Category Archives: Product Development

Beyond Cricket Flour

Cricket flour does have its virtues. Its shelf stable, easy to use and takes away the ick factor. But like any other food we eat, there are tons of different types of insects and and even more ways to prepare them.

The next step beyond cricket flour is frozen whole crickets. This will provide consumers with a bigger and blanker canvass for there culinary creations.

I have always thought canned crickets is a great ideaPhoto Aug 22, 11 22 16 PM.

The best cricket dish Ive had so far has been ‘popcorn crickets’. Lightly battered and deep fried, they had a crispy exoskeleton and mouth watering aroma similar to shrimp. This concept could be sold in the frozen food section of the grocery store next to chicken nuggets. And also distributed through food service for places like carnivals or other street food.

One of the more interesting concepts I have heard of is a fermented cricket sauce that is produced in a manner similar to fish sauce. The possibilities are endless.

What other insects are out there… Wax worms!

Wax worms taste really good. Re-fried beans traditionally use lard but wax worms work great instead. They have the same sort of fatty flavor to them.

Another insect is agave worms. In Sal De Gusano, roasted agave worms are used for their smokey flavor and savory taste. Use insects for their flavor as well as a source of nutrients.Photo Dec 06, 4 26 27 PM

Advertisements

Is Cricket Flour Actually Tasty?

The short answer is not really. That does mean we shouldn’t eat. Is there something we can do to make cricket flour taste better?

cricket salad on cracker

Cricket Salad on Sesame Cracker

Cricket flour is low in fat, high in insoluble fiber, high in cooked protein, and has a ‘distinctive’ flavor. These characteristics are generally not well liked.

Here is what to do about it:

  • Add Fat – if making snack bars or cookies, make sure there is a good amount of fat in the system. Aim for at least 10%. Some classic and addictive foods like potato chips and pepperoni contain around 30% fat. Sources of fat can simply be vegetable oils. Nuts butters are high in fat. Coconut oil is great because it has a high melting point which can add to a creamy mouth-feel.
  • Pulverize flour to a very fine particle size – this will decrease the perception of the chitinous shell. Cricket flour sometimes has a sandy mouth feel. A smaller particle size will improve the texture. And the fat added above will lubricate the particles.
  • Balance taste for optimum cravablility – cricket protein can alter the taste of your favorite recipe. Protein can add bitter and umami tastes. Play around with the amount of salt and sweetener in your recipe. Dont hesitate to add salt. Salt can really improve the overall taste and flavor. Protein can also contribute to a chalky texture like in high protein energy bars. Look at other products to see what they have done to help improve the texture.
  • Bam! – Use lots of flavoring components to over power the flavor of the cricket flour. This is the oldest and best flavor masking technology in the book. Herbs, spices and other flavorings can provide your product with a unique fingerprint and really improve the overall likability. Keep it simple by using one spice or use a complex blend like pumpkin spices. Dont forget the vanilla.

How Are Crickets Processed and Used As Food – Cricket Flour

Cricket Flour is a way that insects are being introduced to western diets. The flour is used as an ingredient and not the main feature. Milling crickets into a flour also takes away the ick factor. So if you buy a product with crickets in it at the store or online… how did the crickets get there?

Most commercial food products are made the same way you make them at home. Commercial food factories just make a lot more, and efficiently. There are more differences of course, commercial production might use a motorized pump to move liquid from one place to another where in a kitchen it would just be done by hand. And because commercial operations create a lot of food, food safety takes on a different context. Processing of crickets for commercial use is similar to what you would do at home.

Cricket used in food in North America are farmed. Not unlike the way we farm chickens. There farms that use good quality feed and take steps to ensure that the crickets are well taken care of. And there are farms that don’t. Its hard to find out where food ingredients actually come from so its good to ask details.

Cricket farming is an established business for around the globe. In western cultures, most of the crickets end up as feed for exotic lizards. Demand for crickets is low compared to a lot of other industrial products. Farming is carried out with manual labor which is why crickets are more expensive than beef and chicken even though the inputs for crickets are less.image_1 (2)

Crickets are frozen to harvest them. This is a humane way to kill them. It also makes the next steps for processing easier because they are not jumping around. Frozen is a good way to keep crickets until they get processed. They can also be shipped from the farm to the processor frozen.

Next… washing. Just to make sure they don’t have any frass on them and to remove any foreign material.

Blanching is next. Arguably you can skip this step because crickets will be cooked during the dry roasting process.

Dry roasting develops flavor and dehydrates. Removing moisture is necessary to make it shelf stable. Microbes need water to grow. Freeze drying is another route. Dry roasting is more efficient though.

Milling… Dried crickets are then milled into a flour.

From here you can add cricket flour to a number of different food products. Snack bars, breads, cookies, dips, etc.

Commercial food product and ingredients are evaluated after they a produced to ensure quality. Microbe counts are a standard check to make sure there hasn’t been any contamination.

Would you buy cricket products or make your own? Please Tweet your reply.

