Real Food Encyclopedia | Crickets

While they may raise an eyebrow for people used to a more typical American diet, crickets and other insects are a popular food for people around the world. Insects offer a number of sustainability benefits over other sources of animal protein, making them a reliable choice in areas where resource stress makes it impractical to raise other livestock. But it isn’t just sustainability that makes crickets appealing: Whether roasted, fried or made into flour, crickets can be a delicious snack, and their popularity as a street food worldwide speaks to their versatility. From Mexico’s chapulines to the fried crickets of Thai markets, there are many ways to enjoy these delicious and edible insects.

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Quick facts about crickets:

  • Many eaters who are allergic to shellfish and nuts are sensitive to crickets. Consult a doctor before incorporating them into your diet.
  • Do not snack on backyard insects, which may be contaminated by lawn sprays or other toxic inputs that the bugs may have consumed.
  • If you’d like your crickets with a little less crunch, shake the roasted bugs in a paper bag to remove the legs.

What to look for when buying crickets

Edible crickets are harvested young and small to provide optimal flavor and a tender exoskeleton, usually at about six weeks of age. The crickets’ diet greatly influences its flavor and nutritional profile. Those that are fed a mild diet, such as grain, will have a mild, nutty flavor. Those that are fed sweeter foods such as fruit and carrot peelings will taste of that food.

You can purchase a variety of cricket products online. They are available live, frozen, roasted, and ground into flours or baked into bars, cookies, chips and more.

Sustainability of crickets

Resources and crickets

Proponents of cricket farming refer to the bugs as “micro-livestock.” They see crickets as a food source with all of the culinary and nutritional benefits of traditional meat animals but without the intensive resource outlay often involved in raising them. A 2013 report from the FAO titled “Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security” supports this position, highlighting many of the benefits of cultivating crickets and other insects for food.

Top among the factors that cricket farmers say make bugs a better bite is that they’re cold-blooded, so all of their energy goes into growth, rather than maintaining body heat. That means that crickets have a low feed-to-meat ratio. They are twice as efficient in converting feed to meat as chicken, at least four times more efficient than pigs, and 12 times more efficient than cattle. Crickets also require a fraction of the landmass, energy and water necessary to support traditional livestock and they reproduce quickly. Because crickets and other insects can consume a variety of food sources, insects can also make use of diverted food waste and other feeds that are not useable by other livestock.

Cricket seasonality

Crickets are farmed and available all year round.

Eating crickets

Storing crickets

Most crickets come frozen or roasted. Both can be kept in the freezer until ready to use to maintain quality. As it is high in protein, cricket flour, too, should be stored in the freezer to maintain freshness.

Cooking with crickets

Crickets should be cooked before eating. They are commonly first boiled, then roasted or pan-fried. Freezing crickets before boiling will put them to sleep (similar to lobsters) which ensures they won’t hop out of the pot.

Crickets can be included in any simple stir-fry or deep-fried as a snack. Roasting is also a good option for preparing crickets. Then you can top them with seasonings and eat as-is, dip them in chocolate or grind them into flour to be included in baked goods. They can be used to replace animal protein in a number of dishes from kebabs to tempura to tacos. Cricket flour can also be used I sweet preparations, like cookies or tart dough.

Cricket nutrition

Like other edible insects, crickets are a nutrient-dense food and good source of protein. According to a 2013 study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, edible insects can provide humans with satisfactory amounts of energy and protein and can meet our amino acid requirements. The study also noted that insects are “rich in several micronutrients such as copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, selenium, and zinc as well as riboflavin, pantothenic acid, biotin and in some cases folic acid.”

Top photo by netsuthep/Adobe Stock.