How To Eat Fried Worms

Remember that book  “How To Eat Fried Worms” by Thomas Rockwell (1973) – the kid who accepts the bully dare and eats 15 worms over 15 days—making them taste better by adding ketchup, mustard, and other condiments to it.  Eating insects has never been a mainstream thing to do in the U.S. and it usually falls under the dare category – like the deep fried seasoned cricket I ate at the RCA conference a few years ago, or getting the worm in the tequila.

But the whole insect acceptability thing is changing! I went to a San Francisco meet up group a few weeks ago- the topic was “Alternative Proteins” and I saw that Hampton Creek was there- who has been in the food news lately because they are creating an egg alterative using pea protein and other non egg ingredients. Eggs that are not made from Eggs because real eggs contribute to cholesterol and comes from chickens that live in crowded spaces.

But Hampton Creek was not the star of this event—the real excitement was the three companies showing their cricket based food products.  Tiny Farms, EXO  and Chirp . Exo just raised $54,000 on kickstarter and have created (but not sure if yet selling) their all-natural cricket bars made from protein flour. Chirp is raising organic crickets and making products from the cricket flour. Tiny Farms wants to feed a growing world by developing a ready supply of  sustainable and nutritional edible insects.  So overall, the goal is to grow crickets, make them into flour and use the flour to create high protein and possibly paleo food products. Cricket protein also has omega-3’s, iron and calcium.

The meet up event was packed and everyone was eating cricket muffins, cricket caramels and cricket EXO bars.  I ate some of the energy bar and tried the muffin but had a hard time getting myself to eat the meal worm candy – probably because I could see the meal worms face right there, protruding from the candy- and just couldn’t do it!

Are insects vegetarian?

Are insects vegetarian?

But as a food science consultant I need to come to terms with this—its just a matter of time before the industry (or at least the bay area) will be exploding with cricket flour based food companies and they will need help developing their products. As a consultant – I have to be accepting of all kinds of foods- cricket food, marijuana infused food— as long as they follow the basic food safety guidelines that the FDA has so clearly written up in the code of federal regulations– then all is good!

I have a few concerns about working with crickets- not even sure if the FDA has or will be addressing these any time soon!

  1. Cricket manufacturing facilities need to follow the same GMP’s as other food plants – are they being inspected?
  2. Cricket skeletons may be considered an allergen –like shellfish, will the FDA have to amend their allergen listing
  3. What will the crickets be fed and how can we ensure that the feed is clean and won’t somehow have a negative effect on the people that eat the crickets? I know it sounds fine that organic crickets will be happily feeding on fruits and vegetables but where does that supply of cricket feed come from and who is going to monitor what the cricket is eating?
  4. Will the crickets be treated humanely? (this came up during the meet up discussion— don’t crowd too many crickets into one space!)
  5. Will co packers manufacture products using cricket flour—will they have special labeling for it  (allergen labeling?)

My fellow food scientists are discussing this on the IFT linked in group – so join in and read what they are saying! I am already thinking about how to get the max amount of protein from the cricket itself—right now, EXO bar only has 10 grams of protein in a 290 calorie bar- and each bar contains 25 crickets-as well as other nuts. I want to figure out a way to really shove more cricket protein in there- like lets make a shelf stable retorted protein drink with 100 calories and 21 grams of cricket protein that is heavily flavored up with chocolate, coffee and berry flavors and boosted with caffeine- the opportunities are endless!

Chirp Chirp!

About Rachel Zemser