Putting the "ick" in crickets

The average male’s dorm room or apartment has at least two different brands of supplemented protein powder. It serves as a meal supplement for students on the go and post-workout shakes to maximize the anabolic window. Protein is an irreplaceable part of growing muscles and vital for any college student trying to maximize his or her training. But protein powder regiments can become monotonous, and some flavors can be downright disgusting. Why not boost your supplements with an extremely nutritional and overlooked source of protein—insects?

An estimated two billion people in developing countries worldwide already depend on more than 1,900 different species of insects for food according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization. Insect cuisine has long been an important part of diets around the world. Recipes incorporating bugs into snacks, main courses and even desserts exist in many cultures. Unfortunately, insect cuisine is only a niche market in the United States despite its nutritious and sustainable advantages. 

Insect harvesting causes exceedingly less damage to the environment than other protein sources such as beef, poultry and pork. The Food and Agriculture Organization has conducted studies demonstrating that growing, harvesting, and processing insects emit only 1 percent of the same greenhouse gases cattle processing produces. Harvesting insects also requires considerably less water. Insects can be raised humanely in small spaces, don’t require antibiotics or growth hormones and pose fewer risks of spreading zoonotic diseases to humans. 

Rose Wang, cofounder of Six Foods, successfully launched a Kickstarter, earning $70,000 for the sake of founding “Chirps,” chips made out of crickets. “There is no question that insects are the most humane way to eat meat,” Wang said.  

Bugs have an incredibly small environmental footprint and pack an impressive nutritional punch. 

Crickets, for example, are high in fats that contain omega-3 fatty acids, rich in protein, and have other key vitamins such as calcium and iron, according to Michael Molloy, an immunologist formerly associated of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. A 3.5-ounce serving can contain up to 28 grams of protein and replace an afternoon protein shake.

“It’s a no-brainer to begin to incorporate insects into our diet as a protein source,” said Florence V. Dunkel, an associate professor of plant sciences at Montana State University.

Traditional sources of protein such as fish, chicken or peanuts are often monotonous. Insects are the variety health gurus and gym buffs alike crave. 

Fortunately, insect cuisine has begun to crawl into specialty health food stores, but remains unknown to the general public. Luckily, today’s young people are known for, or are at least expected, to change things up. We are the “green generation” who desire adventure. Even for those hesitant to bite into a protein bar riddled with crickets, know that the taste is not atrocious. The taste and consistency are similar to a power bar and make for an easy transition to products made with insects. 

Chapul brand cricket bars were the first energy bar made from cricket flour and reside in more than 200 health, bike and outdoor sports stores. Each bar contains the equivalent of 25 crickets. The founder, Pat Crowely, appeared on the ABC series Shark Tank and convinced Mark Cuban to help him expand the company.

“It’s a solution to a problem,” Cuban said. “We need better sources of protein, and over time I think consumer habits will change.”

Other companies to embrace the new paradigm include Exo, which makes paleo-friendly protein bars and All Things Bugs, which sells cricket flour to the expanding market.

Sustainability is the mantra of our generation, and healthy alternatives to industrialized farming are hard to come by. The insect industry thrives in places such as Southeast Asia, and it needs to exist here. It will reduce the impact from our staple protein sources by siphoning demand to insects and will help us pursue a greener future. The future is worth it. And once you get past the mental hurdle, it’s a quite tasty future.