You’ve probably heard it mentioned in TV documentaries and internet article, but the latest superfood, with added shock factor and persuasively called “the food of the future” is insects. Specifically crickets. Although crickets, locusts, ants and many other six-legged arthropods have been eaten in many cultures across the world (with 2.5 billion people** thought to be regularly consuming them), the thought of insect-based foods, in any incarnation, tends to send those of us in more western cultures retching and running for the hills. Considering that we have evolved to be wary of the unknown, it is understandable -that’s why crustaceans and shellfish can be off-putting, even in a society where these foods are eaten, albeit less often than conventional meats. However, the growing demand to produce protein sources that take up less water, food and energy has resulted in insect production becoming a potential solution to that problem -a solution that has been backed by the UN.
Although not technically even vegetarian, crickets may seem to be a more ethical choice, with the adult lifespan of a cricket being just a few days or weeks, and the crickets themselves being lower -or less intelligent and complex -lifeforms. Of course, that isn’t to say that as a consequence the crickets lives don’t matter, but it is something to consider.
In terms of mass production, the biggest obstacle is probably the way in which the cricket is sold. Attempting to eat a cricket that still looks as it does when it was alive can be somewhat off-putting, and so grinding the crickets up into a flour is a more palatable option as well as more versatile. Said to have a mild, nutty flavour, cricket flour can partially replace conventional flour when making recipes. More delicate recipes such as baking cakes may not turn out so well with large amounts of cricket flour being used, whereas recipes that use flour as a binder -such as my aubergine power balls -can probably take a little bit more of the cricket flour.
One of the easiest ways to use cricket flour is in making energy or proteins bars, and there are already a few brands selling them. SENS bar*, a soon-to-be-released line of cricket flour-based food, sent me their energy and protein bars to try. The energy bars are based on dates as the primary ingredient, followed by cricket flour, with fibre-rich psyllium husks reducing a blood sugar spiked. The protein bars have nearly three times as much cricket flour as the energy bars, alongside sesame seeds or peanuts and cocoa butter. I found that the protein bars were noticeably drier and less flavoursome than the energy bars -perhaps one to eat alongside a drink -but neither made me feel as though I was eating insects, which was a relief!
So far I’ve been looking at cricket flour and insect production on primarily an environmental level, but how much good does it do you? Initially, the high protein content seems great, but as it is still undergoing testing and evaluation by the food standards agency, we don’t actually know how well our bodies can synthesis it. Currently, the fungus Fustarium venenatum -more commonly known as Quorn -is the top vegetarian/non meat protein source**. Concerns regarding the consumption of insects (and other arthropods such as scorpions) includes the risk of consuming venom, foreign proteins causing allergic reactions, and allergens present in the insect feed causing allergic reactions. At the present, people with allergies to shellfish are recommended not to try insects and cricket flour until there has been further studies analysed and published.
The good thing about cricket flour is that as a pure, single ingredient product, risk of reactions are easier to monitor, and crickets do not produce venom. So as long as you feel as though you aren’t at risk of any reactions due to allergies or poor digestion, I personally don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t try cricket flour (although please do your own research of course!). At the present, insects are defined as a “novel food” and require further research and studies. So although the jury is still currently out, spending you pennies on an insect protein bar, or buying your own flour, you can get a taste of what may well be the food of the future, and help to fund research. I may not be quite ready to look a locust in the eye before eating it, or sprinkle ants over my Pad Thai as a colleague did, but there may well be a place in my pantry for cricket flour.
So where can you get your hands on insect products if you’re ready to try entomophagy? Beyond SENS bars, you can buy the flour from independent online retailers such as Cricket Flours or Amazon. If you don’t feel like doing the work yourself, there are also a few insect restaurants starting to pop up, such as the Grub Kitchen in Pembrokeshire.
* Denotes PR sample. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Thank you to SENS bar for the samples, and for causing me to finally have a look into this current topic!