Earth’s population continues to increase – while resources like water and land to graze cattle or raise other animal proteins disappear. Entrepreneurs Gabi Lewis and Greg Sevitz founded their new company Exo with one possible solution: protein bars made from cricket flour. And, yes, that’s cricket flour, as in the super-gross chirping insects – but you’re probably already eating more bugs than you think.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Why did you decide to make these protein bars with cricket flour?
Gabi Lewis: So firstly, crickets were practical. There’s already a lot of cricket farms in the US for fishing bait and reptile feed. Also, crickets I think are more appetizing than most insects. Most people have very positive associations with crickets, unlike spiders for example, which might be higher in protein, but repulse us.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Wait, spiders are higher in protein?
Gabi Lewis: Yeah. Actually, the highest in protein is the dung beetle I think. But there was no chance we’d get people to eat dung beetles.
Brendan Francis Newnam: I’m really curious about cricket farms. Like, where are they, and what do they look like?
Greg Sevitz: We actually aren’t allowed to go to the cricket farm that we get our crickets from, because a few years ago there was a disease that sort of wiped out a lot of the cricket populations in America for this one specific species of cricket, and the one we’re using is still trying to hold on. And the disease is so contagious that nobody from the outside world is allowed in basically to the actual farms.
Brendan Francis Newnam: That sounds borderline shady. How do you know that these crickets are being treated ethically?
Greg Sevitz: Well, we spend a lot of time working with the farmers to treat the practices, to make the crickets more optimal for human consumption, and we’re also exploring a bunch of other options in terms of feed from agricultural byproducts such as broccoli and orange peels. You know, giving the crickets space to roam.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Free-range crickets.
Greg Sevitz: Yeah, free-range crickets. And just really trying to make sure that the process is as sustainable as it can be to sort of back up the sustainable idea of eating crickets in the first place.
Brendan Francis Newnam: So as you were saying, cricket farmers were around because people used them for fishing, I guess, primarily? Or feeding reptiles at pet stores? Were they a little bit taken back when you guys called and you were like we want to make a cricket bar?
Gabi Lewis: They actually weren’t as surprised as I thought they might be. They’re always looking for the next big thing, so I think maybe 10 years ago cricket farms were in a bit of a downturn, and then people started getting reptiles as pets, and that was the next thing for them. So they were looking for the next thing, and a lot of them actually thought that humans might be the natural next step.
Greg Sevitz: And a really interesting, fun fact is that after the movie “Jurassic Park” everybody started getting reptiles as pets, and so that’s when the big cricket farm boom happened.
Brendan Francis Newnam: All right, so you find your crickets, and then the new twist on this for me is cricket flour, which make the whole idea seem more acceptable, the fact that it’s milled. So how did you arrive at cricket flour?
Gabi Lewis: Yeah, we basically needed a very natural vehicle to introduce people to the idea of eating insects, so we took the crickets, we freeze them, we roast them at a low temperature to remove the moisture, then we grind them into a really fine flour, which then when we combine with other natural ingredients, it basically just tastes like a delicious protein bar.
Brendan Francis Newnam: All right, so now give me the whole list of why crickets are better to eat than say chicken or other proteins.
Gabi Lewis: So they’re very high in protein, 69 percent by dry weight, so it’s a very high quality protein. So you usually judge the quality of a protein by the amino acid profile, and crickets have all the essential amino acids, unlike soy protein for example. They also are very high in iron, more iron than beef.
Brendan Francis Newnam: More iron than beef?
Gabi Lewis: Yeah, gram per gram, more iron than beef.
Brendan Francis Newnam: What are crickets eating that make them so iron-y and protein-y.
Gabi Lewis: It’s just their natural composition. I mean, they’re just eating grains, agricultural byproducts.
Brendan Francis Newnam: And don’t they also have calcium or something?
Gabi Lewis: Yeah, it’s as much calcium as milk.
Brendan Francis Newnam: So there’s gotta be a downside. What’s the downside of crickets?
Greg Sevitz: Well, there isn’t really much wrong with crickets. It’s pretty outstanding actually, I mean, because they’re so tiny they barely need any space, so you don’t have to clear any land to sort of set up huge cricket farms. They barely require any water, which is one of the biggest problems of the agricultural industry.
And, they barely need any feed. I think it takes about 12 times less feed to raise the same amount of cricket protein as it does to raise the same amount of cow protein. And crickets give off 80 times less methane than cows do.
Brendan Francis Newnam: So what do crickets taste like?
Gabi Lewis: They’re actually very neutral, mild, slightly nutty flavor. So our cricket flour tastes a little bit like popcorn. I mean, you can combine that with basically anything, and it takes on the flavor profile of whatever you’re adding it to basically.
Brendan Francis Newnam: All right, so let’s take a look at the bar. It basically looks like what you’d think an energy bar looks like. It looks like a gold bar, but it’s about half that size. And it’s chocolate colored, and it looks like there’s nuts, and some other interesting things in there.
Greg Sevitz: So yeah, in there is almonds, dates, vanilla, honey, some raw cacao, some cacao nibs, coconut, and crickets basically.
Brendan Francis Newnam: How much of this is crickets?
Gabi Lewis: There are 25 crickets in there. Around 6 or 7 percent of the bar’s weight.
Brendan Francis Newnam: All right, I won’t need to lift weight today if I eat this, I’ll all of a sudden become stronger?
Gabi Lewis: You’ll get very big and strong instantly.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Fantastic. It’s pretty good. Its moister than I thought, and I’m guessing that’s more the date than the cricket. The cricket flour is just delivering sort of nutrients. It’s not really contributing a lot to the flavor right now.
Gabi Lewis: Yeah.
Brendan Francis Newnam: This is pretty good. What do people say?
Gabi Lewis: The first reaction is generally I can’t even taste the crickets, as if they would know what they would be tasting if they did taste crickets. No, people are almost always pleasantly surprised.
Brendan Francis Newnam: All right, and then any other bugs in the future?
Greg Sevitz: Yeah, I mean technically the possibilities are endless. Like Gabi mentioned, the dung beetle, super high in protein.
Brendan Francis Newnam: I wouldn’t put cacao around the dung beetle product.
Gabi Lewis: Yeah, that’s good advice.