Cricket Protein: ExoProtein

While most of the western world may require time, persistent research and unfortunately, exceptional marketing, the current research out on cricket flour as a more bio-available source of protein than your more conventional protein sources (whey isolate, hemp) makes them worth a try. In addition,if you’re environmentally conscious, you can revel in knowing that cricket flour is making some noise.

If you don’t eat things with faces or a mother, cricket bars may not be an option, but one thing I hope you do take away from this article, regardless of your diet, is that the cricket protein movement is part of the overall protein movement that is picking up speed to find more environmentally friendly methods of providing quality protein to people around the world.

In true HumanBluPrint style, I began been self-experimenting with ExoProtein bars for nutrition during my triathlons and marathons this race season. What I found was a lack of the gastrointestinal discomfort and feeling truly replenished with just half a bar. I tend to eat half a bar an hour before a training session (swim, bike or run) and 20-30 minutes after my session or race. For an Olympic or Half-Ironman distance, I’ll have one halfway through my bike ride. When your body is working at that intensity, it’s nice to know that eating an ExoProtein bar means that you’re nutritional intake is all natural with no extra fillers. They also surprisingly keep their shape after hours of being unwrapped, in the sun, in a transition bag, etc.  

A research study by University of California’s Mark E. Lundy and Michael P. Parrella examines the claims that producing cricket protein has just less of an ecological impact than more traditional forms of protein; e.g. chicken, beef. The team at Chapul, a cricket protein bar company only a few years old, breaks down the study.

When I first heard about cricket-based protein products, one of the first questions I asked myself was, “what are they feeding the crickets? Are these crickets raised on a natural diet (if so, what do crickets eat?) or are they fattened up with all the nonsense we try to avoid?” To my first question, crickets apparently prefer to eat rotting plant matter but will eat bugs and, if necessary, other crickets as well. They’re omnivores so practically anything goes. What are they fed? The UC study reports using grain-based diets, processed organic side-streams of relatively high quality, and unprocessed lower-quality organic side-streams which are all in line with what many producers are using. 

So what does the study conclude?

“Although it has been suggested that crickets reared for human or livestock consumption may result in a more sustainable supply of protein, this study finds that such conclusions will depend, in large part, on what the crickets are fed and which systems of livestock production they are compared to. When fed grain-based diets at a scale of economic relevance, populations of crickets in this study showed little improvement in PCE compared to broiler chickens fed similar diets. When fed processed, organic side-streams of relatively high quality, cricket populations achieved a harvestable size. Yet, whether crickets could be raised economically on substrates of similar quality and level of processing requires further analysis. The unprocessed and lower-quality organic side-streams tested in this study could not support adequate growth and survival of cricket populations. Therefore, the potential for crickets to supplement the global supply of dietary protein appears to be more limited than has been recently suggested. However, the feed quality index reported here may be useful in identifying regionally specific organic side-streams with the potential to support the scalable cultivation of crickets (Lundy and Parella, 2015).

It should be noted that crickets are but one of multiple insect species with potential for augmenting the global supply of protein by capturing organic side-streams and/or converting feed to protein more efficiently than conventional livestock [2][3]. It is possible that other species, such as black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens (L.) [Diptera: Stratiomyidae]) are better suited to the bioconversion of low-quality organic side-streams to dietary protein [1][6]. Nevertheless, champions of cultivating insects as a sustainable form of protein should recognize that the efficiency of any insect production system and, therefore, its protein contribution and ecological impact, will depend on the quality of the insect diet (Lundy and Parella, 2015).

In order for insect cultivation to sustainably augment the global supply of protein, more work is needed to identify species and design processes that capture protein from scalable, low-value organic side-streams, which are not currently consumed by conventional livestock.” (Lundy and Parella, 2015).

Great, so more research is needed since the claims are more limited than recently suggested. No surprise, but again, forward thinking. A great point that Gabi Lewis, Co-CEO of ExoProtein, made when we interviewed him for our up and coming podcast is that even if cricket protein has slightly less of an ecological impact than more traditional forms of protein, that still says so much about how far cricket flour as a protein source has come in a relatively short amount of time with at a fraction of the cost. And yes, there are thousand of different forms of insect protein so it’s hopeful to think that we haven’t yet come across the specific type of larvae or cockroach or dragonfly that sources protein more efficiently than how are currently sourcing protein. The black soldier fly has been in the media for about ten years now and plant-based protein is appearing on supermarket shelves everywhere I go.

So do they taste good? Clearly a subjective question but to someone who doesn’t like the taste of chocolate and cilantro, I think they taste great! The consistency is a bit softer than your usual protein bar but this isn’t a usual protein bar. I devoured an Apple Cinnamon ExoProtein bar during the cycling leg of my first Olympic triathlon and I will say, if you’re a minimalist when it comes to your triathlon game, these bars stick to the frame of your bike real well to provide an ergonomically convenient option for refueling. Of course, Anthony and I had to take it a step further and find out what crickets actually taste like since you don’t actually taste crickets when you eat an ExoProtein bar.  We went over to The Black Ant in Manhattan for some grilled cricket tacos, guacamole with pulverized black ants and cactus fries. Besides, the texture, it turned out to be a delicious meal. Rest assure that you won’t find a cricket leg or antenna sticking out of your ExoProtein bar and the supplemental organic ingredients (four different flavors) take over your palate just like any other delicious energy bar would. 

Now is this the key to maintaining nitrogen balance when it comes to protein intake? That’s for you to experiment with as you flip tires, pull semis, train for ultra man or aim to keep a low-intensity, healthy and balanced lifestyle. Since my triathlon season is over, I’ll be taking these bars with me on backpacking trips.

For more on ExoProtein, stay tuned for our podcast with Gabi Lewis (Co-CEO) on iTunes coming October 2015

ExoProtein

Lundy ME, Parrella MP (2015) Crickets Are Not a Free Lunch: Protein Capture from Scalable Organic Side-Streams via High-Density Populations of Acheta domesticus. PLoS ONE 10(4): e0118785. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0118785

http://chapul.com/blogcontroversial-new-research-regarding-cricket-farming-not-really-/

Featured image from ExoProtein

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