Could Crickets be the Cuisine of the Future?

Have you ever thought about insects being a part of your everyday diet? The first reaction I might get to this question is a scrunch of the nose and a look of distaste, however what if I told you that not only would you be contributing to the improvement of our planet’s environment, but you would also be adding a significant amount of healthy protein to your diet through eating these insects? Would you at least give them a try?

Three groups from across the United States are currently pushing to promote an unlikely insect as a great dietary alternative to your everyday snacks: crickets! These people are Pat Crawley, from The Chapul Group, Robyn Shapiro, Co-Founder of Seek, and Laura D’Asaro and Rose Wang of Chirps Chips. They all want to see you eating crickets!

“Our diet dictates our destinies” said Pat Crawley from The Chapul Group at his April 2015 TEDxZwolle talk in the Netherlands about the concept of eating insects. He spoke of how 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock alone, more than all of transportation. He proposes that eating insects could help eliminate a large amount of these greenhouse gas emissions. He referenced a 2012 United Nations report which outlined the three main reasons why insects are such a great food source: they’re more efficient, they increase the diversity of our food supply, and they are more adaptable to a changing climates.

Crawley acknowledges the discomfort many feel at the prospect of eating insects. He says this “Meal or Squeak Mechanism” comes from our prehistoric forager ancestors who had to work out if an insect they saw was edible or dangerous very quickly. Crawley uses what he calls cricket flour (crushed dried crickets), which he says is about 60% protein, to make snack bars, along with other more recognizable ingredients.

Seek’s Cricket Granola (L) and Cricket Bites (R)

Another person who is utilizing and promoting crickets in your diet is Robyn Shapiro, co-founder of Seek, which launched in 2016. “We are trying to introduce people to the idea of eating crickets, while receiving the nutritional benefits, but not necessarily the taste just yet,” said Shapiro. Seek uses cricket powder in a range of different products including granola (cinnamon almond crunch) and snack bites (coconut cashew, banana peanut butter and jelly, and honey and seeds). The snacks were all made through a partnership between Seek and chef Flannery Klette-Kolton, Co-Owner of Big Little NYC. The company centered itself on the idea of taking from nature to get nutrients instead of turning to chemically modified foods. “I find it surprising that people are okay with chemicals in their food, but not an all-natural protein like crickets, I think it will only be a matter of time before this clicks for people,” said Shapiro. When asked why crickets as opposed to other natural food sources the answer was that “Crickets are truly the next great protein as they use 15x less water, 12x less feed and 14x less land than beef, while delivering 3x more protein and released virtually no greenhouse gases.”

Shapiro’s background is in marketing and communications. She spent many years in Switzerland, occasionally visiting France. Looking on the food system in the US from the outside she realised there was not the same appreciation and culture around food and its consumption that she found in Europe. She also saw there was a lack of the symbiotic relationship with nature she witnessed during her time in Switzerland. Wanting to bring these concepts and attitudes, “letting nature lead us, because nature always has a way of winning” as she put it, back to the US she began work on Seek. She spoke of how 75% of the worlds insect stock has been depleted and therefore not only is her aim around sustainable food, but about preventing the extension of insects that are essential to our ecosystem. She sees the farming of insects as a way of protecting them.

When asked why people are so adverse to eating insects she puts it down to a lack of education and conversations around eating insects. She said around 90% people trying her products are trying it for the first time, so there needs to be a dialogue around that experience.

Six Foods and Chirps were co-founded by Rose Wang, Laura D’Asaro, and Meryl Natow. Chirps was founded out of Wang’s dorm room at Harvard in December 2017. After being an on-and-off vegetarian her whole life and eating fried caterpillar while studying abroad in Africa, D’Asaro was excited at the prospect of a cricket-based snack. Chirps Cricket Chips are sealed as a cookie mix, as well as selling the flour separately for customers to cook with. They started on Kickstarter, raising over $70K from 1300 people, as well as going on Shark Tank in January where they received investment from Mark Cuban. They talked of crickets as the “gateway bug” to people eating other insects.

About 2 billion people consume insects worldwide, according to the United Nations, however the Western World has not yet embraces the concept of eating bugs quite yet. A 2013 report by the Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) stated, “Insects can contribute to food security and be a part of the solution to protein shortages, given their high nutritional value.” Darryl Mosher, an Assistant Professor of Culinary Arts at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, says he routinely incorporates insects into his healthy eating and sustainability classes. “Insects provide animal protein in a plant-forward diet” he said in May.

Other companies that are using cricket flour and insects to create foods and snacks are Bitty Foods, Bug Vivant, and Brooklyn-based EXO. However despite all this hype a study published in the journal PLOS ONE stated that crickets may not be a sustainable food source after all , and there might not be as much protein as all these companies are saying there is. This is down to what the crickets are fed, so this issue is resolved by feeding them grains that give them the highest amount of protein. These companies advertise the fact that crickets are marginally more sustainable than poultry so are a step in the right direction in terms of lowering greenhouse emissions. They are also easy to farm and harvest. If fed the right thing, and farmed effectively they could become an amazing potential sustainable food of the future.

So it’s really up to you whether you want to try them out or give this trend a miss until it becomes more mainstream, which it probably will in the near future.