June 18, 2018

Food Insights

The next generation of protein alternatives has legs… literally. 

That’s right -- protein from bugs is stacking up to be the next big thing in culinary circles and on a mass level as well. 

Consider this -- insect protein is regularly consumed by more than two billion people in 80 percent of the countries in the world. Africans love caterpillars, waterbugs are delicious in China, fried locusts are devoured in Thailand, grasshoppers and ants are on the menu in Mexico, but in the United States? These sometimes crunchy critters have yet to make a dent in the palates of Americans, but not for long.

Culturally, we come from a place where we’re always looking for the next new thing. And as food leaders, we’re super fascinated with what we’re going to be eating in the future. We want to offer our customers and fans dishes that are cutting edge, and clearly, insect protein is the newest frontier. In fact, we recently did a dinner series with Richard Blaise and on one of his desserts, he had roasted ants. This past March, we served up our famous Cricket Hummus recently to guests at The James Beard House in NYC  at a sold out dinner we hosted.

Think about sushi and sashimi -- when it started showing up in the US in the 1960s, no one wanted to touch it. Fish was something you fried and served with French fries on Friday night. The idea of eating, first, a fish that wasn’t white and second, fish that hadn’t been cooked was the stuff of repulsion. Slowly, it started gaining an audience on both the East and West coasts with the California roll being the entry-level dish. Today, there is a sushi bar in practically every strip mall across the country and sushi is even sold in mainstream grocery stores. 

The “California roll” of the insect world may just be cricket powder made from crickets that are ground whole. The texture is like any kind of flour and the taste is rich -- a little nutty, with a hint of earthy umami flavor and raw cocoa. It’s packed with power -- one-quarter cup of the flour contains 20 grams of protein at just 150 calories.

We recently made an appearance on the Today Show and shared our recipe for Roasted Cricket Hummus. Hoda KotbSavannah Guthrie , Al Roker and Carson Daly were happily snacking on the hummus before we told them it contained crickets. Non-plussed, they continued with their snacking even after they knew it was insect-charged.  

Home cooks can easily add cricket powder to their creations, especially baked goods. It’s perfect for banana bread, chocolate muffins, zucchini bread, pancakes or chocolate cake for that matter. It’s very easy to slip into recipes. No one will know and you’ll feel better for adding protein to your cakes. 

Cricket powder is also starting to show up in products in the U.S., specifically in Exo protein bars and Aketta Paleo granola and protein bites. Aketta actually sells not only cricket powder, but organically farmed whole crickets in the following flavors: Texas BBQ, sea salt & vinegar, sour cream & onion and spicy hot.

The science behind consuming insect protein will leave you feeling better. 

Insect farming is sustainable and in the United States, a completely organic process. The world is looking at dwindling water supplies and insect cultivation can help with water conservation, especially when you consider it takes one gallon of water to make the same amount of cricket protein as it would take 2,000 gallons of water to make the same amount of beef protein. 

And when it comes to greenhouse gasses, crickets produce a mere one percent of what cows produce.

We’ve seen a rise in the demand for beef with the growing middle classes in places like China. Growing demand means that price could increase dramatically, making foods like steak and hamburgers luxury items. 

We know we’re onto something when both Cargill and Tyson Foods are exploring these alternative proteins. According to Reuters, insect protein is being introduced as alternative feed for livestock as a "long term strategy".

We first encountered crickets as food over 20 years ago on the streets of Bogota in Columbia. There, crickets were fried, salted and sold in sandwich bags as street food. Eating them was a very foreign experience -- when you bit into them, the front was crunchy and salty and back part was a little more rich and chewy. But they were delicious and we could see these on any bar as a great cocktail snack. 

We think it’s a new frontier for Americans and yes, it’s a little provocative, but we definitely want to spread the word -- chirp about the cricket, if you will (cringe).