How Might Insect-Based Protein Fit Your Lifestyle, Tastes?

Most Americans would rather squish a cricket than eat it, but we’re in the minority. Roasted grubs are a favorite in Australia, stir-fried dragonflies are a delicacy in Indonesia, and fried woodworms and grasshoppers can be purchased from Thai street vendors. Eating insects is a practice called entomophagy.

More than one-fourth of the world’s population eats insects. The United Nations estimates 2,100 species of insects and worms are being eaten in 113 countries.

Would you munch on meal worms or dine on dung beetles? Would you consider using cricket flour in your family’s favorite recipes? Think about the ways in which you could incorporate insects into your family’s diets. This Insect Coloring Sheet can be used with younger family members to get them thinking about how insect-based protein might fit into their lives.


Cricket Flour: Bug Nutrition without the Legs, Wings

Getting my family to jump onto the entomophagy bandwagon has not been easy. Roasted grasshoppers and fried mealworms were a little “too buggy” for first timers. Undeterred, I decided to experiment with cricket flour.

Cricket flour is made by grinding crickets into a fine, dark-colored powder. This is not a do-it-yourself process. Different cricket processors use different varieties of crickets, which can affect protein content. Crickets are killed via freezing. They’re then washed, blanched and dried before milling. The final product isn’t really flour at all – it’s 100 percent cricket, with none of the legs or wings that often turn people off. I bought my product from Portland, Ore., -based Cricket Flours.

Wondering why in the world anyone would ever eat crickets or cricket flour? For me, it boils down to nutrition. Two tablespoons of cricket flour contain 2 grams carbohydrates and 11 grams of protein. The same amount of all-purpose, enriched wheat flour contains 12 grams carbohydrates and 3 grams protein. Additionally, crickets are high in B12 and omega-3 fats.

After some research and experimenting, I’ve learned I can use cricket flour to replace some – not all – of the flour in my favorite recipes. Flour made from wheat, barley or rye contains gluten. That gluten is what makes pizza or bread dough elastic. It’s also what holds cookies or cupcakes together. Gluten-free flours use thickeners like xanthan gum to do the same sort of thing. Cricket flour does not contain gluten or any other thickener. To bake with it, you need to add another flour to it.

Based on my own culinary successes (and failures), I suggest altering your own recipes by replacing no more than one-fourth to one-third of a recipe’s total flour with cricket flour. If, for example, a recipe calls for one cup of flour, replace one-fourth to one-third of that amount with cricket flour. It should be noted that cricket flour is very dark in appearance. If you’re baking something light-colored, like sugar cookies or cinnamon bread, substitute toward the lower end of this ratio range; the cricket flour will affect the color of your finished product.

So, armed with the goal of getting my family to sample cricket-enhanced baked goods, I decided to make something I knew they couldn’t resist: chocolate cupcakes. My family had tasted these treats before and admitted the cricket flour was virtually undetectable. Made with regular flour, each of these cupcakes contains 1 gram of protein. By substituting just one-half cup of cricket flour ups that amount to 3.6 grams of protein per cupcake. No, it’s still not a “healthy” recipe. But sometimes getting folks to try things means you need to coat them in chocolate – literally.

Here’s my recipe, if you want to try for yourself:

Devil’s Food Cricket Flour Cupcakes

For cupcakes:

½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

½ cup light brown sugar, packed

1 teaspoon instant coffee

1 cup hot water

½ cup butter, softened

¾ cup granulated sugar

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ cup cricket flour

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 eggs

For frosting:

½ cup butter, softened

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder sifted

1½ cups powdered sugar sifted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 C). In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together cocoa powder, instant coffee, brown sugar and hot water. Set aside. In a separate bowl, mix all-purpose flour, cricket flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside. Using another large bowl and a stand or hand-held mixer, cream butter and sugar; add vanilla extract. Add eggs, one at a time with a cup of the flour mixture in between eggs. Mix in half the flour mixture followed by half the cocoa mixture, alternating and mixing until fully combined. Spoon batter into 12 large, lined cupcake tins. Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.

For frosting:

In a large bowl, beat melted chocolate with butter and cream cheese. Add cocoa, vanilla extract, salt and ½ cup of the powdered sugar adding another ½ cup of the sugar until smooth and desired consistency. Spread or pipe onto cupcakes. Enjoy!

Fight Hunger, Eat Bugs

October 16 is World Food Day, an occasion devoted to talking about food security. An estimated 815 million people suffered from chronic hunger in 2016, according to figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Hunger affects men and women, children and the elderly, those living in rural and urban areas in nearly every country in the world.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for ensuring that food gets to those who need it most. But a 2013 United Nations report suggests that insects may help ease this worldwide epidemic. “Insect farming is “one of the many ways to address food and feed security… Insects are everywhere, and they reproduce quickly, and they have high growth and feed conversion rates and a low environmental footprint,” says the report.

That’s right – INSECTS.

Entomophagy is the practice of eating insects. More than one-fourth of the world’s population eats insects, from beetles to meal worms to dragonflies. One important reason for this culinary trend is that insects are packed with nutrients. Crickets, for example, contain approximately 21 grams of protein per 100 grams of cricket, while ground beef contains about 26 grams per 100 grams of meat. Insects contain as much iron as beef, and are also a good source of calcium, vitamin B12, and omega 3 and 6 fatty acids.

Will munching on insects and insect-fortified food products end hunger? It’s doubtful. But if it can get us even a little closer to feeding the world’s population, why wouldn’t we try?

My First Intentional Bug-Eating Adventure

I was in a busy market in Hanoi, Vietnam, when I first munched on insects. My daughter and I were embarking on a two-week trip through the region and I had promised myself I would be open to new experiences along the way. Biting into a fried grasshopper the size of your thumb was definitely a new experience for me. The taste was not memorable but the crunch? Years later, I still remember chewing and chewing, almost as if I was eating shrimp shells.

I had previously sampled chocolate-covered ants. At first, I put this insect-eating experience in the same category: It was a novelty, the sort of thing you would try once so you could brag to your friends about it.

Before long, though, I began to gain a better understanding of insects as food. I learned there are many places in the world, where people eat insects as a regular part of their diets. I learned how nutritious insects are and how much less land they take to raise than cattle or hogs. I even learned there’s a word for the practice of eating insects: Entomophagy.

Biting into those crispy grasshoppers changed my thinking. I’m hoping my Work in Progress might also change yours.