The Umami-Rich Secret Ingredient To Elevate Any Bowl Of Pho

Pho is one of those dishes that are incredibly easy to personalize. Maybe you like to douse plenty of hot sauce to your chicken pho recipe to make it extra spicy, or perhaps you prefer to add a bit of mint to beef pho to brighten the flavor. If you regularly find yourself trying to think of new ways to upgrade your soup, look no further than dried sá sùng, or "peanut worms." These sea-faring worms are commonly used in northern Vietnam to provide a umami flavor boost to pho.

Peanut worms (so called because they resemble peanut shells, not because they taste like the legumes) are used in both Vietnamese and southern Chinese cooking. Rather than being used as a topping for pho, sá sùng are added to the broth to impart a savory taste similar to MSG. Harvesting the worms from the seashores around northern Vietnam is an intense process, which is reflected in their high price tag — in the States, 2 ounces of sá sùng cost about $43. Fortunately, a little goes a long way with this secret ingredient.

How to add peanut worms to your pho broth

Adding sá sùng into your next bowl of pho takes a little prep work. Author of cookbooks like "The Pho Cookbook," Andrea Nguyen, recommends in their blog Viet World Kitchen to roast about a ½ ounce of the worms in a pan "until you can smell the worm's fragrance, they puff up a bit, and darken." Then, you just have to toss them into your broth and continue on as usual. If you can't get your hands on any sá sùng, Nguyen suggests using dried scallops to achieve a similar flavor.

The idea of consuming insects may sound unusual to Western ears, but the truth is bugs are a part of many eating practices across the globe, and for good reason. According to the American Heart Association, insects have a high-protein content that makes them very nutritious. Furthermore, eating insects is a sustainable practice since they have a much smaller environmental impact than the larger animals we consume.

If you're curious about incorporating insects into your diet, upgrading your pho with some sá sùng may be a great place to start. After all, pho was likely invented in northern Vietnam, so trust the experts when they say adding peanut worms to your broth will create a delicious umami result.