Health & Fitness » Vol. 33

Are Americans ready to eat insects?

healthphotocricketbarsOn the heels of Starbucks’ announcement that it uses cochineal ~ an insect-based red dye, comes a Salt Lake City start-up promoting the idea of eating more insects. Chapul Cricket Bars are the first commercial food product in the U.S. to contain protein flour made from insects, a concept adapted from techniques used for centuries by the Aztecs and other Native Americans. The launch of the bars comes just as the notion of insects as an environmentally sustainable protein option has been gaining traction in Western Europe and Australia. Could the United States be next?

A Worcester business is joining in as one company tries to make the case that Americans are ready to eat a few bugs for the sake of the environment and their health. Living Earth in Worcester is the only company in Massachusetts to carry Cricket Bars.

Living Earth General Manager Frank Phelan said of the product, “I decided to carry the Chapul Cricket Bars for a number of reasons. It is a unique product that features an underutilized source of high-quality protein ~ insects. Other parts of the world take advantage of this ubiquitous source of protein, and we eat lobsters, shrimp and crabs, which are arthropods of the sea. Why not arthropods from land?

“Another reason is the curiosity factor in carrying such a unique product. We are always looking for unusual products that meet our ingredient standards, and Cricket Bars will at least elicit a reaction, even if someone is not willing to try it.

“The third reason is that 10 percent of the profits go to water conservation efforts in the Southwest. Water is becoming the most important commodity in the world, and a company that makes a commitment to conserving this natural resource is to be supported.”

Chapul was formed in late 2011 by a young team out of Salt Lake City. Pat Crowley came up with the idea after listening to a talk on the environmental and health benefits of eating insects.

“Eating insects makes sense on so many levels,” Crowley said, “and the major barrier is a cultural perception, so that’s where we’re focusing a lot of our efforts.”
Chapul’s cricket energy bar concept was modeled after the sushi industry’s California Roll, which in the early 1970s, was designed to introduce Americans to the idea of eating raw fish, previously unheard of in American restaurants. The California Roll was crafted in Los Angeles when Ichiro Mashita substituted avocado for raw tuna and turned the nori inside out to provide Americans with a gentle introduction to the new cuisine.

Using Mashita’s example, Chapul mills baked crickets into a protein-rich flour and then mixes small quantities of that flour into energy bars made primarily of organic dates, nuts and chocolate, all familiar and popular flavors. However, given the high protein and calcium content of their innovative cricket flour, even a small amount fortifies Chapul bars with a protein level on par with leading energy bar brands.

“Observing the psychological response to our Cricket Bars has been fascinating,” said Ruth Arevalo, culinary scientist and Chapul’s lead chef.

“I have eaten insects in Thailand and Mexico, where it is often a normal part of the diet. It’s so interesting to see the wide variety of reactions in the U.S. to what is actually a delicious and healthy food product. It’s been fun to see enthusiastic responses to the flavors we have created.”

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