Sunday, February 14, 2016

Micro-round-up on news about insects as food (entomophagy), February 2016

It has been quite a while since my last round-up of entomophagy news, so here's another batch of fresh and not-so-fresh items.

General
For insects to gain popularity as food for humans, the insect containing foods need to tasty. Chefs will be leading this effort, whether in restaurants like Meeru Dhalwala from Vij's in Vancouver, Canada, or as consultants for packaged foods (Kyle Connaughton and Exo bars; Tyler Florence and Bitty Foods). Eater (12/19/15)

In a feature article, Dana Goodyear takes a deep dive into eating and growing insects. Among the many intriguing observations is one that should surprise few of us, that human desires can cause population collapse: "Traditionally, they [Liometopum apiculatum ant eggs] were hunted only by experienced escamoleros, but, according to Julieta Ramos-Elorduy, a biologist who studies food insects at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, their desirability has invited poachers, who overharvest and destroy the nests." New Yorker (8/15/11)


In the first part of a two-part series on insects as food, Heather Smith takes a cursory look at why Western Europeans and their American descendents won't eat insects, with several enlightening examples from 19th century California. Grist (7/29/15)

In the second part of her series, Heather Smith meanders through entomophagy, visiting a ritzy bug-eating event in the S.F. Bay Area, noting some key reports, and then examining the issue of "bug ranching," i.e., growing insects on an economically efficient scale. She notes that in insect eating lands like Vietnam and Thailand, most bug ranches are small family operations, while the current pilot operations in North America are much bigger, with even larger operations envisioned. The bigger the operation, however, the bigger the risk of a pathogen wiping it out (pathogens love monocultures). She wonders whether these bug ranches will grow insects for humans, or perhaps for livestock (something that Enviroflight in Ohio is working on). Grist (7/30/15)

After a cricket cook-off involving 3 Portland startups, reporter Malia Spencer conducted an unscientific poll of readers about crickets as food. The readers who responded are not very excited about the idea of eating insects, with 59% saying "no way" and only 23% showing enthusiasm. Of course, it's possible to make a very successful niche business, especially in something as fragmented as food and drink, so 23% enthusiasm could still lead to 24 karat success. Portland Business Journal (12/28/15)


Restaurants

"At the Black Ant, in the East Village, the house guacamole varies; it has been studded with garbanzo beans, fried corn, orange slices, jicama, radishes, and even cheese. But it is always finished with ants. The garnish, to be precise, is sal de hormiga, or salt with ground-up chicatanas -— large, winged leaf-cutter ants, harvested once a year, in the Mexican region of Oaxaca. The ants taste somewhere between nutty and buttery, with a chemical tang, and lend the salt a bit of umami.
    "Unless you know the Spanish word chapulín, you may not realize that the shrimp tacos are battered and fried in a crust of grasshoppers, creating a deliciously recursive arthropod. On the tlayuda, a crispy corn tortilla topped, like a small pizza, with black beans and soft cheese, the sautéed grasshoppers come whole and taste exquisitely of chili and lime. Pluck one from its lily pad of avocado cream, pop it in your mouth, and don’t forget to chew, lest any legs stick in your throat."
The New Yorker, Tables for Two (8/24/15)

A review of Los Angeles's Broken Spanish reveals that grasshoppers have been on the menu. When I checked the website, there was this item: "GREEN BEANS Poached Egg, Sofrito, Salsa Chapuline, Cotija." KCRW's Good Food (10/30/15) [Ed. note: I haven't visited Broken Spanish yet, but thoroughly enjoyed their sister restaurant BS Taqueria in downtown Los Angeles. The "beet torta" was a creative vegetarian reworking of the classic Mexican sandwich.)

Uptown Oakland's Calavera is making a name for itself with high quality ingredients and attention to detail (the tortillas, for example, are made by hand with house-nixtamalized corn from Anson Mills). It's also getting attention for serving grasshoppers (chapulines). Luke Tsai, in the East Bay Express, wrote "Then, of course, there were those fried grasshoppers, for now available only as an add-on to the guacamole, which was excellent in its own right. Scattered on top, the chapulines — which are shipped in from Oaxaca, where they are ubiquitous — were akin to intensely lime-y dried shrimp. They had a similar crinkly-papery texture and a slight funk to their aftertaste. These are worth trying at least once, though if you're squeamish about insects (full disclosure: I am), you might want to pop these in your mouth without looking too closely, lest you find the dainty antennae and the little folded-up legs too alarming." (9/23/15) (see also the San Francisco Chronicle)

Nationwide chain Wayback Burgers offers high-protein cricket milkshake. Made with premium vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup and high protein cricket powder.  Courier-Post (New Jersey) (3/28/15)  (also Wayback Burgers news archive)

Denver locavores are getting a new taste sensation at Linger, which is including locally-raised crickets in a taco offering. Although there are some crickets as garnish, it's not exactly an in-your face preparation, as the insects are inside mini chili rellenos with multiple toppings. The crickets are from Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch. 5280: The Denver Magazine (2/10/16)

Markets
Summerhill Markets in Toronto is introducing new insect-containing dishes to their extensive line of prepared foods, including key-lime cricket pie and mealworm protein balls. They are also starting to stock shelves with dried insect products like flavored roasted crickets and seasoned mealworms from Ontario-based Entomo Farms. Toronto Sun (1/19/16) and CBC (1/22/16)


Insect Farming
Georgia-based All Things Bugs LLC has received a grant from the USDA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program to study farming insects for human consumption. All Things Bugs aims to improve efficiency and lower costs. All Things Bugs has previously received grants from the USDA and the Gates Foundation. Globe Newswire (6/13/15)

Oakland's Tiny Farms is trying to bring science and engineering to the insect farming business. By carefully examining the various points in the process (perhaps using big data for small livestock), they hope to identify bottlenecks in the process, then find the appropriate hardware and protocols to increase efficiency and reduce costs. One end goal is to create a turn-key system that can allow a farmer with an empty building to grow crickets for additional revenue. Fast Co.Exist (3/3/15)

In a special disgust-themed episode that includes a conversation with the spokeperson for the Tripe Board, a talk with restaurant critic Jonathon Gold about his food phobias, and discussion of innards, Avishay Artsy interviews the operators of a cricket farm in Van Nuys. KCRW's Good Food (7/18/15)

An Auckland University student talks about starting a cricket farm with friends from university. Stuff (New Zealand) (10/31/15)

Learning how to farm crickets with Aspire Food Group and Big Cricket Farms, two of the major players in the microlivestock business. The Atlantic (9/24/15)


Packaged Foods
If you're queasy about eating insects, but want to bring their environmental benefits and efficiency into your household, it's likely that your dog won't mind eating treats made with cricket flour (and more typical ingredients like peanut butter, sweet potatoes, eggs). At least three companies are launching bug-enhanced dog treats: EntoBento (on Kickstarter), Chloe's Treats (already available), and BugBites (on Kickstarter). If your dog has a shellfish allergy, stay away from cricket flour, as there are some allergen crossovers. CNET (11/6/15)

Using nutritious human-grade ingredients like peanut butter and eggs in dog treats is nothing new, but San Diego-based Entobento is adding a new twist: cricket flour. Their late 2015 Kickstarter campaign was successful, so we'll hear more about them in the future. A Montreal-based company called BugBites recently had a successful Kickstarter to launch dog treats with insects. FastCo Exist (12/3/15)

A Thai company called Bugsolutely is making a pasta that contains ground crickets. The pasta has a deep brown color and an earthy flavor ("which is often associated with roasted almonds"). Food Navigator Asia (1/22/16)

A company called Grub has secured a deal with Whole Foods in the UK to sell their seasoned roasted cricket snack in selected stores (chilli and lime, English herbs, and salt and vinegar).  Meat Trades Journal (UK) (11/28/15)

