Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine   

Archives

December cover image

Six-Legged Nutrition

Craving protein? Try munching on a cricket.          

By Russell Roe with Erin Kedzie

Call center supervisor Luisandra Miranda-Maisonet doesn’t like bugs. But there she was, eating her first insect at Austin’s Eighth Annual Bug Festival in June.

“As a matter of fact, I won’t even touch bugs, so this is a big first for me,” she says. “But if there’s a zombie apocalypse, I’ll be good to go because now I know I can live off some bugs.”

Advocates are working to change mindsets so that eating insects moves beyond being a one-day-a-year oddity to being a commonly accepted practice. With a flurry of activity in the past couple of years, the movement is, well, starting to have legs. And Austin is in the center of the action, with one of the nation’s first cricket farms, a couple of cricket-based snack food startups, an edible insect nonprofit organization and several local restaurants with insect offerings.

“Austin is becoming a bug-eating hub,” says Leah Jones, co-founder of Crickers Crackers, which makes and sells crackers made with cricket flour.

Advocates tout insects as a food of the future — an excellent source of protein that uses a fraction of the land, water and feed required by livestock. Producing a pound of beef can use 1,000 gallons of water and 10 pounds of feed, while producing a pound of crickets uses one gallon of water and less than two pounds of feed.

Nutritionally, insects are hard to beat: Crickets provide high amounts of protein, vitamins and calcium. They have a mild, nutty flavor, and they produce significantly fewer greenhouse gases than livestock.

What’s not to like?

Oh, yeah. That.

“The only negative thing we have going against us is the ‘ick’ factor,” says Robert Nathan Allen, director of sales at Aspire Food Group USA and founder of the edible insect advocacy group Little Herds. “If we can get people over that taboo, everything else is a check in the ‘pro’ column.”

Much of the rest of the world eats insects — more than 2 billion people already consume them in their diets. It’s just that Americans and other Westerners have a hang-up about it.

tacos

Austin restaurants have been offering dishes such as fried cricket and braised pig ear tacos (above) and cricket and tomato salad with machaca (below).

salad

Cracks are starting to appear, however, in Americans’ aversion to insects. Crackers, too. Several startups specializing in crickets have launched in the past few years, including Austin-based Crickers Crackers and Hopper Foods.

Cricket flour, one of the chief products of the edible insect movement, gives people the protein benefits of insects without the stigma of crunching a cricket. Crickers uses cricket flour to produce crackers in a variety of mouth-watering flavors such as rosemary garlic.

“Our strategy is to incorporate insects into familiar, everyday foods,” Jones says. “It’s a little easier for people to wrap their heads around eating a healthy cracker that tastes like a cracker versus just popping a roasted cricket into their mouth. That’s our approach — making entomophagy [eating insects] approachable in a very delicious, familiar way.”

Aspire Food Group USA is the first company in the U.S. to both farm and process insects for food. The business picked Austin for its cricket farm and U.S. headquarters after seeing a groundswell of interest in edible insects in the city. Aspire has been growing and processing crickets since 2014 and has seen an ever-increasing demand for its products. Allen says cricket flour makes up two-thirds of the company’s sales, while one-third comes from whole crickets.

Local chefs are getting into the game as well. Austin restaurants such as Barley Swine, Odd Duck, La Condesa, Dai Due and Salt & Time have incorporated crickets into dishes such as tacos, salads and sausage.

Many diners may think they’re not ready to take the leap into eating insects, but just wait.

“Food trends change over time,” Allen says. “If we look at historical examples like sushi or lobster, these things have gone from gross-I’ll-never-eat-that to commonplace or even luxury items.”

The rest of the Western world may be moving in that direction. The European Food Safety Authority is looking into the use of insects as food, and a landmark U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization report in 2013 urged the consumption of insects as one solution to meeting today’s nutritional challenges amid growing populations and dwindling resources.

Allen sees lots of potential for insects as food in Texas, where the population is growing, water supplies are increasingly strained and 18 percent of households are “food insecure.”

“There’s a place in our diet for beef, pork and chicken, and if we can make a place for insects as part of our diet, we can stretch our resources a lot further and feed people here in Texas who need it,” he says.

And if that zombie apocalypse ever comes, at least we know we can all live off some bugs.

» Like this story? If you enjoy reading articles like this, subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine.


Related stories

The Secret Life of Bumblebees

Photo Essay: Inside the Insectarium

 

back to top ^


Share

    Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine