Cricket chips anyone? (Image: Six
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are the first insects in the US to be farmed for human consumption. Big Cricket
Farms, the company running the warehouse, is working with insect food
start-up Six Foods in Boston, who will make the cricket
chips (pictured right) – which they call "chirps" – and
cookies. They are among many
adventurous eaters hoping to carve out a niche for a
protein-rich, environmentally friendly food source that
could transform the modern diet.
D'Asaro and Rose Wang, who founded Six Foods, plan to get
around the yuck factor with insect-based foods
that don't look like the creepy-crawlies
they come from. Their cricket flour is about 70 per cent protein by weight – the
idea is to blend it into recipes for chips and cookies
alongside the other typical ingredients. The foods come out looking and
tasting like things people are already used to eating, only with a boost in
Foods isn't the first company to make a foray into
insect-based foods. Other start-ups like Chapul and Exo are already making
protein bars with crickets in them.
environmental benefits are hard to ignore. A United Nations report released last
year showed that farmed insects can provide dietary
protein far more efficiently than most livestock. It takes 10 kilograms of
feed to get a kilogram of beef, for example, but only 1.7 kilograms of feed is
needed to produce a kilogram of cricket. Pound for pound,
insect farming emits 1 per cent of the greenhouse gases that raising ruminants
like cows and sheep does – and it requires far less water.
is more to farming and selling edible insects than making
them less icky, however. Sonny Ramaswamy, director of the US National
Institute of Food and Agriculture, says there are "numerous challenges,
including lack of knowledge about the basic biology of many species that
potentially may serve as food".
Information about the parasites and pathogens that may affect insect farms is
also lacking. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) says it doesn't know of
any relevant legislation that covers the production of insects as human food,
which makes farming them a risky business.
This results in some legal quirks.
"You are not allowed to slaughter your animal on the farm," says Arnold Van
Huis, an entomologist at Wageningen University in the
Netherlands, and one of the authors on the UN report. "Because insects are
animals they are subject to the same legislation. You need a separate
slaughterhouse, which is totally crazy."
now, insects for human consumption in the US have been purchased from companies
that breed them to be sold as pet food. But it is hard to ensure that the
entire supply chain is safe for human consumption,
says Kevin Bachhuber, who founded Big Cricket Farms, as it
isn't subject to the same level of scrutiny as food destined for people.
This means there is a lack of transparency as to what the insects are being fed.
"Some of those places are feeding their insects gone-off
dog food, and that's obviously not OK for human consumption," he says.
That's where Big Cricket Farms comes in. "Farming insects is risky, and we
can't afford the remotest chance that our insects are
contaminated with feed that's not fit for humans," he says. "I want the USDA to
come inspect this place when we've been up and running for a few months and have
them say, 'Yeah, this is how it should be done'."
Even a whiff of a problem, like a food-borne illness
caused by eating insects, would be a disaster. "It would
tank our entire newborn industry," says Bachhuber.
Sampling some of Six Foods's cricket concoctions, one
could be convinced that they will catch on. The chips and the cookies taste
almost normal; the hint of "bugginess" – an earthy, nutty
flavour often talked about in the field of insect cuisine – is barely
in the pudding
Less-processed insect meat is a different matter. Cricket sushi, for example,
replaces the cool yielding flesh of raw fish with a
crunch that feels very out of place. The insects sit
better among the vegetables and noodles of a stir fry.
around the world are hard at work experimenting with insects to make new and
appetising foods. Nordic Food Lab – a non-profit spun out from
Danish restaurant Noma – began a project to make
insects delicious to the Western palate in May last year.
