A reader recently wrote to us about what appears to be a small larva that she found in her soup. (We mentioned a possible “worm” in the soup only because people so often call larvae “worms.”) The reader is wondering what she found, and she also asked if she should be concerned if she accidentally ate one. We’ll tackle each question in turn, suggesting a possible identification and then discussing eating larvae, both in general and as it relates to the reader’s specific circumstances.
Before this, however, here is a picture of the larva our reader found:
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This is merely the latest in a relatively long line of questions about eating worms or larvae that we have received. We’ve written about the general question of whether or not it is safe to eat worms (or more generally bugs), and we’ve also written about several specific scenarios, like when a reader found a worm in a piece of store-bought chicken, or when another found a worm in a snack bar. In all of these cases, we’ve made something like the following disclaimer: we aren’t medical doctors, and therefore we can’t offer anything that might be construed as medical advice. If our reader experienced unusual discomfort eating her worm-infused soup, all we can say is that she should probably go to the doctor.
As for the matter of identification, we can’t be certain, but the creature above looks a bit like a carpet beetle larvae, which is by far the most common creature we write about because readers ask about them all the time. A bowl of soup is a strange place to find one because they tend to be found in out-of-sight places (like under furniture or in towel closets), but we suppose they might end up in soup. However, their presence in the soup would be incidental – there wouldn’t be any reason for the larvae to be found in soup specifically.
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Regardless of what our reader found, though, we can offer a couple of remarks about eating worms/larvae/insects. First, although unusual in the West, entomophagy (the consumption of insects by humans as food) is widespread. It’s popular in places like the Philippines, a country we mention in particular for the simple reason that we’ve written about eating insects in the Philippines. Our reader was probably quite grossed out by what she found in her soup, and rightfully so considering that a larva wasn’t an ingredient in the soup, but we thought she might take some comfort in the fact that lots of people around the world eat insects. However, this obviously doesn’t mean that it is safe to eat any given insect. Some of them can be poisonous, and others have body features that make them unsuitable for consumption. For example, if our reader did find carpet beetle larvae, the small hairs on their bodies could cause issues because they can irritate skin, and thus swallowing one could potentially lead to discomfort. Also, even if an insect is completely safe to eat in and of itself, one must always be wary of any bacteria or other pathogen it might carry. Cooking the insect could take care of this issue, but it isn’t clear if the larva in our reader’s soup was cooked.
Overall, then, we must conclude with some uncertainty. There is a good chance that our reader has nothing to worry about even if she ate one of the larva in her soup. It could be nothing more than an innocuous protein boost. However, we also wanted to point out potential problems with eating larvae that aren’t meant to be a part of dish. We don’t think these consideration should cause our reader alarm, but they are worth keeping in mind, and once again our reader should visit a doctor if she is experiencing any medical problems.