. Most mealworms used as pet food are the larvae of a type of beetle known as the darkling beetle, sometimes called the yellow mealworm beetle.
The mealworm itself has a dark yellow, segmented body with brown stripes. It has six tiny legs clustered near the front of its body. They have voracious appetites and eat grains, dead animals, and decaying plants. The grub lives about 60 to 90 days before it transforms into a pupa, and it molts numerous times during that time period. Usually, it grows to at least 1 inch (about 25 mm) before it is dried and used for food.
The drying process involves roasting the mealworms, the most common method used by individuals raising their own. Prior to roasting, people freeze the mealworms, a humane way of killing them while preserving their nutrients. They then roast them in a flat pan over low heat for four to five hours until they are dark brown but not black. After packaging, people store the dried mealworms in a refrigerator or freezer until ready to use.
Freeze-drying is another technique for the preparation of dried mealworms. Special equipment completely dehydrates the mealworms during the process. Due to the fact that all moisture is removed from the mealworms, something that is difficult to accomplish with roasting, freeze-dried mealworms generally have a longer shelf life than those that are roasted. Many commercial manufacturers and retailers of dried mealworms use freeze-drying as the preferred method. Once dried, they package them in airtight containers to further extend the shelf life.
For the most part, animals eat dried mealworms in their dried state. Various types of birds, rodents, and lizards find them to be a tasty and nutritious treat. They are even safe for human consumption. Although most people have an aversion to the idea of eating grubs, mealworms have a high protein content and sometimes serve as a nutritional supplement. For this purpose, users pulverize the dried mealworms into powder and add them to other foods, such as smoothies or shakes.