Energy bars made with crickets are springing up — but would you swap out your same-old granola for these newer, buggier options? (Photo Illustration: Erik Mace for Yahoo Health)
Bugs are the leanest, meanest, and most eco-friendly protein source out there, and they’re arriving in the mainstream kitchen — much sooner, even, than the early adopters of insect-laced foods could have anticipated.
It’s no secret that in many cultures around the world, bugs have been, and continue to be, a diet staple. Here in the U.S., it’s starting to become common knowledge that crickets pack a mega-protein punch (ounce by ounce, double that of beef, studies show) and have a complete amino acid profile. They’re also rich in magnesium, iron, and vitamin B12, and are perfectly balanced in terms of omega-3s and -6s.
“Eating insects can add protein, unsaturated fat and minerals, plus B vitamins and iron to your diet,” New York-based nutritionist Kerry Anne Bajaj confirms to Yahoo Health.
And so, we have entered the era of the cricket protein-based energy bar.
Pat Crowley, the founder of Chapul, is one of the pioneers in this food field. With TED talks, participation in a European Union food innovation summit, and a prestigious NEXTY award all under his belt, Crowley is getting ready for a mass distribution of his company’s cricket flour — the main ingredient in its energy bars — in retail stores across the country in June.
“The ‘yuck’ factor was two years ago,” he tells Yahoo Health. “Anyway, that only lasts the first, and maybe second, time someone tries cricket flour, and then it goes away.”
Cricket flour — which is simply made by slow-roasting the bugs and then grinding them into a fine powder — is particularly mild and blends smoothly into just about anything. “You wouldn’t even know it’s there in a blind test,” Crowley says. “The only way you’d feel it is that you’d be healthier.”
Being a complete protein, cricket flour is particularly valuable for people who don't eat meat like chicken and beef — many of whom may find it challenging to get enough protein for optimal health. But really, cricket flour is a versatile and healthy option for everyone (except, perhaps, for the stricter vegetarians and vegans), and in addition to rolling it out en masse (“we are in 500 stores now and we expect to be in 5,000 by the end of the year,” Crowley says), Crowley and his team continue to experiment in their kitchens with different recipes.
“You can use [cricket flour] as an all-purpose flour to make muffins, pancakes and cookies, but the day when you’ll go to your neighborhood grocery store and pick up pre-packaged foods like pasta made with cricket flour is right around the corner,” he says.
Figuring out new ways to mix cricket flour into food is a main area of focus right now for Kyle Connaughton, head of research and development for cricket bar company Exo.
So far, Connaughton — who formerly worked at England’s three-Michelin-starred restaurant The Fat Duck and was the former culinary director of Chipotle — has used cricket flour in pizza dough and cakes, and he’s even whipped it up into coffee-blended drinks.
“We approach things from a taste and a culinary side,” Exo’s co-CEO Greg Sewitz.
Watch as Yahoo Health editors try Exo's PB&J-flavored cricket flour bar, as well as other "alternative" snack bars, in the video below:
Some of Connaughton’s creations may still be “far out” for anyone but Exo’s staff, Sewitz says. But even though “we’re still a long ways from people eating a whole insect, the community is really growing as more people get over the cultural and psychological aversion about insects that we’ve been raised with.”
Exo has also had a great deal of success with its different flavored protein bars, the company’s approach being to “hide the insect so that it doesn’t activate that negative aversion we have,” Sewitz says. The goal is “to get people comfortable with the idea and the fact that insects don’t really taste like anything.”
But he sees the market diversifying very quickly, with more companies using cricket flour to make things like tortilla chips, pizza dough, and even veggie patties.
Even though “we’re still a long ways from people eating a whole insect, the community is really growing as more people get over the cultural and psychological aversion about insects that we’ve been raised with,” says EXO co-CEO Greg Sewitz. (Photo Illustration: Erik Mace for Yahoo Health)
Cricket bars aren’t just popping up in the U.S. — Stefan Thoroddsen, head of marketing for Rekyjavik, Iceland-based Crowbar Protein, has been amazed at how quickly Iceland has become interested in insect protein.
Thoroddsen knew his company was on to something when he visited his grandmother at her nursing home, and learned that, after watching him on a TV interview, her fellow residents could talk of nothing but “the young guys who eat insects.”
“We’re very vocal about what we do and of course, there has been some controversy, but we’ve done a ton of legwork to grow awareness of this from the health and nutrition perspective,” he says. “Not everyone is going to want to eat insect protein, but the fact that people are talking about it and the conversation has started is very important to us.”
Crowbar has nailed down the use of cricket flour in its energy bars, but Thoroddsen says the possibilities are endless. The company quickly plans to expand its use in fresh foods like breads, and processed items like frozen lasagna.
Read This Next: 5 Reasons To Eat Insects
Have a personal health story to share? We want to hear it. Tell us at YHTrueStories@yahoo.com.