Ask Peter: Weevils
Weevils appear in products in my pantry every now and then and I go through the whole throwing away anything they may have got into. I opened a new bag of breadcrumbs last week and used half to make a vegetarian nut roast. I didn’t notice anything then but today I have opened the bag again and notice some cobwebs clinging to the sides of the bag. Do you think that nut roast was ok to eat? I served it to a large group of people and feel terrible.
Weevils — don’t they drive you nuts! I get furious when I see a bag of barely used flour or rice with those tell-tale signs of thin cobweb like strands in among it all. I’ve been researching these little buggers since reading your question. To be honest I’m not 100 per cent sure if they arrive already in the bag and come alive once you open it, or whether they are hanging around on your pantry shelves, lurking in slightly dusty corners, waiting for an opened bag of carbohydate to jump into and breed. To be honest it seems to be a bit of both. They do arrive in your pantry from bags of flour, cereal mixes, rice and grains and the likes and then get out and about at the first opportunity. You use or replace the bag and they simply see the new ingredient as an opportunity to have some fun.
A simple solution is to place all your newly opened bags into tightly sealed airtight containers. This will prevent the weevils getting in in the first place, and also prevent them getting out. Another way to keep rice and grains safe is to put them in the freezer where they keep very well: just make sure to suck any air from the bag and wrap it tightly in cling film. If a bag of flour gets those signs, then you can sieve and freeze it into a clean bag or container — it seems 3-4 days in the freezer kills the weevils.
As to whether they are poisonous if you eat them, it seems not. Well, not in a small quantity at least. Perhaps a few kilos of them would have a dire effect, but none of the information I could find suggested they were bad in any way, just slightly creepy. So, you and your guests should be fine.
As to buying breadcrumbs, one way around that is to make your own and avoid that problem. As a kid, we’d make loads of crumbs (as there was always so much bread left over) and freeze tubs of it in the freezer. Having said that I am the world’s biggest fan of Japanese panko breadcrumbs, but these can be made, sort of, by coarsely grating firm white bread, at least 3 days old, on a coarse grater. Not exactly the same, but guaranteed weevil-free.
The other thing to bear in mind, is that unless something is truly toxic, it sometimes pays not to over-worry about the odd bit of dirt or tiny weevil. Sieve it out of course, but there’s no need to bin a bag of perfectly good flour as baking will kill them. From the day we’re born we imbibe germs and bacteria and it’s known that exposure to a variety of these things isn’t necessarily bad news for us, for our diet or for our immune system. Research coming out of the US suggests that the more interaction with have with, among many things, pets (and the bacteria on their skin), fermented foods (kimchi is a good one), soil (and the bacteria in that) the more likely we are to have a good solid immune system working in harmony with the environment. Not all “germs’’ are bad, but there are some out there you’re best to avoid. A terrific read from the New York Times is here: www.nytimes.com.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.