Edible Earthworms

I heard loads about Dr Michelle Dickinson’s book The Kitchen Science Cookbook before I saw a copy. Not because there was a huge publicity push – but because a huge selection of my friend group has kids, and an interest in food – and here’s a book that gets them not just learning how to make food, but the science behind it too.

This particular recipe, for Edible Earthworms (I’d say it was a boy thing, but I know a whole heap of girls who think these are delicious!), is such a great science lesson – with a treat at the end! Great for a rainy day experiment!

Edible Earthworms

Scientific Principle: Crosslinking

Time required: 45 minutes plus 4 hours setting time

Using the power of crosslinking, these realistic looking worms not only look amazingly disgusting but they also taste great!

Equipment

50 plastic bendy straws

  • Rubber band (or length of string for tying)
  • Jug
  • Tall container
  • Plate

Ingredients

  • 2 boxes jelly/jello strawberry or raspberry crystals or blocks
  • 10g (1 Tbsp) powdered gelatin
  • 125ml (1/2 cup) cream
  • 375ml (1 1/2 cups) boiling water
  • Green food colouring

Method

Carefully pour the boiling water into a large jug and add the jelly/jello, stirring until dissolved.

Add the cream and whisk until fully mixed.

Stir in 3 drops of green food colouring.

Stretch the flexible part of the straws out so that they are fully extended.

Gather the straws together and use a rubber band or string to hold them together.

Place the straws upright in a tall, tight fitting container or jar.

Carefully pour the mixture over the top of the straws, filling each straw. Refrigerate for 4 hours.

If the straws start to float, place a weight on top to hold them down.

Once set, rinse the outside of the straws in lukewarm water to loosen the worms.

Starting at the top, gently squeeze each straw together with your fingers (or the back of a blunt knife) and slide down the length of the straw to push the worms out onto a plate.

To make the worms look as though they are in soil, blend dark chocolate cookies and lay them on the plate as a base for the worms to sit on.

The Science Behind Edible Worms

Jelly (or jello) wobbles because it contains gelatin, a coiled up protein chain that unravels and floats around as strands when hot water is added. As the water cools down, the gelatin strands coil back up and become tangled with each other, trapping the fluid they are in and transforming the liquid into a solid structure. This process of gelatin strands becoming tangled with each other is called crosslinking. Because the worms have a high aspect ratio -meaning they are long and thin – they need to be stiffened to help them keep their shape.

Adding the extra gelatin causes more crosslinking to occur, with the chains making the structure firmer and stiffer when set. Jelly (or jello) is usually transparent – or see through – but the additional protein and fat molecules from the cream deflect and scatter the light so that the worms become opaque. Mixing red jelly (or jello) and green food colouring make the worms a ‘realistic’ brown colour – but you can, of course, make them any colour you like!

Explore further

What happens if you change the amount of gelatin in the worm mixture? Why do you think this is?

Do the worms look different if you do not add the cream to the mixture?

What happens if you do not rinse the straws in warm water before squeezing out the worms?

Why do you think the warm water helps?

Reproduced from The Science Cookbook by Dr Michelle Dickinson, published by Nanogirls Labs Limited, RRP$49.99, available nationwide. Text © Nanogirls Labs Limited | Photography © Magic Rabbit Limited