The idea of ingesting a handful of chocolate-covered crickets this Halloween may sound like a scene out of a horror movie, but to most of the world edible insects are a normal addition to a healthy diet. There are over 2,000 types of edible insects, with beetles, ants, grasshoppers, crickets, cicadas, and bees ranking among some of the most popular. While insects on the menu are a relatively new concept for Westerners, 80% of the world’s population are already eating bugs.
Insects pack a protein punch beneath the crunch. Crickets contain 69% protein, while beef holds just 29%. Crickets also contain nine essential amino acids, including B12, zinc, sodium, potassium and calcium. When it comes to sustainability, insect farming outperforms animal protein. According to interestingengineering.com, “100 gallons of water creates 6 grams of beef protein, 18 grams of chicken protein and 238 grams of cricket protein.” Crickets produce 80 times less methane gas than cows and a single hectare of land could produce 150 tons of insect protein per year.
Insects are making their way into supermarkets in a variety of forms, including whole insects, insect flour, protein bars, snacks, chocolates, and protein powders. Entosense, based in Lewiston, Maine, is one of more than 30 U.S. companies growing insects as human food or animal feed. The company’s founder, Bill Broadbent, claims his business has grown every year since opening in 2015 and he’s hoping to top $2 million in sales for 2019. Chirps, a company that crafts tortilla chips from cricket flour, is one of several emerging brands looking to capitalize on America’s growing interest in insects as a protein source. Chirp’s product line includes Barbeque Cricket Chips, Chocolate Cricket Protein, Chocolate Chip Cricket Cookie Mix, and Cricket Powder.
The growing demand for alternative proteins is being fueled by population growth, decreasing food resources, and an increased push for environmental sustainability. While plant-based proteins caught fire this year across the U.S. with mainstream acceptance in stores and restaurants, it’s yet to be determined if insect-based proteins will experience similar growth. Meticulous Research’s latest publication on the edible insect market stated, “The global edible insect market will increase at a CAGR of 23% from 2018 to 2023 to reach $1.1 billion by 2023.” The study names crickets as the largest contributor in the global edible insects market due to their high nutritional value, ease of farming, and ability to be incorporated in various recipes and products.
The “yuck factor” associated with eating insects may be the biggest hurdle standing in the way of insect growers and brands looking to succeed in the U.S. market. But with increased consumer interest in sustainability and alternative proteins, it’s possible that protein harvested from six legs, not four, may become the next big trend in grocery stores across the country.