Their chefs believe that making insects tasty could spark
a wave of interest in entomophagy (see "Taste
Nurdin Topham, now head chef at Nur in Hong Kong, was involved in the work, and
noticed that the flavour of the insects changed depending on what they had been
fed. "The diets that the insects were fed made quite a significant difference to
the quality, taste and freshness, in the same way as
shellfish or prawns," he says. "There was a definite
Indeed, Tiny Farms in Austin, Texas, is already doing this. It uses a process
called gut loading – in which crickets are fed certain
flavoured or nutrient-rich foods just before they are killed – to
rear crickets that taste like honey and apples, or that
are high in vitamin C. Bachhuber says Big Cricket Farms is planning to do
the same on a bigger scale once it is fully up and running. He currently feeds
the crickets with organic chicken feed, but plans to eventually use food waste
from around Youngstown.
the coming months Bachhuber expects the 5000 insects in his first Youngstown
facility to breed, producing 1 million crickets every four weeks – enough to
produce 113 kilograms of cricket flour. When the warehouse reaches full
capacity, he expects that number to reach 700 kilograms.
Rozin, who studies the psychology of disgust at the University of Pennsylvania,
says new and unusual foods tend to make their way into popular culture from the
top down, starting with those who can afford to dine in expensive, adventurous
is one example of this trend. The idea of eating raw fish was largely foreign to
people in the US before the 1960s, but now sushi restaurants can be found almost
anywhere. "Sushi originally started with Japanese businessmen in Los Angeles. It
was just a local ethnic thing for them, but then they
would invite their American counterparts," says Rozin. "It's true of most
unusual cuisine – people who are wealthy and adventurous
do something, and then it becomes trendy."
But even if nobody ever eats crickets as anything other
than Six Foods's protein flour, they still have the potential to play an
important role in improving public health and the environment, says Rozin. "If
Pepsico starts using cricket flour as 3 per cent of Cheetos, then you've got a
article appeared in print under the headline "More legs, more flavour"
them eat crickets: Insects could be the new potato"
Please feed the animals
People turn their noses up at
insects, but many of the animals we like to eat aren't so
fussy. In fact, they are evolved
to chow down on insects.
Unlike cattle and sheep, whose stomachs efficiently convert grass into protein,
fish and chickens need the amino acids found in flesh. To help meet that demand
in farmed animals, a factory being built by Agriprotein in Cape Town, South
Africa, will turn food waste into animal feed by raising
flies en masse.
Drew, who founded the firm, and his team had to overcome some challenges to
raise flies on such a large scale. Flies don't like breezes, for example, but
they still need fresh air circulating through their pens.
is also an issue. "The reason you find a fly in your coffee cup is that they are
drawn to water, yet they drown incredibly easily," says Drew. After much trial
and error, the team alighted on the solution of floating
chunks of polystyrene on water. "You've got a perfectly dry place for them
to stand, with millions of small gaps to drink from," he says.
Agriprotein harvests the fly larvae and turns them into what it calls "Magmeal".
The Cape Town factory is predicted to produce 7 tonnes of Magmeal a day once
though it's not the main purpose, people can eat them too, Drew says. "We had
larvae pizza with the management team the other day. They taste a bit like
Nurdin Topham, head chef at the restaurant Nur in Hong
Kong, gives New Scientist some tasting notes on insects he has tried
Bee larvae Yuck factor: 4
larvae was a flavour that was reasonable for me.
It's something quite different, and has a kind of creamy, slightly
avocadoey kind of flavour, with a little bit of insect
funk. There's a slight hint of honey."
Yuck factor: 2
were one of the most delicious things I've tasted to date. The ants we tried all
tasted different. It had something to do with their formic acid content. Some of
them really did taste like lemongrass. Another one
like lime leaves. It was really quite remarkable. I
was like, 'wow, that's delicious'. But then we experimented with large ants in
Hong Kong and they were disgusting."
Cockroach Yuck factor: 10
"Cockroach was just a step too far. That I found really
Mealworms Yuck factor: 9
had a natural purity of flavour if you were to
blanch or steam them, a kind of
funky stink. It was very unfamiliar and
off-putting. If you had to eat them, the best way was
to fry them. That caramelises the proteins, giving
them a sort of caramelised oniony flavour."
Source: New Scientist URL: