Photo: SHERI SEGAL GLICK
Would you eat crickets? Not whole crickets (because that would be weird) but rather crickets that came in the form of protein bars, crackers and powdered smoothie mix? What if they were certified-organic Canadian-farmed crickets? Would you do it? Would the fact that it could help save the environment make the idea of eating bugs any more palatable?
As someone who has never been able to eat raw sushi or even an oyster, I’m not what one would call an “adventurous eater” (though I have been known to finish yogurt after the best-before date). However, my friend Kirsten is. So when I told her about an opportunity to try a range of cricket-as-food products, Kirsten was an unequivocal yes. Then our kids jumped on board. (I was a hard no.) Before I knew it, the cricket delicacies were on their way.
Why we should suck it up and eat Jiminy Despite the yuck factor, eating crickets makes sense. According to Crickstart, a Canadian insect-based food company (yes, you read that right), crickets offer twice the protein of beef, twice the iron of spinach, twice the calcium of milk, seven times more vitamin B12 than salmon and three times more potassium than bananas. Basically, they’re the kale of the insect world.
In addition to their nutritional benefits, crickets require 2,000 times less water and 12 times less feed and emit 80 times less methane than cattle for every gram of protein produced. Since the livestock industry alone is said to be one of the largest sources of global water pollution and responsible for at least 14 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions annually, crickets just might be the perfect snack to eat in your Tesla.
Land shrimp? One thing that I didn’t take into account is that people who are allergic to shellfish and crustaceans are very likely to be allergic to crickets. A study that compared field crickets with crustaceans found the same allergens present in both. (“Of course!” said my husband, a non-fan of seafood. “Have you ever seen a shrimp or lobster? They are giant bugs!”) This was very bad news for me, as my son and Kirsten both have severe allergies.
Shockingly, it was really easy to find more friends who wanted to partake. Everyone I asked said yes immediately without hesitation. (You might be wondering how someone as boring as me could have such adventurous friends. I’m puzzled, too.)
What cheese goes with cricket? When Cricket Day arrived, my kids (with the exception of my disappointed son) were very excited. We examined the protein bars (lemon lime, cinnamon cardamom and chili chocolate), crackers (chili and olive) and smoothie mix (mango banana raspberry). According to the packaging, the crackers contain 25 crickets per five-cracker serving, and the protein bars and smoothie mix contain a whopping 40 crickets per serving. (If you’re anything like me, you’re currently wondering about—or Googling—the size of an average cricket. The answer? Not small enough.)
Not entirely sure what to serve with cricket, I put together a kid-friendly cheese plate (chèvre, aged smoked cheddar and marble cheddar) and a fruit plate, made the smoothie according to the directions and waited for my guests to arrive. Happily, everyone was pretty eager (aside from my husband, who decided that he had to be out of the house for the entire duration of the cricket tasting). My taste testers were my friends Amy and Dave and their daughters Molly, 12, and Edelawit, 8; my friend Cathy and her daughter, Ellie, 9; and my two girls, Aviva, 6, and Gabi, 3.
The tasting I thought I had a pretty good idea about how the whole thing would play out. People would eat the crackers and bars and drink the smoothie and say things like “I can’t taste anything; it tastes like a normal bar/cracker/smoothie.” But this isn’t what happened. In fact, the only positive comment was made by Edelawit when she said that her cracker and cheese were “very yummy.” As it turned out, she just really liked the cheese.
Dave was the first to try the chili crackers. “It’s like someone took a hairdryer to my tongue and then sanded it,” he said. It was decided that the olive crackers were better than the chili crackers but were only edible under a large amount of cheese.
For the next course, I served up the protein bars, which were said to taste “very processed” and have an “earthy and unpleasant undertone.” Gabi, who loves protein bars and all things chocolate, couldn’t finish her piece but said she wanted to save it for later. In a very bold moment (don’t let anyone ever tell you that peer pressure isn’t a powerful force), I took a small bite, but I couldn’t bring myself to swallow it.
The smoothie, apparently mango banana and raspberry flavoured, smelled musty and unappetizing and, according to one taste tester, was “revolting.” The group was also not impressed by the no-doubt authentic colour of the smoothie, which looked like blended cricket.
Pass the tofu Overall, flavour was a huge issue and, because of that, it’s hard to know whether the problem lies with Crickstart’s recipes (I’ve had some pretty lousy insect-free protein bars over the years) or if dehydrated crickets just make things taste bad. I suppose the only way to truly know would be to order more cricket products, such as cricket flour, cricket chips and flavoured roasted crickets (!) from other companies and compare notes. Crickets might also be an acquired taste—I didn’t really like dark chocolate the few first times I tried it (on the other hand, even the darkest chocolate doesn’t have a thorax or an exoskeleton).
Don’t get me wrong: Cricket eating has the potential to be amazing. These insects are nutritious and sustainable and could help solve a whole slew of global environmental issues, including water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and even antibacterial resistance. That said, I think Amy summed up everyone’s feelings afterwards when she said, “We need to find another way to save the planet because this plan isn’t going to work.”