What happened to the edible insect food revolution?

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

They’re not pests the farm intends to whack out with pesticides—these orthoptera insects are its entire business, and, on any given day, around 100 million crickets call Entomo their home—at least until they end up on dinner plates.

Entomo is one of the largest edible bug farms in North America, producing everything from cricket powder and flour to barbecue-flavoured whole roasted crickets and mealworms.

It was opened in 2014 by brothers Darren, Jarrod and Ryan Goldin. They hoped they were entering a booming market, after seeing a cricket protein bar company secure funding on “Shark Tank” and reading a 2013 report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Entomo Farms in Peterborough, founded in 2014 and owned by three brothers, is one of the largest edible bug farms in North America, producing everything from cricket powder and flour to barbecue-flavoured whole roasted crickets and mealworms.

Titled “Edible insects: Future prospects for food and feed security,” the report had lofty plans to change how the world eats.

Really, the authors meant more Humans should consider adding a new crunch to their meals: edible insects, like mealworms and crickets. Nearly a decade later, we aren’t there just yet, though interest in this food category continues to grow, albeit slowly.

The report made the case that with the earth’s growing human population, food production needed to double, and fast. But with unsustainable farming and fishing practices, climate change and looming water shortages, that ramped up production couldn’t be business as usual.

The Goldin brothers hoped to fill the need locally.

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

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

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

When that didn’t “shift the paradigm,” they started looking at the individual health benefits and partnered with universities and colleges to study the nutrition facts. That’s when the “value proposition” began to grow, Jarrod told the Star.

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

Entomo’s demand is growing year over year. Loblaws carry the farm’s products, and isolates elsewhere are slowly filling up with cricket goodies—at least in health foods sections and specialty grocery stores. Still, the Goldin brothers’ dreams of crickets becoming part of the everyday consumer’s shopping habits haven’t quite actualized yet.

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

Michael Von Massow, an associate professor at the University of Guelph’s Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics faculty who studies novel food products, said the edible insect industry’s slow growth is to be expected.

Think of quinoa, sushi, or fish curry. while some Cultures have consumed these foods for generations, their uptake with other cultures has been a slow process.

Crickets can be intimidating for 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 taste like?

“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 is small-scale success stories of businesses that work 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 meals, from guacamole to tacos, and even as garnishes on cocktails.

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

Travelers would bring edible insects around with them because they were a lightweight, reliable protein source, she said, and Indigenous peoples have been incorporating edible insects in their diets, from grubs to grasshoppers, for time immemorial.

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

“They don’t taste like meat, of course,” Fernández said. “It’s a more herbal flavor,” she said, adding you can put them in a green salsa, or fry up a tortilla and toss them on top, or even use a single grasshopper to garnish a drink.

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

“The earlier kids start eating bugs and trying different types of protein, it’s going to be better for them in the future,” she said.

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

“I hope one day we can see that.”


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