Next time you want to add a protein punch to your meal, toss in some cricket flour. Want to add more vitamins to your dish? Try ground mealworms.
Consuming insects, called entomophagy, is not just a dare on the playground anymore, said Kelly Devine Rickert, a registered dietician and health coach for Franciscan WellCare.
“Insects can add a nutritional boost to your diet in many ways. For instance, two tablespoons of cricket powder can add an ounce of protein and iron, magnesium and some B vitamins to your plate. Mealworms also have a good amount of protein and healthy fats.”
Through her job coaching Franciscan Alliance employees to achieve their health and wellness goals, she has clients who have tried this nutrition trend. One recently traveled to Mexico, where she ate a dish called Tlayudas — a combination of mealworms, ants and crickets sautéed and served on a tortilla. Other clients have started replacing whey protein with cricket protein in their shakes.
Devine Rickert said shoppers can buy a wide variety of crickets and mealworms on the internet.
“They are already prepared and have food labels so you know exactly what the nutrition content is. In the mood for something chocolatey? Websites like edibleinsects.com can offer a wide variety of chocolate covered insects. There are also numerous cookbooks out there for the adventurous eater.”
One is “The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook,” written by David George Gordon. Gordon, and known as the Bug Chef, creates culinary masterpieces using ants, grasshoppers, centipedes, scorpions and more.
"When I wrote my book in 1998, I was kind of a weirdo for even thinking this was a good idea," he said. Now though, he sees a culture of foodies who want to try different things.
He has served his creations at black tie events and to famous people including astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and actors James Corden and Anna Faris.
“In a nutshell, 80 percent of the world’s cultures eat bugs,” Gordon said. Because we are in the 20 percent who doesn’t eat them, we are missing out.
“A lot of them have different tastes. They are rich in vitamins, minerals and proteins. The most important thing I think is the antioxidants, which you normally get from eating ocean fish like salmon.”
Raising meat such as cattle, chickens and pigs is incredibly wasteful, Gordon said. It takes almost 2,000 gallons of water to yield one pound of steak. Insects yield similar nutritional benefits but are much more environmentally friendly.
Gordon said that while some insect enthusiasts raise their own food, companies also sell insect edibles and recipe ready products.
"One thing people find a little less off-putting is cricket flour," Gordon said. "They take roasted crickets and grind them up. They make a flour you can add to regular flour to make brownies, pancakes, smoothies, etc., so you are getting nutritional benefits.”
Tom Turpin, professor of entomology at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., has studied insects for 50 years.
While he doesn’t claim to be an expert, he has done an entertaining presentation on insects as food for 45 years.
“Relative to insects as a food item for animals in nature, they are high in protein (equal to or higher than protein items humans consume), high in fiber, and have some vitamin content.”
He says we can consume insects safely (with the possible exception of an allergic reaction to chitin such as one might get from eating shrimp or crayfish).
“I have eaten all kinds of insects around the world. Like almost any food, they are flavored by spices used in preparation. Eaten raw they taste like the food they have consumed because chemicals in their food get incorporated into the insect body. A tomato hornworm, for example, tastes like tomato leaves.
“In general people are more likely to tolerate eating insects if the insects don’t look like insects. Insect paste or flour is more acceptable, but that is how it is with most animal protein we eat. We generally don’t see the whole animal before we consume it.”
The idea of eating insects has been gaining traction in Western societies in recent years, Turpin said. These groups typically shunned insects as a food source and as societies became more affluent, higher class people thought of insects as low class.
“In my opinion, insect consumption is not a primary solution to world food but is a niche market for human consumption that is likely to grow.”