Are You Ready For Protein Bars Made From Crickets?

They’re good for you and the environment, but are they good enough to eat?

Exo bars
There are 40 ground-up crickets in every bar. Photo courtesy of Exo

Nothing like chomping on crickets to give yourself a daily protein boost.

Or so say Greg Sewitz and Gabi Lewis, two young entrepreneurs who next month plan to begin selling energy bars containing ground-up chirping insects. They point out that crickets are loaded with protein, way more than an equal amount of chicken or cow, and that they provide more iron than beef does and almost as much calcium as milk. Plus, as food products go, they're far easier on the environment than cows, producing one-eightieth the amount of methane and requiring much less food and water.

Yes, that's all very sensible. But we are talking about insect parts.

Sewitz and Lewis certainly understand that for most Americans chowing on bugs is way up on the "ewww" scale. But they say that crickets don't actually taste like much when they're ground to the consistency of flour. Since tastelessness generally is not a good quality for food either, they have flavored up their bars in three versions--peanut butter and jelly, cacao nut and cashew ginger spice. 

To be clear, these protein snacks, called Exo bars, are not little bricks of flavored cricket flour. There are 40 crickets in each bar, but they make up only 6 percent of its mass. The bars also include raw almonds, dates, honey, coconut and cacao.

Gregory Ferenstein, after a tasting for TechCrunch, described the Exo as having “the taste and texture of a mildly sweet protein bar” adding “No, you can’t taste the crickets.” Silvia Killingsworth, writing in The New Yorker, likewise found “no discernable cricket element” when she chewed on one.

Eat like an Aztec

The truth is Sewitz and Lewis weren’t the first to come up with the idea of putting crickets in protein bars. A little more than a year ago, Patrick Crowley, a Utah hydrologist who saw the environmental and nutritional benefits of using cricket flour in food, began selling Chapul bars—"chapul" is Aztec for crickets—in health food and sporting goods stores.

Crowley points out that his creation is not such a novel idea—the Aztecs, he says, made a dense protein bread out of cricket flour 500 years ago. His inspiration came from a TED talk a few years ago by Dutch scientist Marcel Dicke, who has become an evangelist for making insects a food staple in Europe and North America.

Like the Exo team, Crowley knows that bug food is not exactly going to sell like, well, hot cakes, but he figured that cricket flour would be a smarter way to ease Americans into the idea of insect dining than say, fried beetles. He thinks cricket protein bars could be to bugs what California rolls were to sushi—a palatable starter meal.

That said, he is not shy about promoting the Chapul bar’s essential ingredient. There’s a cricket on the wrapper, along with the tag line, “The Original Cricket Bar.”

Happy meals?

Here’s other news from the food front:

·     After two hours, even celery looked hot:  Exercise may actually make your brain feel better about healthy food—at least that’s what a team of researchers at the University of Birmingham in the U.K. found. They say that after young men jogged for an hour on a treadmill, the reward centers of their brains were more active when they were shown photos of low-fat food than when they looked at pictures of fast food. 

·      The last thing I remember was a giant pizza: Cramming for exams is usually not a good idea; eating junk food while you’re cramming may be even worse. According to a recent study at the University of New South Wales in Australia, eating a particularly unhealthy diet for even just a week may be enough to impair your memory. Scientists discovered that rats fed a diet of cakes, cookies and fat for a week suffered memory impairment, particularly when it came to retaining new information.

·      Nothing like Monster Thickburgers by candlelight: Even in a fast food restaurant, encouraging people to eat more slowly can cause them to consume less food. As part of their research, two scientists got a Hardee’s restaurant in Champaign, Illinois, to class up a separate room with indirect lighting, tablecloths and soft jazz. The result: Diners who ate in the “nice” room consumed 18 percent less food than those who had their meals in the regular part of the restaurant.

·      That smoothie went right to my head: Nestle has entered into a partnership with a biotechnology company that will allow it to obtain human brain and liver cells and then study how nutrients in food affects them. The thinking is that Nestle will use what it learns from that research to create drinks, smoothies and other products that, according to the Wall Street Journal, it “can market as having medical benefits.”

·      Have it our way: A new study published in JAMA Pediatrics says that not only do most American students have frequent exposure to fast food through their school’s meals, but that 30 percent of high school cafeterias serve food promoted with a company’s brand at least once a week. And that’s not all. Almost two-thirds of the elementary schools surveyed in the study provided fast food coupons to students.

Video bonus:  Here’s the TED talk by Marcel Dicke that helped launch the cricket protein bar business.

Video bonus bonus:  Let’s take a moment to celebrate crickets, in all their swarming glory, last fall in Oklahoma.

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