Tag Archives: Crickets

Edible Insects are Awsome… What can you do to help?

Edible insect are great. But there is still more work to be done. The availability is limited to mostly mail order and the variety is lacking too. There is a lot of potential for new and creative entomophagy products. Cost is also high.

A note before I get into the main point of this post – Entomophagy start ups aren’t just about the selling of foods that are or contain insects. They are Lifestyle BRANDS. What you choose to eat says a lot about who you are. By choosing edible insects you are making a statement that you care about the environment, animal welfare, and your health.

What can you do?

  • Create demand… by buying more edible insects. Two parts to this. One is consuming processed edible insect products like Hopper Granola Crunch. Second is using more edible insect ingredients in cooking. There are now a few options for cricket flour and also frozen whole crickets (my preferred way to buy insects). Cost will go way down with companies producing higher volumes of product and variety will go up.
  • Get your swag on! You are what you eat. You are what you wear too. How better to start a conversation about food choices than to wear edible insect gear. In essence, you are doing guerrilla marketing for the start ups and yourself. Its a win win. If you missed the perks from Exo‘s kick starter campaign, its not too late to get a T-shirt on their website. (its an affiliate link… I just want to make it easy for you to get awesome swag)
  • Tweet and Re-Tweet. