Watch out whey and vegan powders, there’s a new protein source in town: crickets! These tiny winged insects have been a traditional source of food in countries across the globe, and they’re starting to infiltrate the shelves of US grocery stores.
THE RISE OF CRICKET FLOUR IN THE US
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reports that bugs play a part in the diet of at least 2 billion people worldwide. In fact, more than 1,900 species of insects have been used as food in many parts of Asia and Africa. Gabi Lewis, co-founder of cricket-based protein bar company Exo, an early adapter of cricket flour, explains that introducing the concept of insects as food to the United States is merely a process of overcoming a cultural aversion. “It’s just like sushi,” Lewis explains. “For years, the Japanese enjoyed it but the concept of ingesting raw fish was just so foreign to Americans.” But then they developed the California roll as a gateway to sushi, and we began to embrace the idea of eating raw fish.
Four years ago, Lewis and his business partner, Greg Sewitz, made their first batch of cricket protein bars in their college dorm room. Today, they run a company that sells five flavors of insect-filled bars and are part of the movement to help the US embrace edible insects.
Exo is just one of many companies popping up in the cricket flour industry. After winning over Mark Cuban on “Shark Tank,” Chirps began manufacturing gluten-free cricket chips in flavors such as cheddar, barbecue and sea salt. The Department of Agriculture recently awarded a cricket-based food company Bugeater Foods with a $ 100,000 grant to create cricket-flour infused staples for American consumer consumption. The company, which is on a mission to “change the way that people think about insects as foods,” is currently selling all-natural cricket protein-powder shakes in coffee and chocolate flavors. Each serving contains 26 grams of protein as well as a variety of nutrients like iron, vitamin B, zinc and phosphorous. Currently, the Nebraska-based company is working on turning insects into rice, pasta and noodles. “We have seen a positive reaction to the macaroni noodles we made,” says Kelly Sturek, co-founder and CEO. “The company would love to make bugsaroni and cheese.”
Cricket flour is made by milling whole crickets into a powder-like substance. The finished product is referred to as either cricket flour or cricket powder. Supporters of the latest food trend say the benefits of consuming cricket powder are endless.
BENEFITS OF CRICKET FLOUR
“To provide the rapidly growing human population with animal proteins, we need to find new sources,” says Marcel Dicke, professor of entomology at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. Crickets and other edible insects could very well be the answer. The insects require only 2 kilograms of food for every 1 kilogram of weight gain. They emit fewer greenhouse gases and less ammonia than cattle or pigs and require significantly less land and water than cattle.
Cricket flour is made of entire ground up crickets and therefore contains an array of micronutrients, which many traditional protein powders lack. According to Kyle Connaughton, former head chef at The Fat Duck, a three Michelin-starred restaurant in England, cricket flour is one of the most sustainable and nutritious protein sources on the planet. “Crickets are 65% protein by weight and are higher in calcium than milk, with more iron than beef,” he explains.
Rebecca Lewis, RD, agrees, adding that cricket-based protein is also high in essential B vitamins (especially B2 and B12), contains all nine essential amino acids and is extremely bioavailable (meaning that it’s easily absorbed into the body). “Ten grams (about one and a half tablespoons) of the flour has approximately 7 grams of protein,” she says. “It’s an excellent choice for incorporating muscle-building nutrients into your day.”
HOW TO EAT CRICKET FLOUR
By itself, the flavor of cricket flour has been described as slightly nutty and comparable to buckwheat. Cricket flour can be added to smoothies for a protein-rich boost or can replace flours in baked goods. “Cricket is quite a neutral flavor so it doesn’t really enhance or detract the flavor of food,” says Connaughton. “That’s the value in crickets — it can be incorporated into basically anything without changing the flavor.” He recommends fueling up with a cricket protein bar or smoothie pre- or post-workout. “It’s a great source of fuel and energy for athletes, as well as a source of nutrition to repair muscle and encourage growth,” he notes.
Celebrity chef Charles Chen enjoys cooking with cricket flour. It’s the secret ingredient he uses to bring his moist brownies to life. Below, he shares one of his go-to cricket flour snacks, perfect for refueling post workout with crickets acting as the main source of protein.
Charles Chen’s Protein Bites
- 1 cup cricket flour
- 1/2 cup cocoa powder
- 1/2 cup coconut oil
- 1 tablespoon raw honey
- Goji berries
- Cacao nibs
- Bee pollen
- Coconut flakes
In a medium bowl, melt coconut oil in the microwave. Mix cocoa powder, raw honey and coconut oil into the cricket flour. Roll into small balls with your hands and dip into the toppings you’d like.
Nutrition (per serving): Calories: 140; Total Fat: 11g; Saturated Fat: 9g; Monounsaturated Fat: 1g; Cholesterol: 26mg; Sodium: 1mg; Carbohydrate: 4g; Dietary Fiber: 2g; Sugar: 2g; Protein: 9g
Though consuming cricket powder has been touted as safe for the majority of the population, those with specific food allergies should refrain from eating it. As the makers of Cricket Flours point out that crickets are arthropods, hailing from the same family as shellfish. Individuals with a shellfish allergy may experience a similar reaction when eating cricket flour.