There is a food trend starting in the United States, particularly in California, according to University of Connecticut dining services executive director Dennis Pierce, who discovered the fad at a recent food show. The trend is roasted crickets, and they’re currently being served as a taco topping at the university’s Food For Thought food truck.
The crickets are sold for 99 cents, served whole in a small plastic container. Dining services area assistant manager John Smith said he estimates a mere two to three containers of crickets are sold per day at the truck.
“Some people do get them as a topping, some get them for the protein, some for the ‘wow factor’ of having these things,” Smith said. “I think people are just surprised we have them.”
The new topping has been advertised on the outside of the truck, on Dining Services’ website, in the Daily Digest and on the television monitors in the dining halls. The ads market the crickets as “organic, GMO free and earth friendly.”
Launched in 2013, Next Millennium Farms is the insect farm that sources UConn’s crickets. The farm is very careful during the process of roasting the crickets, removing dead and unhealthy crickets before the live insects are euthanized with carbon dioxide, and then cooked. The farm houses an estimated 30 million crickets at any given time, according to theverge.com.
Entomophagy, the human consumption of bugs, has become increasingly popular in the past few years as the world’s food needs predict a wild increase. By 2050, beef is expected to become a luxury because of rising production costs. Insect farms all over the world are raising crickets specifically for human consumption, supplying the insects to restaurants and other dining facilities. There are over 1,000 bug species that are safe for humans to eat, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Crickets provide an excellent source of protein, are low in fat, and high in B vitamins and minerals, such as iron and zinc. The insects are abundant and very easy to raise in comparison to livestock and also produce less waste. According to the Wall Street Journal, many say that roasted crickets have a nutty flavor.
When dining services assistant director of retail operations Charles Couture first learned of the possibility of bringing roasted crickets to UConn, he was eager to see how they would be received.
“I’ll try anything,” Couture said. “I was curious, and it was a really interesting idea. I honestly thought people (at UConn) would try them.”
Couture and Smith offered a small free-sampling event at the truck, asking the few customers getting lunch at Food For Thought this past Wednesday if they wanted to try the crickets. Ned Eskew, a civil engineering graduate student and the majority refused to even consider it.
When asked why he wouldn’t try them, Eskew said, “Just, no – because they’re crickets.”
Some of Food For Thought’s customers were receptive to the idea of trying the roasted crickets.
Paula Wilmot, assistant director of the Honors Program and Learning Communities, was eager and took well to the topping.
“It reminds me of a veggie puff,” Wilmot said. “I will definitely tell my colleagues about this.”
George Pidvysotski, a fifth-semester political science major, said he never ate a cricket before; but he was willing to try it.
“They’re like seeds,” Pidvysotski said. “This is the first time I’ve tried a bug. I would eat this.”
Some experts argue that eating bugs is no different from the other animals and animal products humans consume. A 2014 study found that only one-fifth of meat eaters claimed to be okay with adding insects to their diets, with men over two times more likely than women to try them, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
Since the Western culture has put insects in a squeamish, creepy-crawly category, it’s no wonder that the visual aspect of edible insects is something that will take time to get over.
But it’s not that unusual, as humans have no problem consuming honey, which is essentially bee regurgitation. In addition, red food coloring and shellac – a sugar glaze – is made of crushed bugs and insect excretions. Once humans can get past visual judgments, the idea will be more widely accepted, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
“We are leading the protein revolution with a new, environmentally sound method of food productive. From cricket flour to insect protein, the revolution is coming!” Next Millennium Farms said on their website.