Real Food Encyclopedia | Crickets
“Eat it. I dare ya!” In the modern American diet, bug eating is generally confined to the dare, the worm-bobbing dregs of the tequila bottle, the accidental (and classic joke lead-in) fly in the soup or the shockingly common (and FDA approved) presence of bug and bug parts in our processed foods. In the US, bug consumption is something to be suffered through or clearly avoided. But in other parts of the world, entomophagy, as insect eating is called, is commonplace, and many types of bugs – insects, larvae, grubs, worms – are a regular part of the diet. According to National Geographic, “some two billion people eat a wide variety of insects regularly, both cooked and raw.”
Our aversion to entomophagy is largely cultural. We eat bug-like things, such as crustaceans, but are often strongly averse to their relatives, insects. The ick factor of eating insects is relatively modern as well. Ancient civilizations considered insects in all of their stages of development to be a treat. Much like we serve lobster and shrimp, insects were skewered, roasted and served up kabob-style at the fanciest feasts. The Old Testament takes a more practical route, encouraging followers to tuck into local locusts and grasshoppers as a gift of sustenance.
Even today, bugs grace the dinner plate of many different cultures. People in many African countries continue to enjoy insects, including locusts as a reliable food source in a landscape with varying fertility. In Thailand, bugs are fried, seasoned and served from street carts with as much nonchalance as roasted peanuts at our neighborhood bars. China makes good use of silkworms for their thread and their flavor. Mexico’s chapulines (fried grasshoppers), dressed with a little chili powder and lime juice, have converted many a tourist into insect-eating believers. Not just in the deeply set ravines of traditional kitchens but also under the bright spotlight of haute cuisine, world famous chef René Redzepi puts insects front and center on his menu at the acclaimed Noma in Copenhagen.
Compared to the rest of the world, the US lags in its adoption of entomophagy – but this may be changing, and crickets are leading the way. Easy to raise and prepare, crickets may be just the bugs to change our taste buds from “yikes” to “yum.”
Fun 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 European House cricket is the most popular commercial species. 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.
Cricket Entrepreneurship and Cultivation
Could crickets be the new kale? Protein bar company Exo is betting on it. They, along with a growing number of start-up enterprises, are making crickets their business. Fast Company currently estimates the bug business as a $20 million and growing industry. Turns out, crickets are very high in protein and appealingly nutty in flavor. That, combined with the relative ease and efficiency of raising crickets for food, has a pack of determined entrepreneurs chomping at the cricket bit to get bugs booming.
At Exo, they’re blending cricket flour into snack bars with flavors like peanut butter and jelly. Each bar packs 40 crickets and 10 grams of protein. Another nascent company, Bitty Foods, is baking up tasty cookies using cricket flour — with recipe help from celebrity chef Tyler Florence. They also sell their gluten-free cricket flour blends to be used as a grain-free flour substitute in home baking. Founder Megan Miller believes that we can overcome our cultural bias and enjoy this protein rich food source if insects can be repackaged “into a more appealing form.”
Daniel Imrie-Situnayake, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Tiny Farms, is a consultant focused on scaling up production of edible crickets in the US to meet the skyrocketing demand. About 30 companies now sell bug-based food in North America, five times as many as a few years ago, according to Imrie-Situnayake.
Crickets are farmed and available all year round.
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
It is recommended that crickets 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.
Nutritional studies are difficult to control because many factors can skew the data. The age of maturity of the insect can greatly affect results, as can the method of preparation of the final dish. Just like any other food source, how you cook it affects its overall nutritional value. Baked potato, good for you. French fries and potato chips, not so much. The same holds true of insects. Roasted crickets, for example, rate differently from those that are deep-fried and salted.
All of that being said, however, the overall nutritional value of insects is pretty high. 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.”