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Are crickets the next foodie trend?

 

Edible Insects

Lucy Siegle: ‘Bugs have a much smaller carbon footprint than livestock. Few produce methane, and they provide dietary protein very efficiently.’ Photograph: Alamy

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Are crickets the next foodie trend?” was written by Megan Anderle, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 15th July 2014 11.45 UTC

In one way, Big Cricket Farms is just what it sounds like, that is, a farm that raises crickets. But it’s also something that it might not sound like: a food supplier.

The Ohio-based startup, open since April, aims to bring Americans around to what two billion people worldwide already believe – that insects can be a delicious, inexpensive and environmentally friendly source of protein.

Founder Kevin Bachhuber is already working with several local businesses, including a burger joint creating an insect topping and a bakery using finely-ground crickets as flour in cookies. The farm is also supplying a Boston-based startup named Six Foods with the main ingredient for “Chirps” – baked snack chips made from cricket flour, beans and rice. Six Foods is using $70,000, which it raised on crowdfunding website Kickstarter, to produce and package sea salt, aged cheddar and hickory BBQ flavored Chirps, which it plans to deliver to US grocery stores in October.

Big Cricket Farms is one of a growing number of startups betting that insects will be the next big food trend. There’s Tiny Farms in California and World Ento (for “entomophagy,” the word for insect-eating) in Texas, and a handful of startups bringing insects to mainstream Americans by disguising them as snack foods, such as the Chirps chips from Six Foods, energy bars from Salt Lake City startup Chapul and Brooklyn-based startup Exo, and a line of cricket-flour cookies from San Francisco-based Bitty Foods.

Poised for growth

Right now, Big Cricket Farms’s facility – which spans 465 sq km (5,000 sq ft) – produces about 136kg (300lb) of crickets each month. But Bachhuber plans to scale up to 454kg (1,000lb) a month by August and 2,722kg (6,000lb) a month by October. He hopes to be producing around 11 tons (25,000lb) of crickets a month within the next year and a half.

Although it seems like a substantial expansion, Bachhuber says it’s well within reach because raising crickets is “very space efficient, and the equipment is not expensive.” Given that a single cricket produces 1,000 to 3,000 eggs in its lifetime, and that it takes only nine weeks for crickets to go from birth to harvest, Bachhuber believes he could harvest 19.5 tons (43,000lb) of crickets per month at peak production times.

Big Cricket Farms hasn’t nailed down its wholesale pricing yet, but Bachhuber states that generally a bag of dead, frozen whole crickets goes for $4 to $10, while a pound of cricket flour runs in the $30 to $35 range.

“Our single largest cost is the food for the crickets,” says Bachhuber, because Big Cricket Farm crickets feed on certified organic grains that are twice as expensive as conventionally grown feed for most of their brief lives. He hopes that as his cricket crop increases, he’ll be able to pay less by weight for this premium feed.

For their last few days, Bachhuber finishes his crickets with apples, carrots and other produce to sweeten and vary their flavors.

Eco-friendly protein

Cricket husbandry has many environmental advantages over raising other animals for food. It creates significantly less greenhouse gas and ammonia than other livestock, according to a 2010 study led by Daniel Oonincx of Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

They are also more efficient at converting feed to protein, according to a 2013 report from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, because they are cold-blooded, so they don’t need to burn calories to keep themselves warm. To produce the same amount of protein, crickets consume 12 times less feed than cattle, four times less than sheep, and half as much as pigs and broiler chickens.

This relative ease of bringing insects to market is one reason they are popular in developing countries. But Western countries have been slow to adopt this trend, with television shows like “Fear Factor” reliably triggering disgust in viewers by feeding squirming creepy crawlers live to contestants.

That said, if Chirps and Exo bars become as popular as Fritos and Clif Bars in the future, it won’t be the first time that a seemingly out-there food grew on mainstream America.

 

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