Would you eat a cricket cookie? How about mealworm fried rice?
Insects are crawling their way into Minnesota's sustainable food scene as an inexpensive source of protein.
The idea of eating insects really bugs some people. Others, not so much.
Todd Renard, a 36-year-old marketing manager for Solar Connection Inc. in Rochester, started eating insects in 2014. He became interested in "entomophagy," the scientific term for consuming insects, while completing a graduate degree in sustainability.
“I love meat, but unless we start changing our levels of meat consumption, the potential that our grandchildren won’t have access to cost-effective beef is more and more real,” he said. “I eat insects sometimes so we can still have beef.”
Besides being environmentally friendly, Renard said insects are high in protein, contain fiber, and have complex amino acid profiles that include healthy fats.
His insect of choice? Mealworms. He said they're good whole, oven-roasted with a little seasoning, but they also work well diced up and added to rice dishes.
“My wife definitely prefers the powdered stuff,” he said, “as we can slip it into baked goods and no one could even guess that it was there.”
Renard grows his own mealworms at his home. He describes the process as simple — much easier than raising chickens. All it takes is a bit of wheat bran, some extra carrots, and a little time for sorting them.
Americans often have a negative reaction to the suggestion of eating anything with "worm" in the title.
“The word ‘worm’ has a negative connotation,” Renard said. “That’s stuff fish eat, and we step on them on the sidewalks.” (Mealworms are actually larva of the darkling beetle.)
Cooking with crickets
If you offer guests insects for dinner in the U.S., all you might hear are crickets, but in much of the world, that isn’t the case.
The Food and Agriculture Organization, an agency of the United Nations, reports that insects are frequently eaten in Central America, South America, Asia, Africa and Australia. The FAO has registered at least 1,900 species of edible insects, and suggests that estimates around 2 billion humans eat them.
Little by little, eating insects is becoming more accepted in Minnesota.
Abe Sauer, owner of Old Abe Coffee Shop in Rochester, experimented with selling Rice Krispies bars with roasted crickets mixed in from his trike before his brick-and-mortar location opened. He called the treat “Crickispies.” He purchased crickets from a farm in California. The dish stemmed from his interest in sustainable eating, but he stopped serving the Crickispies in late 2016 as his focus moved to all plant-based fare.
“Pretty much everyone who tried it enjoyed the uniqueness,” he said.
The Minneapolis-based Harmony Cricket Farm is the newest addition to the Minnesotan entomophagy community. It joins other businesses like the St. Louis Park-based 3 Cricketeers cricket farm. Harmony Cricket Farm is located in The Good Acre, a food hub in Falcon Heights, and creates baked goods from cricket flour.
Tammy Mann, Harmony Cricket Farm founder and CEO, said her company got its name from the sounds crickets make and the harmony they offer as a sustainable food.
She first became interested in eating crickets when she prepared for a triathlon and wanted a food that could support her training.
“I was looking for optimal nutrition, clean ingredients, and something easy on my gut,” she said.
Mann said it takes about 5,000 crickets on average, depending on their size, to make a pound of flour. Using as much cricket flour as possible, she's developed several recipes, such as her “Chocolate Chirp Cookies” and a unique butterscotch cookie with flax and pumpkin seed. She said she experiments daily with new cricket flour recipes.
“I also add it to soups, chili, and scrambled eggs,” she added.
Part of what draws Mann to cricket flour is the way it stacks up nutritionally to beef. For instance, she said crickets contain 60-65% protein, while beef contains 17-40% protein. She also touted the fact that raising crickets uses 12 times less feed and 2,000 times less water than raising beef, while producing 100 times less greenhouse gasses.
Still, the idea of eating insects is tough to swallow for many.
“It’s really hard to get over a lifetime of 'gross' preconditioning,” Renard said.
But the way he sees it, it might become necessary.
“The planet is a finite thing, and there are a lot of people out there … and more coming,” he said. “We can’t all keep eating those cheeseburgers like the dollar menu actually reflects the price.”
Protein with six legs might just be the future for those of us who walk on two.