As I vaguely hinted at last week in my discussion of Kickstarter-related food projects, the folks behind Exo Protein Bars sent me a few samples. These differ from other protein bars in that instead of using the ordinary "soy-based protein blend" that inhabits most bars, they use "cricket flour."
Yes, that's flour made with ground-up crickets.
There are other ingredients in there as well: Raw almonds, dates, coconut, honey, raw cacao nibs, raw cacao powder, vanilla extract, and sea salt. And while that may seem like just a whole bunch of masking agents to cloak the cricket flavor, when compared to other protein bars -- like, say, the popular PowerBar brand -- the ingredient list seems positively streamlined. In fact, as it states right there on the website, these bars are free of "unnatural sugars, gluten, grains, dairy, soy, artificial preservatives and anything processed," putting them on the rarefied upper echelon of health-conscious protein bars. But, that's getting off-topic. Let's return the focus to elephant in the room. Or, more accurately, the chirping insect underneath it.
Crickets. Why crickets?
Exo argues for their inclusion, not only in their bars specifically but also as part of our general diet, for three reasons. First and foremost, the nutrients inside of them. Cricket flour has more protein than dried beef, chicken breast, or sirloin steak, contain essential amino acids, and have "more iron than beef and almost as much calcium as milk." This is why (reason number two) nearly 80% of the world already chows down on insects as part of their normal eating regimen. It's not weird. We "Westerners" are the strange ones for not partaking in insect-eating.
(This "it's not that weird, guys" argument was a common refrain getting blogged and reblogged about during the recent cicada invasion on the East Coast. As bug-eating proponents put it, while cicadas may not look particularly appetizing, think about them like this: They've been spending the last 17 years feasting underground on delicious tree sap. That's as ideal a diet you could hope for something to subsist on.)
Their third bit of reasoning, though, is the most powerful. Crickets are highly sustainable, to the point where they might be a big part of the answer to the question we've been trying to solve for decades now: How to solve the global food crisis.
Crickets need 12x less feed than cattle, 4x less feed than sheep, and half as much feed as pigs and chickens to produce the same amount of protein. They produce 80x less methane than cattle, can reproduce much quicker, and barely require any water or space.
Plus, there's the fact that eating bugs instead of, say, beef or pork removes the pesky "moral factor" that plagues certain forward-thinking sections of the carnivorous among us. None other than Peter Singer, the famed moral philosopher known for his seminal animal rights book "Animal Liberation," has given his blessing when it comes to eating bugs. Oh yeah, and there's also the fun fact that all of us are already eating tons of bugs accidentally already.
Which is to say: Get over it, people!
If we're using Kickstarter funds as a barometer of social acceptance, a lot already have gotten over it. While the developers of the Exo bar wanted $20,000 to help start up the company, "backers" have already more than doubled that goal, with another 9 days left to go. (The company's promised that the extra funds will go towards quicker production of the bars as well as developing new recipes.) So, Westerners are showing a greater willingness to consider insect-eating as a part of their diet. As long as they don't taste, you know, too insect-ey.
Which is to ask: How do they taste?
Pretty darn good. Flavor-wise, the combination of nuts and dates, with a slight hint of honey, are the dominant taste, a welcome change from the normal taste of soy-and-more-soy that most other protein bars consist of. (No, you don't ever sense you're eating crickets.) And instead of the choking-it-down-like-a-four-year-old-eating-their-broccoli feeling I get when eating protein bars, Exo went down quite smoothly, not one of those insane jaw work-outs that most other protein bars seem to have, perhaps to subconsciously tricking you into thinking they're healthy because you've just spent so long chewing them. In other words, Exo was the best protein bar I've ever eaten.
(One of the more remarkable and underrated features of the bar, actually, may be the packaging. It comes in a paper package with a built-in Ziploc seal, meaning you can tear one open, eat about half, and save the rest for later. That design work, somewhat sadly, counts as a great innovative leap in packaging these days.)
So, yes. Exo bars get my seal of approval. But that's kind of side-stepping the more generalized question:
For the record: A previous version of this article showed an image of a grasshopper.
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