How To Freeze Crickets

Put them in the freezer… but how long will they remain good for?

The shelf life of a product has been reach when one of the quality attributes (flavor, texture, color) is no longer at an acceptable state. Food products change during storage but only when the changes reach a certain point do we say the shelf life has been reached. Small changes in quality are often acceptable.

Frozen storage changes the flavor

Microsoft Office

Microsoft Office

The main quality attribute that is likely to change during frozen storage of crickets is flavor. There are a couple pathways for flavor changes to happen.

One mechanism is freezer burn – Freezer burn happens when frozen moisture in the crickets sublimates. This leaves patches of dehydrated cricket. The dehydrated areas are much more susceptible to oxidation resulting of off flavor. Crickets have a high surface area to volume ratio so this is definitely something that can happen. Water can also recrystallize affecting texture.

Second is bacterial/enzymatic activity – Raw crickets have bacteria on them as with most raw animal products. Some bacteria are still active at frozen temperatures (but much slower). Bacteria also contain enzymes that can speed up changes. There may also be enzymatic activity happening from cricket enzymes originating in the digestive organs. Eventually bacteria and enzymatic action are going to cause unwanted changes in flavor during prolonged storage.

2 Solutions To Extend Shelf Life

Apply a heat treatment before frozen storage to decrease bacterial load and denature enzymes. Blanching for 2-3 minutes would do the trick. Most vegetables are blanched before frozen storage to inactivate enzymes. Heat treatment will also denature the meat protein so if someone wanted to make sausage, they would need to add some other binder.

Glazing crickets in ice provides a protective coating and limits oxidation. This is done by spraying frozen crickets with ice cold water until a glazed is formed. Alternatively, crickets can be dipped in an ice bath and refrozen. Glazing is commonly used for seafood. Here is a link for glazing basics Seafish.org – Glazing.

Shelf Life Estimates

I looked at data for shrimp and also lobster and crab to support these estimates. These are estimates and and I have not performed any testing.

Crickets Home Freezer 0F Commercial Freezer -18F
Raw 1-2 months 3 months
Raw Glazed 3 months 4.5 months
Cooked 3 months 4.5 months
Cooked Glazed 5 months 6 months

How to test shelf life:

Like I said, these are just estimates. We need to start accumulating data. There are a lot of technical considerations to consider when executing a shelf life test. Here are some steps to get you started.

Decide how often you will make an evaluation. Testing once a week should be about right.

At the start, freeze packaged crickets. Make sure you freeze enough crickets.

Evaluate crickets right away on day 0 and on day 1. Some changes might already have taken place due to the freezing process. Take note of flavor, texture and appearance.

Follow the same cooking method as precisely as possible for each evaluation.

Evaluate at set intervals. Also prepare freshly frozen crickets so that you have a comparison. This may not always be feasible so refer back to your notes.

Note when the quality has deteriorated to the point where it does not meet your standards.

Most importantly, share the results and include lots of details like the temperature of your freezer and packaging. Post any shelf life results in the comments section here or send me a message.

Shelf life information is important not just for consumers but also for farmers and processors.

Cricket Tasting Notes – Poached, Sauteed and Canned

The Crickets

I purchased 1000 1-inch crickets via mail order from an animal feed insect farm in the US. The crickets were shipped from a different farm than I ordered from. I’m not sure why.

Unfortunately, the package did not meet the live guarantee. There were about 2-3% crickets that were past their prime. I refrigerated the whole package for an hour then sorted the crickets on the patio. Some were lively but I was able to separate the good ones from the bad ones and frass. It was quite an event. After sorting, the crickets were placed in the freezer until used. 1000 crickets yielded 1 lb. I didn’t measure this but the bulk volume was about 5 cups.

It would be a great service if cricket farms offered sorted frozen crickets (like Millennium Farms). Live crickets can easily be separated from the chaff at the farm. The crickets that climb the egg cartoon type ladders are alive and well. They can then be place directly into a freezer. Frozen crickets might be something pet lizards and owners like too. Frozen is more convenient and better tasting than dehydrated.

Three Preparations:Cricket canned poached sauteed

Poached: Crickets were poached in boiling salted water for 2 minutes

Sauteed: Crickets were sauteed in hot neutral vegetable oil for 2 minutes

Canned: Crickets were poached in boiling water for 2 minutes, drained, added to glass canning jars. Boiling water was added to cover crickets, a pinch of salt was added. Crickets were processed for 90 minutes at 15 PSI (250 Degrees F) using recommended canning procedures.

Tasting Notes:

Poached: Medium intensity flavor impact. Earthy/mushroom-like, brothy, vegetative, sulfury. The texture of the exoskeleton was pliable and slightly chewy. Females had crunch from the eggs.

Sauteed: Stronger in flavor. Shrimp/seafood like flavor notes were noticeable. The shell was slightly brittle and broke apart easily with chewing.

