America has found its gateway bug—cricket flour. Yes, innovative food startups have figured out how to turn edible insects into a…convenience food.
Sure, eating fried locusts, beetles, ants, caterpillars and mealworms is nutritious, environmentally sustainable—and 80% of the world’s human population eats insects as part of their diet—but for many people in this country chomping on these crispy critters kind of bugs us.
Cricket flour is another story. You can bake with it or snack on ready-made energy bars, cookies and chips that contain it as an ingredient. Here’s a primer…
• You can’t really turn crickets into flour. Rather, crickets are dried, roasted and milled into a high-protein powder. It is then mixed with flour made from grains or a gluten-free ingredient such as tapioca, coconut flour or almond meal. This whole blend is then called cricket flour.
• It’s nutritious. “Cricket flour is loaded with protein, essential fatty acids and minerals including iron, calcium, potassium and zinc,” says Mary Hartley, a registered dietician in Rhode Island who has looked into edible insects. “It is also high in fiber in the form of chitin, the main component of the insects’ exoskeleton.” (Example: One-quarter cup of High Protein Baking Flour from Bitty is 130 calories and has 7 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber—much of it from the crickets, although it also contains cassava, coconut and tapioca.)
• The taste is mild, a little nutty and earthy. (Consumer Reports actually ran a taste test.)
• Home bakers can add it to, say, chocolate chip cookies, to add protein to the family diet.
• Although most people don’t notice a difference in taste with the addition of cricket flour, snack-food manufacturers mix the high-protein flour with other flavorful ingredients such as chocolate, peanut butter and other flavors.
• For baking, pure cricket flour needs to be cut with other flours. Experiment to get the texture you’re looking for—chewy, high protein…or lower-protein, tender and crumbly, such as for pastry. Companies that manufacture cricket-flour baking mixes have developed their own “all-purpose flour” blends. To add extra protein to a recipe, you just replace any amount of the regular flour called for with an equal amount of cricket flour.
• It’s green. “Cricket flour is popular with sustainability enthusiasts because it’s environmentally-friendly for the amount of nutrients it delivers,” says Hartley. “It takes about 2,500 gallons of water to produce a single pound of edible beef, but only one gallon of water to make one pound of edible cricket protein.”
A few caveats…
• Don’t make your own. Bugs in the wild may contain pollutants and pathogens. Reputable cricket farmers raise their critters in a controlled environment, and reputable manufacturers test for safety and, of course, sterilize them in the cooking process.
• Go slow. Like any new food, it might not agree with your digestion, so try a little bit at first.
• If you’re allergic to shellfish, skip the crickets. They’re related to lobsters and can cause a reaction. Really.
Ready to give it a go? You can buy the flour or the snacks at Exo, Bitty, Chirps and Chapul. Want to learn more? See Bottom Line’s article, Edible Bugs—It’s What’s For Dinner. Who knows…you might feel adventurous enough to actually make our recipe for carmelized grasshoppers. If you do, tell us what you think in the comments below!