Cricket Powder is the Clean Protein You Need
When it comes to eating I would call myself a “modern omnivore”. By that I mean that I’m more and more conscious of the health, environmental, and ethical implications of the food I consume, and my actions and habits are gradually following that awareness—with flexibility.
I’ve cut back on sugar, stay away from hydrogenated (shelf-stable) oils, high-fructose sauces, palm oil, and so on. And I’m quite the micro-interventionist when it comes to food waste—just ask my family or friends who I intercept on the way to the compost or garbage: “Eh eh eh, what do you think you’re doing there champ?” and will propose the fridge, someone’s dog, or myself as an alternate destination.
A fancy way of saying the practice of eating bugs!
I still choose to eat meat and other animal-source products for a variety of reasons. That said, I almost never buy red meat anymore (and never processed stuff), I won’t buy factory-farmed meats (if I can gauge properly from labels and ingredients), I buy cage-free eggs (while being well aware of the limitations of these claims), and I try to get my hands on sustainable seafood. In general, my diet is slowly and selectively becoming more plant-based. Unfortunately though, there are a lot of veggie-based foods that I can’t digest properly—anything made with legumes like chickpeas, lentils or beans for instance. Anyone who’s been around me long enough knows about that, and not just because I told them. Yikes!
So my search for sustainable, absorbable, digestively agreeable, and high-quality proteins has been persistent and far-reaching for some time.
In 2015, I found out about crickets being farmed for human consumption and I decided to try it—in powder form at first. Cricket powder, or cricket flour, is simply made of roasted crickets that have been finely milled.
Early days with cricket protein
My research lead me to Entomo Farms in Norwood, Ontario, now the largest human-grade insect farm in North America, and one of the largest in the world.
Entomo Farms was started by three brothers, Darren, Ryan, and Jarrod Goldin, who moved to Ontario from South Africa in the 1980s. They had initially started farming crickets as reptile feeders and were inspired by a landmark 2013 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) called Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Global Food Security that touted insects as one of the solutions to sustainably and nutritiously feeding a fast-growing global population.
One morning I made a smoothie using some cricket powder and posted it on Facebook, explaining the nutritional and environmental benefits: pound for pound, it has over twice the protein of beef or chicken—a complete protein with all nine essential amino acids (like meat)— it contains more vitamin B12 than seafood, lots of iron and other minerals, and even a beneficial prebiotic fibre called chitin (pronounced k-eye-tin), which makes up the exoskeleton of insects and crustaceans (note: they’re related and you may be allergic to crickets if you’re allergic to crustaceans).
The response I got spanned the spectrum of emotions. It was fascinating. The net result was that I had received over a dozen requests from friends and their friends: “How can I get some cricket powder?”
Fast cricket facts:
Why crickets? Why not!
1 ounce equals one third of your daily protein requirements and half your amino acids
Crickets are zero waste.
They require 12 times less feed and thousands of times less water for the same amount of protein compared to beef.
Crickets produce 100 times less CO2-equivalent greenhouse gases than meat animals pound for pound
Frass (cricket poop) is a great fertilizer.
The neighborhood cricket dealer
The appetite for cricket powder among my peers grew quickly, to the point that I wrote to Entomo requesting bulk, wholesale quantities. Before I knew it, I had become a kind of cricket powder dealer, literally biking around town handing over little bags of this stuff to my friends coming down in suits from Montreal towers.
“So you have the stuff?”
“Oh, you know I have the stuff!”
...definitely drawing glances from a passerby here and there.
And then I started baking. And I’m not even a baking kind of guy, but the idea of baking a loaf of something with more protein and B12 than meat gave it the charm it was missing for me.
I brought chocolate chip cricket cookies (dairy free, gluten free, low-sugar and other eye-rolling qualifiers) to a family Christmas party that year and they became the object of much fascination. And guess what? They were eaten up so fast that it got me thinking - why not take this to the next level?
Taking crickets to the next level
Not long after I took the entrepreneurial plunge and started my own brand so I could share cricket-based food products with the world, in snackable form! As a purveyor of edible cricket-based products, we get asked a lot of questions. Here are some of the most common:
Is there a cricket joke you haven’t been told?
Probably not. If you have one, you win a medal!
How many people in the world eat insects?
According to the FAO report, at least 2 billion people consume insects as part of their traditional diets, mostly in tropical countries, particularly in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Basically, most non-Western countries.
How are crickets farmed?
If we take the example of Entomo Farms, we’re talking about three barns totalling 60,000 square feet (soon expanding to five barns) and a processing facility. At any time there are over 100 million crickets at the farm, ranging in stages of maturity, from egg to mature adult ready for harvest. Entomo developed an innovative system called “cricket condos” that allows the crickets to be free-range within the barn while having access to the kind of dark, confined, protected space they love. Unlike mammals, crickets are a swarming species and thrive when they can burrow tightly together by the hundreds. At all times, they also have access to water and feed (made with plant-based ingredients) and are regularly going in and out of the condos until it’s harvesting time, near the end of their natural life cycle (around 6-7 weeks).
Aspire Group, in Austin, Texas, is developing other methods and implementing automation to decrease the cost per unit of output. Finland-based EntoCube has designed a modular cricket farm using shipping containers for a more decentralized model. And there are a bunch of other examples of amazing projects. It’s an exciting time.
What are the health benefits of insects?
- Insects are healthy, nutrient-dense alternatives to common staples such as beef, pork, chicken, and seafood.
- Many insects are high in protein, essential fats, vitamin B12, calcium, iron, zinc and potassium. Cricket powder is around 60 percent protein by weight; a quick Google search will tell you that beef jerky would be around 33 percent, and cooked eggs around 13 percent, to provide some comparisons.
- Like in meat, the protein in crickets is complete, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids required by the human body. For a 155 pound adult, 1 ounce (28 grams) of cricket powder provides around half of the essential amino acid daily requirement, and just over one third of daily required protein.
- Chitin, found in the cricket’s exoskeleton, has been shown to promote beneficial probiotic bacteria in the gut and reduce systemic inflammation.
What are the environmental, economic, and social benefits of eating insects?
- Likely because they are cold-blooded and don’t require calories to maintain body temperature, insects convert feed into protein much more efficiently than mammals. All in all, they’re responsible for twelve times less feed use and thousands of times less water use compared to beef, for the same amount of protein output.
- Insects promoted as edible, such as crickets, produce no methane. Crickets emit one hundred times less carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gases compared to pigs and cattle per kilogram of mass gain.
- Ammonia emissions are far lower with insect rearing than with traditional rearing (of pigs for example).
- Insect farms can be vertical, urban, retrofitted, and don’t require land-clearing.
- Crickets are used in their entirety with zero waste.
- Cricket poop, frass, is a very clean dry organic powder that makes an incredible plant fertilizer. It’s approved for certified organic agriculture programs, it’s environmentally safe for use near ponds and waterways, and safe for people and pets. It also presents no risk of over- or under-fertilizing.
- Local subsistence-level insect rearing and harvesting can be a low-capital investment, low-tech option for all levels of society.
- Insect rearing can also be high-tech and scalable given larger investment.
What do roasted crickets taste like?
No, they don’t taste like chicken! Roasted crickets, whether whole or in powder, have a slightly nutty, earthy taste. They’re quite neutral so combine well with almost anything—cookies, smoothies, muffins, or soups. Kids especially seem to be really interested in whole, roasted, flavoured crickets: they make a tasty, high-protein, crunchy snack.
Can cricket powder be used as regular flour?
Despite cricket powder sometimes being referred to as cricket flour, it should be used as a fortifier, not as a regular flour. We recommend replacing around one quarter of the regular flour in a recipe with cricket powder to provide a big nutrient boost.
Why not give crickets a try? Even if you’re just looking to eat meat less often, cricket flour can be a great introduction to greener, cleaner, meat alternatives. Plus cricket chocolate chip cookies are delicious!