Are cricket pancakes in your future?

Boretz_pancakesThe Secret Ingredient in these pancakes is…

I have a feeling that most Americans would shudder at the thought of eating roasted, crushed insects. We don’t want bugs in our homes at all, let alone in our pantries. Why eat insects willingly?

It might make some of us squirm, but many believe that the nutritional value and small environmental footprint of these critters make them perfect human food. Edible insects offer a lot of quality protein, and also contain high levels of certain B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids. Environmentally, insects are efficient converters of “feed” to “food,” creating up to six times more protein per unit feed than cows. They can be farmed in concrete vats, eliminating the need for grazing areas, and can even consume food waste. Basically, insects provide great nutrition with few environmental impacts.

Boretz_labelI’ve been following insect-related news since the U.N. reported that more humans should eat bugs, and it seems that many Americans are warming to the idea. An increasing number of U.S. farms and processing plants are preparing crickets for human use, and some Whole Foods stores will begin carrying Chapul insect protein bars as early as 2016. As a supporter of good nutrition and environmentally-friendly food, though, I recently decided that I couldn’t wait to try eating insects. I ordered a 3.5 ounce sample of pure cricket flour from Cricketerra on Amazon.com, and resolved to take the U.N.’s advice.

Cricket flour is a great concept because it can be substituted for small amounts of white flour in almost any recipe. It adds plenty of protein and other nutrients (see the Nutrition Facts panel from my sample bag, with 10 grams equaling about one tablespoon). Cricket flour is 70% protein by weight, where white flour is only 10% protein.  The 50 calories per tablespoon come primarily from the protein, where the 35 calories in a tablespoon of flour come primarily from carbohydrates.

Boretz_packageCricketerra, the Thai company from which I ordered my flour, recommends adding the flour to beans and rice, baked goods, and mixed dinner dishes. I enthusiastically decided to test mine in a batch of basic pancakes, but hesitated a little as I opened the bag; it was dark brown, and smelled a little like musty raisins. I’d heard that the odor disappeared in cooking, but I conservatively decided to substitute just two tablespoons of cricket flour for two tablespoons of white flour. My substitution would still add about 1 gram of protein per pancake.

After the surprising smell, the rest of my experiment was surprisingly unsurprising. The cricket flour mixed nicely, and while the batter appeared shinier and oilier than typical pancake batter, it cooked normally. By the time I had a pile of fluffy pancakes, I could hardly detect a special ingredient. I tried one plain pancake and the rest with syrup, and determined that only their darker color separated these pancakes from others.

Boretz_pancake2I would consider my first cricket flour experiment a success, and I’m proud that I used this emerging protein in my own food. But what is the future for insects as food? For now, we have a long way to go before insects and their tastes, smells, and texture become culturally acceptable. Additionally, we have some time before U.S. insect farms and processing plants become fully regulated, to the point that insects stop becoming a pricey specialty item found only in Whole Foods or online (I bought from Thailand because the U.S. producers I researched were a little pricey). With a little time, though, I think that insect flour and other products will become marketable and desirable.

If you are brave and curious about an eco-friendly protein source, I recommend finding some cricket flour and trying it out. I can’t predict the timeframe before we’re all eating insects, but I feel great about trying one easy and responsible product. Give this secret ingredient a try to test the protein of the future!

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