The gross reason you should soak your strawberries in salt water

TikTok, popular for the fun short videos shot by its users, has been launching trends like pancake cereal and this bottled Starbucks Frappuccino hack, but sometimes the platform reveals truths that are hard to swallow — literally.

Krista Torres, a reporter at BuzzFeed, recently noticed a new TikTok trend: soaking strawberries in salt water. Why? Because users have been finding that bugs live inside the berries (check out the hashtag #strawberrieswithbugs on the app). Torres decided to investigate the claim, which she totally didn't believe could be true... until she actually tried it.

Torres filled a bowl with water, at room temperature, poured in a lot of sea salt (about five large spoonfuls), put her strawberries in, and then waited for about 30 minutes. There were no bugs floating around in the bowl, like she had seen in the TikTok videos. But to her horror, when she picked up the strawberries, she discovered bugs, which she also described as worms, crawling out of them.

Where did these worms come from? Torres did some research and found out that they are the offspring of a type of fruit fly, also known as the Spotted Wing Drosophila (or SWD), that can be found throughout most mainland U.S. states. Cornell University reported that this fly is most attracted to berries such as raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries. The SWD is notable because it lays eggs inside fresh fruit, often before harvest, instead of overripe or rotting fruit, which its cousins prefer.

How to soak your strawberries

According to NutritionFacts.org, a 10 percent salt solution is a good way to wash pesticides off of fruits and vegetables. But the instructions for removing bugs are a bit up in the air. Some say to soak the berries for five minutes, others say up to 30 minutes. Some recommend cold water while others think warm water is best since salt dissolves faster inside this kind of water. But everyone is clear on one thing: you must rinse them thoroughly afterwards, or else your strawberries will still be salty (via Bored Panda).

A recent Facebook post detailing a how-to for cleaning strawberries was shared over 122,000 times. Lauren Mackenzie Gambrell, who credited TikTok for teaching her, wrote that you need a bowl with one part white vinegar, four parts cold water, and a sprinkle of salt. Let the strawberries soak in the mixture for five minutes, rinse them with water, and dry them off.

You might be concerned about the possibility of ingesting bugs, but the reality is that you've been consuming them for years but just didn't know it. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has limits on the amounts of bugs food can contain, but items like broccoli, canned tomatoes, or even beer hops contain "insect fragments" (such as heads, body parts, and legs) or even whole insects (via Scientific American). If you want peace of mind, you can start soaking your strawberries (and all of your produce) in salt water, but that doesn't mean you'll be able to eliminate bugs 100 percent.

Why you might not have to worry about strawberry bugs after all

While the thought of noshing on bug-filled berries may make you queasy, as it turns out, it's not really all that unusual — and these bugs, even if you eat them, won't hurt you, according to CNN. Basically, the critters you might discover after soaking your strawberries in salt water aren't harmful for human consumption, and you're basically doing it on the regular anyway and have been for your entire life. "If you're eating fresh produce, you're eating bugs," says Greg Loeb, an entomologist and professor at Cornell University. "Sometimes we entomologists joke that, hey, it's just a little bit more protein."

Essentially, it's not a new problem that has sprung up lately despite the topic's compelling popularity on social media. Yes, it makes for a good TikTok video, especially because most people don't realize that insects are a natural part of the growing process and often come along for the ride once your produce is picked, packed, and shipped.

Also, experts note that you've probably downed a bunch of tiny bugs over the course of your lifetime, and even trying to rid your fresh produce of insects doesn't guarantee you won't ever eat one again. In other words, you eat bugs all the time and they don't hurt you, and it isn't always possible to get rid of them completely. 

So, cheer up, clean your fruits and vegetables with water before preparing and eating, and enjoy your healthy snack, knowing that any bugs you consume are teensy tiny and won't make you sick.