As the planet’s population increases, feeding the world continues to be a daunting task.

Over 80% of the world already eats insects as some form of protein. The FAO estimates (PDF) that insects are part of the traditional diets of over 2 billion people worldwide. According to Bitty founder Megan Miller, it’s really only the Western world that has held out on this viable, sustainable, plentiful source of protein.

The problem? It’s the same problem many people have when they encounter foods they didn’t eat growing up: bugs seems weird and off-putting to Westerners. You may have eaten dirt and worms as a kid, but you probably don’t do it now.

So if you’re not used to chowing down on one of these little guys, this image might make you go “NAH.”

cricket

Photo: Flickr/William Cho

A growing number of startups want to change how we perceive crickets, so they’ve taken the ick factor out by drying them out and making cricket flour. It’s like getting picky kids to eat veggies: if you grind them up and hide them in other things, those kids will be getting good nutrition and won’t even know it.

Take Bitty Foods, a San Francisco-based company that’s using a cricket-based flour to make delicious cookies:

Brooklyn-based Exo is using cricket flour to make tasty snack bars, because everyone loves snack bars. Meanwhile, Six Foods is baking up chips made with cricket flour, beans, and rice.

chirps cricket combo

Photo: Six Foods

If you have a shellfish allergy, cricket-based products may cause allergic reactions because they’re also in the arthropod family; but for everyone else, they’re a potentially great source of protein.

According to Six Foods, crickets give you 31 grams of protein per 200 calories, compared with 22 grams of protein per 200 calories of beef. At the same time, you only get 8 grams of fat per 200 calories of cricket, as compared with 15 grams of fat per 200 beef calories. Sounds like a pretty good trade-off to us.

If that’s not enough to pique your interest, crickets only require two pounds of feed per one pound of digestible meat, compared with 25 pounds of feed for beef cattle. And beef cattle produce 100 times the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that farming crickets does. Everything else aside, the abundance of crickets clearly make them a more energy-efficient choice—both for us and for the planet.

Many cricket-flour-based products (including all three mentioned above) are gluten-free. Some are also dairy-free. Exo says that interpretations of the kosherness of cricket protein vary, and that it hasn’t been able to achieve kosher certification yet as a result—but if you’re a rabbi and would like to discuss it with the company, the staff is happy to talk to you. Exo adds that vegans and vegetarians might want to consider cricket protein, depending on the person’s individual reasoning behind choosing a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. 

Where do we stand? If it tastes good and is better for the environment, then it sounds like a fantastic idea to us.

[via The Salt]

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