Crickets as a sustainable protein power

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

If someone set a tray of gooey, freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies in front of you, would you still eat them knowing they’re made with crickets?

Cricket flour — which is not really a flour, but a powder made of pulverized organic crickets — is growing in popularity as a sustainable way to deliver protein. It’s used in baked goods, power bars and protein shakes.

On Tuesday, students from Wayne State University’s Anthropology Department will host a cricket flour bake-off at Detroit Farm and Garden, 1759 21st in Detroit. A panel of local food experts will judge the snacks, and the public is invited to come and have a taste.

Assistant Professor Dr. Julie Lesnik has asked her students to create sweet treats using cricket flower to shed light on the importance of the cultural significance of food.

“It’s just part of our way of exploring the potential of insects as food,” she says. “We don’t identify them as food here, but it’s food all over the world for millions of people. It’s been utilized over the entirety of human evolution.”

Besides it being totally normal to eat crickets in other parts of the world, Lesnik says it’s a more sustainable and ethical way to consume protein than traditional animals such as cows, pigs and chickens.

“(Consider) the amount of land and water that it takes to cultivate the same amount of protein ... there’s an ethical side to it because we pack all our cows and chickens in tight spaces trying to maximize (product).”

“Crickets actually like dark, cramped spaces, and we can stack them vertically,” she adds.

Lesnik says while there are some small farms creating cricket flour and people can also make it in their homes, the majority of the product is made by Aspire Farms in Austin, Texas. There they have the ability to produce 7 million crickets on a weekly basis on their 13,000-square-foot farm.

So does using cricket powder mixed in with regular baking flour make food taste different? It can, says Lesnik.

“The cricket flour itself has almost a seafood-y smell to it. It’s likened to dried shrimp, like in southeast Asian cuisine, because it’s really the same thing,” she explains, adding that shrimp and crickets have exoskeletons. She warns, too, that shellfish allergies can be triggered by crickets.

Once baked or mixed into food, though, the smell can certainly be hidden. Because the crickets are made into a fine powder, don’t be afraid of crunchy little cricket legs getting stuck in your teeth or anything unsavory like that.

While humans have been eating insects for all of time, cricket powder as a protein supplement has grown in popularity in the past year. Lesnik says this is because in 2013, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations released a report about the potential of insects as food and feed.

Fast food chain Wayback Burgers announced last week the addition of a high protein cricket milkshake to its menu. It debuted Wednesday and costs $4.50 for a 22-ounce serving. The company, which has a local restaurant in Rochester Hills, is boasting that the 3.5 ounce serving of crickets in the shake has nearly 50 grams of protein.

According to Aspire Farms, the chirpy little bugs are also high in iron and calcium.

Cricket Flour Bake-Off

7-10 p.m. Tuesday

Detroit Farm and Garden

1759 21st, Detroit