What happened to the edible insect food revolution?

Entomo Farms in Peterborough is loud, but you can still hear crickets.

These are not pests that the farm intends to eliminate with pesticides – these orthopteran insects are all its business and, every day, around 100 million crickets call Entomo their home – at least until they end up on plates.

Entomo is one of the largest edible insect farms in North America, producing everything from cricket powder and meal to roasted whole crickets and barbecue flavored mealworms.

It was opened in 2014 by brothers Darren, Jarrod and Ryan Goldin. They were hoping to enter a booming market, after seeing a cricket protein bar company get funding on « Shark Tank » and reading a 2013 report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. .

Titled “Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Food and Animal Security,” the report had ambitious plans to change the way the world eats.

Really, the authors wanted to say more humans should consider adding a new crunch to their meals: edible insects, such as mealworms and crickets. Almost a decade later, we are not there yet, although interest in this food category continues to grow, albeit slowly.

The report argued that with the growing human population of the earth, food production needed to double, and fast. But with unsustainable farming and fishing practices, climate change and impending water shortages, this increase in production could not continue business as usual.

The Goldin brothers hoped to fill the need locally.

While they knew there was a new interest in this food – and they recognized that cultures around the world have incorporated insects into meals for generations – it took some time to sway people here.

Grasshoppers don't taste like meat.  Instead, they have a more grassy flavor, said Xola restaurant owner Mali Fernández.

Their first attempt was to educate consumers on how insects are more efficient sources of protein than poultry or beef because insects require fewer resources and produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

When that didn’t « change the paradigm, » they started looking at individual health benefits and partnered with universities and colleges to study the nutritional facts. That’s when the « value proposition » started to grow, Jarrod told the Star.

Crickets contain all nine essential amino acids, have twice the protein and offer more than four times the vitamin B12 of beef, are rich in iron and calcium and are a source of dietary fibre.

The demand for Entomo is increasing year by year. Loblaws sells farm produce, and aisles elsewhere are slowly filling with cricket goodies — at least in health food sections and specialty grocery stores. Yet the Goldin brothers’ dreams of seeing crickets become part of everyday consumer shopping habits have yet to quite materialize.

Xola restaurant owner Mali Fernández said you can add crickets to a green salsa, fry a tortilla and toss them on top, or even use a single grasshopper to top a drink.

Michael Von Massow, an associate professor in the University of Guelph’s faculty of food, agricultural and resource economics who studies new food products, said slow growth is to be expected of the edible insect industry.

Think quinoa, sushi or fish curry. While some cultures have consumed these foods for generations, adopting them with other cultures has been a slow process.

Crickets can be intimidating to those unfamiliar with using them as an ingredient, Von Massow said. Can you incorporate cricket powder into breads and muffins? Can you throw whole crickets in a chili instead of beef? What do crickets do to taste As?

« We have this natural inclination to eat what we’ve always eaten, » Von Massow said. « And we’re less open to things we consider dirty or unpleasant. »

What seems to be a common trend in this movement are the small-scale success stories of companies working with edible insects, like Entomo Farms or Xola Restaurant on Queen Street East in Toronto.

Mali Fernández, the owner of Xola Restaurant, incorporates crickets into traditional Mexican dishes, from guacamole to tacos, and even as a garnish in cocktails.

For Mali Fernández, the owner of Xola, eating insects is nothing new. Mexicans have been consuming crickets, ants and grasshoppers for thousands of years before other regions learned of their environmental and health benefits.

Travelers brought edible insects with them because they were a light and reliable source of protein, she said, and indigenous peoples have incorporated edible insects into their diets, from grubs to grasshoppers, since time immemorial.

Today in Mexico you can still find vendors selling them by the bag along the roads.

« They have no taste like meat, of course,” Fernández said. « It’s more grassy in flavor, » she said, adding that you can put them in a green salsa, or fry a tortilla and toss them on top, or even use a single grasshopper to top a drink. .

At his restaurant, people are sometimes hesitant at first to try his grasshopper tacos or guacamole, but after their first bite, they often come back again and again for another taste.

« The earlier children start eating insects and trying different types of protein, the better for them in the future, » she said.

And, like the Entomo Farms brothers, she pointed out that eating insects is better for the future.

« I hope one day we can see this. »


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