What do you say to someone who’s just offered to bring you a free packet of powdered crickets?
This was a question I never thought I’d have to ask myself, but when the ladies from Calgary-based Gaia Protein reached out a few weeks ago to see what I thought about their product, I was immediately nervous! I’m not exactly a health buff popping protein smoothies for mad gains, so I was worried I was in the wrong demographic to be trying this product in the first place. After browsing around their website, I saw the savoury recipes they had for things like veggie chili, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to stir some into our next meal. As an added incentive, the story of these Calgarian entrepreneurs really resonated with me – Claudia, a veterinarian, and Lindsay, an aquaculturist, started Gaia with the shared goal of being “a responsible consumer in the face of modern challenges”. That’s a target I think a lot of us can get behind!
Gaia’s website has a ton of information about the benefits of eating crickets, like the fact that they’re loaded with vitamin B12 and contain zero sugar. The only downside I could really see on the package was that people with shellfish allergies may also react to crickets – good to be aware of before trying, but fortunately not a concern in our household!
I used my sample to make a big batch of enchilada sauce from scratch. My zesty recipe tasted a little richer and earthier than usual thanks to the crickets, which I sautéed with onions, peppers and spices before adding fresh tomatoes, then blending and simmering the whole mixture with some vegetable broth. Once we wrapped up some tight tortilla rolls with veggies and cheese, then doused them in sauce and baked them (with more cheese!), it was an undeniably delicious and satisfying meal. Still, knowing that I had incorporated with powdered bugs made my stomach flip flop a little while eating dinner that night. This made me curious – how could I still be squicked out despite no discernible signs that there were any insects in my food?
Coincidentally, around the same time I came across an episode of Alie Ward’s podcast, Ologies, called Entomophagy Anthropology (Humans Eating Bugs) with Dr. Julie Lesnik. It’s a long, but fascinating interview. I hope you’ll all give it a listen, but in the meantime I summed up a few of Dr. Lesnik’s points that I found most interesting:
There are more countries containing insect-eating cultures than not. You may have even tried some in your travels already – cricket tacos, anyone?
Early hominids ate termites as a primary food source. Humans evolved to use broom-like tools to stick into termite nests, causing the termites to bite and hold on before being pulled up and eaten. Multiple species of non-human primates still hunt termites using branches or long grass and leaves.
It’s really just “Western” civilization that doesn’t incorporate insects into mainstream diets. This is largely due to prehistoric climate differences – the further from the equator your ancient ancestors lived, the less likely it was that they had access to insects as an efficient protein source. Now, if you’re from a moderate-to-cool climate like Europe, Canada, the US or an urban, “westernized” area in a warmer climate, you’re less likely to have insects in your diet than people in hotter rural settings.
We aren’t born thinking it’s gross to eat bugs. Some of us were taught by adults to put those bugs down or keep them away from our mouths. Children in Western cultures have an aversion to insects instilled in them because of what they (sometimes unfairly) represent to our society – disease, famine, stings, allergies and dirty environments.
Different insects have different flavour profiles. We season whatever protein we’re cooking with anyways, so why not leverage the flavours of different insects in our recipes as well? Aly Moore of Bugible’s favourite is scorpions, which taste like “really good beef jerky” with a slightly fishy taste. Crickets, one of the most popularly consumed insects, are often compared to popcorn or nuts. They usually take on the taste of what they were cooked in, making them a good protein enhancement for a flavourful meal (like enchiladas!)
Food trends change rapidly under the right circumstances. Lobster (an insect-like invertebrate!) is a great example – it used to be exclusively eaten by impoverished and imprisoned people, but caught on as a trend and became a gourmet phenomenon. Within the past generation, North American sushi has gone from being considered exotic and off-putting to what is now a sought-after treat so common you can find it in most grocery stores. Dr. Leskin thinks that if bugs can be made to be a more delicious option (cough – enchilada sauce!) then they too could shift the way we eat.
Insects themselves won’t make you sick, especially if they were produced for human consumption by a regulated producer like the crickets sourced by Gaia Protein. Interestingly, many diseases in the human food chain come from the vast amounts of contaminated animal waste produced by commercial livestock operations.
Insects are the electric car of the protein world. Crickets, for example, don’t emit methane gas – a “crappy” byproduct of our massive traditional livestock industries. According to the makers of Chirps Chips (an American cricket-flour based snack), producing 1 lb of each of the following protein sources demonstrates an astounding scale of water usage:
beef – 2,000 gallons
whey – 1,000 gallons
lentils – 700 gallons
eggs – 375 gallons
soy – 216 gallons
crickets – 1 gallon
I’m not an entomologist, a dietician, or anyone with the authority and scientific education to tell you what to do. Instead, I trust experts like Claudia and Lindsay of Gaia Protein and all the fancy scientists whose works I’ve been reading online. The study of modern entomophagy (bug eating!) is still an up and coming field, but there is already a great deal of information available about incorporating insects into a healthy diet.
After all my research, I attended the Gaia launch party this weekend and tried some of their own recipes incorporating the powder – we absolutely loved their hummus, smoothies and sweet, satisfying protein bites. This was enough to convince me to buy another portion to incorporate into our next veggie-heavy dish! Whether you jump in head first with their 454g bag for $39 or prefer to dip your toes in with the mini pouch for $8, I highly recommend giving this cool local company a try!
If you’re intrigued by crickets but still “antsy” about trying it for yourself (sorry), there are a lot of cool people putting out tons of information about it online. In addition to the Ologies interview with Dr. Julie Leskin, I got a lot of great information from Aly Moore of Bugible and from David George Gordon, aka the Bug Chef.
Please let me know if you end up giving the cricket powder a try. I’m so curious to hear what other recipes work well with this fascinating ingredient!