Heard about the cricket protein buzz in health and nutrition circles? Whether you’re grossed out or intrigued you’ve probably got a lot of questions about this new trend, like “is it good for me?”, and “why would anyone eat insects?”. Before I explain the pros and cons of cricket protein I’d like to point out one important point: Cricket protein and insect protein are the future. It’s just a matter of time.
Our grandchildren will look back and wonder why we fussed over consuming one of the most plentiful supplies of protein on the planet. But new things can take time to become part of the culture. Soy lattes would look disgusting to someone in the 1900s. People one day will find it amusing to learn how once upon a time we had to enter a building to make a phone call. Future inhabitants of the earth will laugh at us for our squeamishness.
Lest we get ahead of ourselves let’s define a cricket.
What is a Cricket and why would anyone want to eat one?
A cricket is like a short-legged grasshopper. A related insect is the locust of biblical fame. Locusts are like migratory grasshoppers and are related to the cricket. Male crickets make a whistling/warbling sound at night you might be familiar with. There are almost 1000 species of crickets and some are even kept as pets. Some cultures eat crickets as snacks and staples.
So now we know what it is, why would we eat one? The main reason is protein.
Why Cricket Protein?
If you’re interested in nutrition, you might know the term “complete protein”. Complete proteins are those that contain the nine essential amino acids. We call these amino acids ‘essential” because our bodies cannot create them. We must consume foods containing these nine to be healthy. In our diets today, the only true sources of complete proteins are animal meats. Vegetables, beans, and nuts eaten alone just don’t cut it. They lack the essential amino-acid profiles that our bodies use as building blocks to repair, build, and grow cells. That’s why food combing is very important for vegetarians and vegans. For example, beans paired with rice combines all nine essential amino acids in a single meal.
Animal meats, by contrast, are more nutritious from the point of view of their amino acid content. Protein from a cow, for example, is a complete protein.
Now whether you consider crickets to be animals, sentient beings, or pests is another discussion. That’s something you’ll have to make your own mind up about. Although if you listen Peta, you might agree that insects are our friends, and not for eating. The fact is that insects could be the main source of nutrition for many people in the future. And when the world’s population gets so large that we can’t supply enough protein to everyone, we will be forced to look for alternatives to the ‘traditional’ sources.
Protein Powerhouse – Nutritional Facts
Most of the world’s population eat animal meat. In the west, consumers are far from the production process that we don’t have any idea about food preparation. The people and machines that process our meat remove the parts of the animal that make us squeamish. Some cultures relish the icky parts (tongue, head, intestines) but in Australia, and the rest of the western world, we go for aesthetically pleasing cuts of meat. With crickets, the ‘meat’ part can’t be extracted. That’s an impossible job. The entire bug is processed into flour or powder. Just like sardines, we eat it all.
Crickets are roasted and ground into flour that’s immediately available to use in products. So not a whole lot of processing is needed in the production of insect flour. The other great news is that the nutrient values are high and remain high thanks to the fast processing times and minimal waste. I’m sure nobody could tell the difference between whey or pea protein-based bars and cricket protein bars. And cricket-based bars rely less on sugars for sweetness. Fruits and other natural ingredients add sweetness and flavour in most cases. Regular protein bars have entered the mainstream and many are indistinguishable from junk food apart from the higher protein content.
Oh, and cricket flour is gluten-free so feel free to add it to whatever dish you like.
Crickets are a great source of complete proteins and extraction process is less wasteful than when extracting meat protein from a cow, for example. Much of the animal used for traditional meat sources goes unused, especially in first world countries. We consume insects in their entirety when they’re used in food products. Imagine roasting and grinding an entire cow and then turning it into a powder. Sounds gross, but the bones, marrow, organs, and blood of a cow contain important vitamins & minerals such as calcium, vitamin A, and iron. It’s a pity we don’t eat more of the organs at least.
Although insects don’t have bones (they have an exoskeleton), nothing goes to waste in insect-based products, including important micronutrients.
Insect Proteins in our Foods
What if I was to tell you that you’re already eating insects on a regular basis? Here’s something that could either shock you or peak your curiosity. The FDA in the US sets out guidelines for the accepted quantity of insect particles permitted in certain foods. Almost all processed foods come from factories that inevitably contain insects, and some of these creatures end up in the mix.
- Cornmeal, for example, can have up to 1 whole insect or 25 insect fragments per 50g.
- Frozen cans of berries can have up to 4 larvae or 10 whole insects per 500 grams.
- And just to gross you out entirely, the accepted levels of rodent excrement in cornmeal is 1 excreta fragment per 50g.
Does that make you think differently about consuming crickets that are hygienically harvested, roasted, and processed to look nothing like insects?
David and Goliath (the cow vs cricket debate)
Everyone knows that beef punches above its weight for nutrition, right? Well, let's take a look at how the meat from cows stacks up against cricket flesh in a nutrient showdown:
• Crickets have about 120 calories worth of energy per 100g. Beef has 250 calories per 100g.
• 100g of cricket powder packs 80g of carbohydrate. Beef contains 0g.
• Crickets are low in fat, 6g per 100g, while beef has 15g in every 100 g. Eating fat is not unhealthy when it’s not overdone, but this lower fat content may help people that are struggling with their weight.
• Cricket flour and beef contain similar quantities of protein per 100g, around 20-25g. This value depends on the processing of the cricket flour and the type of cut of beef.
• 100 g of our flying friends will give you your dietary requirements of the very important vitamin b12. The same quantity of beef contains less than half of this amount.
Cows Everywhere are Delighted by the News
Try some cricket protein cupcakes or desserts when entertaining friends. I’d recommend attempting this with your more open-minded friends. And maybe wait until the dessert has been enjoyed and complimented before dropping the news.
Can I just harvest my own crickets and make my own protein flour?
Apart from the time required in finding or cultivating crickets, you will also have the problem of making sure they are pesticide and contaminant free. Strictly for hobbyists.
Can vegetarians eat cricket and insect powder?
It all depends on your beliefs and views on insects vs animals. Everyone has a different view on what vegetarianism stands for. Insects are creatures that live and breathe, but they don’t fall into the meat, fish, and poultry categories. Vegans can generally rule out eating this type of protein.
Still on the fence?
Why choose crickets over cows (or chickens and fish)? Because insect protein is higher in quality than animal protein. And you’ll be helping reduce the potential for livestock and poultry suffering. You’ll help reduce environmental pollution from farming & feedlots. And the economics of scale should mean that cricket protein reduces in cost to where it can compete with current protein sources.
There are few downsides and many upsides. Once we can get over the negative connotations of eating insects, the benefits to humans and our world are mind-blowing.
Where to get Cricket Protein?
Cricket protein startups seem to be trending at the moment but one of my favourites and one of the original suppliers of protein bars is Exo Protein. In fact, I was one of their first customers. Check out their yummy stuff.
Chapul offers a range of high-protein cricket bars that are low-sugar and gluten, soy, and dairy free. Can it get any better? Yeah, they're tasty. I like them.
If you just want to munch down on bugs, and have no particular preference for cricket, check out Edible Insects mixed bag of bugs. Sounds hilarious but this is really a great product.
What's your opinion of this Cricket Nutrition trend? One for the hipsters only or for future generations?