A report about a Kickstarter campaign to create a cocktail bitters that included crickets in the ingredient list. This one is all about the fun factor of entomaphagy since cocktail bitters are used in quite small quantities in properly-made cocktails — realistically, how much cricket could be in a dash of bitters? Discovery Channel (10/21/15)

Insects enter the body-bulking market with Smash Nutrition's new cricket protein formula: it's free of whey, which makes it a new option for those who are intolerant to the popular milk-derived protein source. However, there are similarities between crickets and certain shellfish — those allergic to lobster, for example, might also be allergic to crickets and other insects — so someone who is intolerant of whey and shellfish would be out of luck with this product too. Get West London (2/3/16)


Entrepreneurs
Crowdfunding by Los Angeles County cricket farm Coalo Valley Farms fails to meet goal of $32,000. CNBC (6/30/15)

Several S.F. Bay Area companies are seeing a big future for bugs in our food, like Bitty Foods (flours and cookies), Tiny Farms (scaleable insect farms), Don Bugito (packaged foods and a food cart), and Chirps (chips, "a cricket in every chip"). The article also includes 3 recipes that use Bitty's all-purpose cricket flour (a gluten-free blend of cassava flour, cricket flour, coconut flour and tapioca starch). San Francisco Chronicle (2/7/16)

Despite a skeptical grandma, Iceland-based Thoroddsen and his business partner Búi Aðalsteinsson launched the Crowbar company to promote alternative protein products like a cricket-containing protein bar called the Jungle Bar. Cricket flour is easy to get -- they buy from a Candian company -- but convincing Icelanders to buy them could be difficult because of the ick factor. Over in the U.S., Pat Crowley, the founder of Chapul, is looking at the early days of U.S. sushi restaurants for some lessons: California rolls and variations were (and still are) great ways to introduce skeptics to the often disturbing concept of raw fish. Says Crowley, "The bar was our version of that California roll; the flour eliminates the visual component [of insects]." Crowley made an appearance on Shark Tank in 2014 and got a $50,000 investment from one of the sharks. That investment plus the publicity led to a boom in sales. Newsweek (1/27/16)

Startups are trying to make insect eating profitable: Big Cricket Farms in Ohio is a large scale insect farm. Exo uses cricket powder in their protein bars. Industry Leaders Magazine (11/1/15)

If you're looking to raise some livestock at home and want to start small, the Edible Insect Desktop Hive from Livin Farms could be what you are looking for. Using Kickstarter as a launch platform, the company aims to build a countertop system that will produce 200-500 grams of mealworms per week. Fast Co.Exist (11/10/15)

Eaters in Austin, Texas have some opportunities to incorporate insects into their diet. Aspire Food Group's cricket farm is supplying cricket flour to start-ups like Hopper Foods (paleo-friendly granola with cricket flour "about 40 crickets per serving") and Crickers (gluten-free crackers with cricket flour). Austin restaurant La Condesa recently reintroduced cricket tacos to their menu and sales have been brisk, so the chef is looking into other Mexican insect foods. La Condesa's crickets are imported from Mexico. Silicon Hills (7/8/15)

Inspired by their grandfather, who was an entomologist at the University of Illinois and inspired them to appreciate of bugs, three brothers have launched Thinksect cricket flour and the Entobar. At the time of the article's posting, the crickets were from Thailand and costs are an issue: one kilogram of Thinksect flour goes for $79.95 (on 2/13/16 the price was $69.98). Capital Press (6/4/15):



Media
Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, "The Gateway Bug," a film about entomophagy will be produced. Backers of the campaign will receive periodic updates and I suspect that major milestones will be announced to the press and picked up by news outlets hungry for news about entomophagy. Kickstarter (11/10/15)




Random link from the archive: Treehugger 100-Mile Thanksgiving Challenge

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