by Farah Merani
Recently, I was at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto and in their gift shop, right next to the cash register, was a stack of attractively packaged protein bars. At first glance, it seemed an odd item to have at a museum gift shop, but as I read the packaging, I realized that the bars were made of cricket protein! Instinctively, I recoiled because of the gross factor and threw the item back into the bin, my nose wrinkling with disgust.
But the coconut-ginger flavor intrigued me. I’m a sucker for anything with ginger. I asked the salesperson if he’d tried them. He nodded his head and said they were actually pretty good. Curiosity getting the better of me, I bought one and braced myself for the first bite. The guy was right; it tasted pretty good.
So what’s the deal with cricket protein? Is it really the next big superfood trend? How healthy is it, really? And will North Americans palates be open to it?
While we may shirk at the idea of tossing a handful of crickets on a Caesar salad instead of bacon bits, a growing number of experts are encouraging us to reconsider our aversion to insects as food. Their arguments are rather convincing, too.
In 2013, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization released a report on the benefits of increasing the use of insects as food. Entitled “Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security,” the report addressed how insects should be included as a food source for the world’s growing population, which is expected to exceed 9 billion by 2050.
The primary reason for this is that insects are highly nutritious, a power pack of healthful stuff. Not only are they high in protein, they also provide all nine essential amino acids that the body needs to acquire from outside sources. Measured up against beef, insects can provide equal amounts of protein, ounce for ounce, and even more in some species.
According to the Utah-based company, Chapul, one of the leaders in the insect food revolution, crickets contain 15% more iron than spinach and as much B12 as salmon. Because of their exoskeletal nature, that is, an external skeletal system, insects are ingested or ground whole, organs, muscles and all. This means that you get the nutritional benefit of the entire organism without any waste.
Which leads to another pivotal part of the argument. Insects are more sustainable and have a far less negative impact on the environment, when compared to livestock. They take up less space, require less water and feeding, often being able to live off the organic waste we already create, and notably, create less greenhouse gas emissions. This is especially notable now that it’s been well publicized that the beef industry is responsible for more emissions than any other industry
There’s also the bit about insects being more likely to be hormone and GMO-free, as they are exposed to lower levels of phytoestrogens than soy, whey protein and other animal products. A student at McGill University is even developing a way to farm crickets in your own home, so you can raise and eat your own crickets.
It may take some mental preparation to get over the instinctive gag reflex, but you might just have to bite the proverbial bug and give it a try. Think of the 2 billion around the world who already have been eating insects for centuries. Or just take my word for it—add a little ginger and it’s not so bad.