A New Protein Source that I am CHIRPIN' About!
Updated: Oct 23, 2017
Have you ever been camping or lived in a rural location and had a cricket in or around your sleeping space? If you have, then you know exactly how infuriating it is to be nearly asleep only to be jolted awake by the high-pitched song of a cricket. Despite their annoying inherent nature, you just might start whistling a high-pitched chirp yourself once you learn how nutritious, eco-friendly, and sustainable these little guys truly are. We have all seen a variety of freaky fun candies that encase insects intended to awaken the thrill-seeker in all of us. The idea of eating a caterpillar, spider, or scorpion only seems fitting for the worst episodes of Fear Factor.
America has done a great job at marketing insects as a strange delicacy designed only for the brave of heart. What is less known about eating insects, or “entomophagy”, is that humans have been hunting and consuming these creepy crawlers for ages.
Entomologists (insect scientists) estimate that the consumption of bugs dates to biblical times. Fast forward a bit through history and you will find the first instructions on how to enjoy this delicacy designed by the ancient Romans. In fact, it has been reported that wealthy Romans used to savor the larvae of beetles that had been raised on flour and wine as a satisfying treat. (Source)
Still not sold?
Don’t worry keep reading.
Reincorporating insect protein into our diets has become a main topic of interest not only in the health industry but also among those concerned with finding new sources of protein that are eco-friendly and sustainable. I’m sure you are still a bit skeptical, so let me share my personal favorite aspects of the incredible culinary insect industry.
Although we have certain sentiments about insects being creepy crawly pests, they are quite nutritious and are typically incredibly high in complete protein. If we look at an example of the nutritional profile of crickets vs. beef the comparison is quite compelling. Additionally, one serving of these chirpy bugger contains 4 % daily value for iron, 2% daily value for calcium, 17% daily value for vitamin B12, and 23% daily value for vitamin B2. (Source)
Hmm interesting. Given my personal background in food, I know that you can mask just about any ingredient into a recipe if you use the correct spices, textures, and presentation. Perhaps a Cobb Salad with a creamy dressing and palm grub “bacon bits” wouldn’t be half bad eh?Ok great, the nutritional profile of insect (in this case cricket) protein is pretty stellar…but how do they taste? Dave Graser, who is the adviser of insectsarefood.com, explains that different insects have a different flavor profile similar to different animal proteins. He states, “dry-toasted cricket tastes like sunflower seeds; katydid like toasted avocado; palm grub like bacon soup with a chewy, sweet finish. Weaver ant pupae have practically no flavor, while the meat of the giant water bug is, astonishingly, like a salty, fruity, flowery Jolly Rancher”. (Source)
If the nutritional value and flavor variety of insects hasn’t gotten you on board just yet, maybe the environmental and socio-economic benefits will.
The world’s current population is hovering around 7.5 billion people and is estimated to grow to 9 billion by 2050 according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
To accommodate the meat eating tendencies of our current society, the livestock industry and the livestock feed industry would theoretically need to double its production. In turn, more land and resources would have to be devoted to supporting the meat and feed industry. In a 2006 report from the Food and Agriculture Organization, it was estimated that “18% of human-caused greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions result from livestock.” Increases in the livestock and feed industry would surely raise greenhouse gas emissions and continue to disproportionately consume natural resources.
If we stick with the comparison of cows to crickets, the difference in resource consumption and the impact on GHG emission becomes pretty clear. 15400 liters of water is required to produce enough feed for 1 kg of beef according to waterfootprint.org. Insect farming consumes far fewer resources as crickets require very little water, less feed per pound, and take up far less space when compared to other livestock.
This comparison should make us question the sustainability of our current meat consumption, especially given the projected estimates for population growth by the year 2050. For reference, Americans disproportionately consume a massive ratio of all meat produced averaging around 270 lb. of meat/person/year vs the 4 lb./person/year consumed in Bangladesh. Considering the insane amount of meat that we are currently consuming, we can only shudder at the effects that doubling consumption would have on the environment.
Hence the urgency to seek out sustainable sources of protein that are nutritionally sound and environmentally conscious. Insect farming and food production offer the opportunity to provide quality protein while preserving environmental integrity, conservation, and energy-efficient food production. (Source)
There are two major benefits to culinary insect cultivation that need to be included in this equation: 1) income opportunities for under-developed countries and 2) health equality for those living in rural areas near livestock farms and factories.
Income opportunities for under-developed countries.
Depending on whether insects are gathered or farmed, the potential growth of this industry offers the opportunity for new jobs and income flow for underdeveloped countries where certain insects are known to thrive. For example, certain species of silkworms, ants, and bees that are native to Asia can be used for both food and textiles in a multipurpose production system requiring human labor at each phase. Last but certainly not least, harvesting local insects and larger scale farming require very little investment in land and technology making this venture appropriate for rural communities or under-developed countries.
It is becoming increasingly obvious that living near livestock farms or slaughter houses is incredibly deleterious for the health of surrounding communities. According to farmsanctuary.org, “waste from factory farms poses a serious risk for nearby residents. Manure and urine are generally stored in open-air pits known as lagoons. When the lagoons are full, large amounts of waste are applied to nearby land, compromising soil and water quality. Lagoons are also prone to spills, which can contaminate a community’s water.”
Polluted air and land due to waste from factory farms have been correlated with increased mental, respiratory, and neurological illness among communities near farms. Ultimately, this becomes an issue of human rights and health equality being that members of lower income communities do not have the resources to relocate and escape the polluted environments that these factory farms have created. (Source)
I hope that you have enjoyed learning a bit about an industry that I believe to be up and coming! Ultimately, we need to find a new model for supplying protein to the masses. It is up to us as consumers to be aware of our options as well as the effects our current choices have on the health of our environment. So whether it be fear, abhorrence, or unfulfilled curiosity, try something new and give a cricket flour/protein product a try!
Where to purchase safe insects for eating (Source) :
Import Food http://importfood.com/thai_insects.html
Worm Man’s Worm Farm: http://www.wormman.com/default.cfm
Western New York Herpetological Society: http://www.wnyherp.org/buy-crickets.php
Thailand Unique: https://www.thailandunique.com/store/
Bassett’s Cricket Ranch, Inc: http://www.bcrcricket.com/
Exo Protein produce cricket flour based protein bars.
Six Foods sell chirps (cricket chips) made using cricket powder.
Hopper Foods produce cricket flour based granola bars.
Chapul produce the Original Cricket Bar which contains cricket flour.
Micronutris produce crackers and biscuits using insect powder containing crickets.
Bitty Foods also sell cookies made with their cricket flour.
Cricket Powder & Flour On Amazon
All Things Bugs sell cricket powder wholesale.
Aketta by Aspire also sell cricket powder in smaller batches (1/2 pound and pound).
Cricket Flours sell cricket flour in lots of flavors.
Next Millennium Farms sell cricket flour.
Bitty Foods also sell cricket flour.