From the plates of the world’s best restaurants to the shelves of your local Planet Organic, insects are the superfood du jour – the conquering of the final frontier of the natural world. Insects have come a long way in the last decade, going some way in shaking their ‘bush tucker’ image, as scientists and chefs have become positively evangelical about their culinary uses.
Of course, insects already play a covert part in our diet, giving us the honey for our toast, the cochineal in our food colouring, and – although you may not want to hear it – the bug fragments in our chocolate bars.
But one man – inspired by his travels in the Outback – has set about on a mission to popularise the lowly violinist of the lowgrass: the cricket. Ross Bell, founder and owner of Kric8, is intent on promoting the cricket’s versatility, distinct flavour, and nutritional content, selling roasted crickets in their whole form, as well as in powder and, incredibly, pasta form. “I started with witchetty grubs in Australia about 20 years ago,” Bell told us, “and then a woodlouse – which an SAS survival guide told me was in the same family as a prawn. And since then, it’s been crickets and mealworms for me.”
Bell extrudes his cricket pasta in the proper artisanal fashion through bronze dies, rolled as such because a bronze die imprints the rough texture upon pasta that allows it to bind better to sauce or oil.
This alone sets Bell’s pasta aside from a regular supermarket equivalent, whilst the protein and nutrient boost provided by the crickets tips it into true superfood territory. “The earthy taste of the banded cricket gives almost a wholemeal taste to our pasta, but the real benefit comes from the cricket’s protein content.”
What are the crickets’ credentials for protein supremacy amongst the crowded field of livestock? First and foremost, they require around eight litres of water per kilo to farm – a cow requires twenty-two thousand litres. Furthermore, by weight, a cricket is sixty-five percent protein, which double the percentage of beef. All this, and cricket farming produces eighty times less methane than cattle farming.
So are crickets the protein source of the future? “Our challenge is taking people beyond the novelty purchase, and towards the regular purchase,” according to Bell. “It’s like the way sushi was twenty years ago – it used be frowned upon, but now you can’t move in a supermarket without encountering some. We’re not there yet – it will take a few years – but that’s where we’re hoping to head.”
Crickets, and other nutritious insects, are something that the West lags behind on – Japan, Mexico, Ghana, Thailand, Australia, and Brazil have all found a way to bring insect protein into their diets. Thailand even has its own insect-only restaurant, with the opening of Insects in the Backyard in Bangkok last year.
Progress is, however, being made, with mealworm burgers finding their way onto shelves in Germany and Switzerland. “People eat with their eyes first, and that’s the problem that we’re trying to overcome,” said Bell. “I prefer mealworms over crickets, but I know they’re a no-go because they look like maggots. But if you present something as an additive, in something they’re already aware of – say, a cookie, or pasta, or a brownie – then you can open more people up to it.” That is certainly Bell’s aim, and if Kric8’s ambitions are to be realised, you may be eating cricket pasta with your puttanesca in the very near future. Just don’t think too much about where the protein is coming from.