Plant protein may be quite the buzz these days, but there’s another alternative protein showing up in burgers and balls, and some of it really does buzz. It’s bugs, namely crickets. While technically still from the animal kingdom, some vegans are welcoming of insects, as they tend to be raised much like plants, often in vertical indoor sustainable farms.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), there are more than 1,900 edible insect species on Earth, hundreds of which are already part of the diet in many countries. Eating insects, however, has been slow to catch on in the US, mainly because of the “ick” factor. That is changing as consumers are becoming more open to new foods and formats. It also helps that there is now a greater supply of food-grade edible insects.
Crickets are one the most nutritionally dense edible insects and also one of the easiest to farm. They are naturally around 65 percent protein by weight and are considered a complete protein, as they contain all the essential amino acids in the ratio that the body requires for proper function. They are loaded with vitamins and minerals and are a source of healthful fats.
Dried crickets are typically processed into flour using two different grinding machines. The first is set to a coarse grind. This is followed by a sifting out of lighter content such as legs and wings. The remaining solids are then ground into a fine flour that may be used in a manner similar to other protein powders. The powder is brown in appearance and has a slightly nutty, earthy taste.
Mealworms and grasshoppers are also gaining traction. They are raised and processed similarly into flour; however, they are lower in protein and higher in fat than crickets.
At the recent Anuga food exposition in Cologne, Germany, Switzerland’s Essento Food Ag debuted Essento Bio Insect Balls, which are a meatball-like protein. The balls come in three varieties — beetroot, spinach and turmeric — and are based on organic Swiss Tenebrio (mealworms), along with chickpeas, bulgur and onions.
Micarna, also in Switzerland, combines 30 percent mealworm larvae with quinoa to make its Pop-Bugs burgers. There’s also new Pop-Bugs Angry Nuggets made with 25 percent mealworm larvae and pea and wheat protein.
Insects are used throughout the food industry. Finland-based Entis markets chocolate-covered dried Finnish crickets in flavors such as milk chocolate, salty chocolate and licorice. SensFoods, Germany, markets Sens brand cricket protein bars in dark chocolate sour cherry, dark chocolate orange, dark chocolate sesame, peanut butter cinnamon and pineapple coconut.