Crickets are jumping onto our plates with the help of Nebraskan startup Bugeater foods

By May 2, 2018

The insect-eating craze just isn’t going away and Bugeater Foods are keeping crickets in the foreground by grinding them into flour and slipping them into our foods.

Alec Wiese, Julianne Kopf and Kelly Sturek were students at the University of Nebraska Lincoln when they came up with the idea in 2014. While some were still studying, they worked with Nmotion, a startup accelerator program which helped them get off the ground.

“We were just a bunch of kids in college with an idea,” Sturek told agricultural news site The Fence Post. “NMotion made us into a business. It was a great stress test for all of us.”

NMotion was also working with BuluBox at the time, a company that delivers subscription supplement boxes, and they were able to send samples in their boxes and receive feedback, helping them modify their product and improve it for a bigger market.

So far, the company has made chocolate and coffee protein shakes, using the cricket powder as an extra protein boost, as well as the omega 3, fatty acids and other nutrients crickets provide. They’re not stopping there though. The company are trying to incorporate insects into a variety of staple products in an attempt to get crickets into the mainstream.

“Rice and pasta are huge staples but they aren’t that nutritious,” Kopf told The Fence Post. “Insects add iron, protein, zinc, magnesium. Right now we’re just using crickets but we want to move over into mealworms, as well. Each insect has its own nutritional profile so products could be tailored to fit the nutritional needs of a certain country.”

Bugeater Foods had taste trials in spring 2017, and the Omaha World-Herald reported that one could be deceived into thinking the darker colour was due to wholemeal flour, and the insects just added a slightly nutty flavour. Currently, only the protein shake is available, but it won’t be long before their new products hit the stores. The better it tastes, the more likely it is that people are going to eat it, so the company is trying to tread the fine line between nutritious and overly buggy.

Leon Higley, a UNL ecologist, told Omaha World-Herald that there was ‘not a chance’ that eating bugs would become mainstream in the US, even though we’ve probably all eaten some, as they’re almost impossible to completely eradicate from much of the food we eat.

“It isn’t much different from eating lobster or king crab,” Higley said. “It’s 100 percent a matter of perception.”

So why don’t we all do it? As Higley said, it is all related to the way we perceive certain food sources. The FAO explained in a report that two billion people eat insects as a regular part of their diet, but very few of those belong to a western society in a temperate climate. This is because insects traditionally never formed part of the European diet, which prized large herbivorous animals such as cows and sheep. They also gave us warmth, leather, wool, transport and milk, by-products that insects couldn’t provide. As agriculture grew and humans started to reject their nomadic lifestyle and settle down on farms, insects were seen as a pest as they ate crops.

Due to this, western cultures often see eating insects as repulsive and pertaining to a primitive era of nomadic life and hunter-gatherers. They were also seen as carriers of disease, for example, ticks with Lyme disease. As colonialism grew, this was also compounded by insects spreading then unknown severe illnesses such as malaria, dengue fever and Chagas disease.

In the tropics, however, where insects more often form a part of the diet, insects are often bigger, making them easier to harvest, and due to a smaller variation in climate, they are often available all year round, making them a dependable, nutritious and protein-rich food source.

Insects are so much more eco-friendly than raising herbivorous mammals. They take up infinitely less space, use less water and take much less time to raise and harvest. A cricket, for example, takes 45 days from egg to ready-to-eat. An edible bug organisation has even been created in the US, called NACIA, which was formed in 2016 and hopes to bring more buggy delights to the plates of people across the nation.

Insect agriculture is slowly gaining traction in the western world, and although in Europe it is being hampered by tight EU food regulations, the US has already seen startups using flies to create fodder for farmed animals like BetaHatch, or Griopro, which sells refined cricket powder for the consumer to add to their foodstuffs as they see fit at a whopping $39 per pound.

Although there are many who are never going to get over the ick factor of eating insects, there is definitely a niche market for those who feel that eating vertebrates is cruel and unsustainable. Insects often have more nutrition per pound than meat, and are much more eco-friendly to raise, so it seems inevitable that one day soon they will make it onto our plates for good.