Canned: Mild in flavor. Earthy, brothy, vegetative flavor notes. The texture was very soft. The difference between males and females was less noticeable. The canning liquid was slightly cloudy and brown in color (similar to beef broth). The canning liquid was brothy/meaty in flavor and had a strong umami impact.

Recipe Ideas:cricket salad on cracker

Here is what we did with our bounty. The poached crickets were chopped and used in a scallion, mushroom and cricket omelet. Some of the poached crickets are being made into cricket flour. The sauteed crickets were just eaten as is with a little salt. Saute to your liking, I would have preferred them a little more crisp. The canned crickets were used in cricket salad (crickets, celery and mayo) on crackers. All were well liked.

Four Quality Factors of Food

Quality Factors

Safety, convenience, taste and health are intrinsic quality factors that affect food choices. Let’s take a closer look at these factors and see how edible insects score.

Safety – Unglamorous but the most important factor. Safety hazard examples include pathogens (E. coli), heavy metals (mercury) and pesticide residues. If a food product doesn’t meet basic safety requirements, it won’t ever make it into your kitchen. When comparing food choices, safety is not a point of differentiation because most safety risks have been eliminated for the consumer by using good manufacturing practices and processing. Wild harvested insects are not recommended for consumption because there is a risk that they may have picked up pesticide residue along their travels.

Convenience – Often taken for granted, convenience varies widely.

Not convenient: dry chick peas

Convenient: canned chick peas

Very convenient: prepared hummus

When it comes to edible insects, processing live insects can be quite a handful for the chef. Raising your own insects takes devotion. Providing minimally processed and processed insects is a possible opportunity to gain further acceptance of edible insects

Taste – This is the space where most of the competition takes place. After all, taste is king. If someone doesn’t like the taste of a food, they are not going to eat it again. Taste is usually a tradeoff between other factors. Canned crickets are more convenient than frozen but the taste and texture is probably better in frozen crickets. Crickets are visually striking which does not earn them any points. People generally don’t like the idea of an insect looking back at you when you are about to eat it. Turning crickets into a flour is an excellent way to by-pass this issue. If poached or fried insects are being prepared… chop them up.

Health – Based on large food company behavior, health only has one category, nutrition. America’s food system is not doing an adequate job addressing socio-economic costs. Brands are quick to tell you how much fiber is in their product but they don’t tell you if it’s GMO fiber or if it’s highly processed fiber. It doesn’t help that individual consumers are not aware that their food choices also have far reaching environmental, social and economic influences. Health is why people should stop eating feed lot beef. Insects get 5 stars for health.

Are insects ready for the masses?

Even though people who practice entomophagy feel that insects are safe to eat, the average person may not be so confident. When communicating about edible insects, safety should be addressed by stating that insects, that are produced using GMPs, are safe to eat. Safety will probably become a non-issue as people become aware that insects are tasty and good for you. Taste and convenience is where our food system does an excellent job at creating craveable and easy to prepare food. Just about every store sells cold soda. There is tremendous opportunity for innovation in these area. Insects can be prepared in a variety of ways and different species offer unique tastes and textures. Literature often sites that insects taste excellent and are considered delicacies. We just have to find the right presentation for the American palate. For health, the preferred way to raise insects is through regional farming operations. We need to be mindful when sourcing insects so that they are not raised on chicken meal and preferably not sourced internationally. I think insects are ready.

Fresh Cricket Tasting Notes

I ate crickets (acheta domesticus) from the local pet food store. They were largest live crickets in stock and looked healthy. I didn’t ask what their feed was (which I should have done) and just went for it. I popped them into the freezer to harvest them. ‘Harvest’ is the term that has replaced ‘slaughter’ when it comes to processing livestock.  I tried two preparation variants. Test 1 – boil rinsed crickets in salted water for 3 minutes. Test 2 – boil rinsed crickets in salted water seasoned with crushed garlic and dried chili flakes for 5 minutes. The cooked crickets were tasted as is with no additional components.

Test  1 – The flavor was sort of a mixture of chicken, lobster and shrimp; there was also a mild earthy background but it was not bad. There were strong salty and umami components. The texture was soft and pliable. I could bite through them without issue. I found dehydrated crickets in comparison have a brittle and fibrous texture but this was not the case with fresh. The fresh cricket was quite soft and very palatable. There was no need to remove the legs.

Test 2 – The seasoned cooking broth delivered a mild garlic flavor to the crickets. The flavor again was sort of a mixture of chicken, lobster and shrimp. Flavoring the cooking broth complimented the crickets well. My cricket boil seasoning can certainly be improved upon and designed to complement the end dish. Crickets would complement a shrimp boil nicely. The texture was soft; not noticeably different than the 3 minute boil.

Recommended recipe:

Linguini with Cricket Sauce… A twist on clam sauce. Substitute crickets for clams in your favorite clam sauce recipe. Crickets won’t release any moisture when cooking as fresh clams do so adjust the liquid content accordingly. Coarsely chop the cooked crickets so their flavor gets evenly distributed in the final dish.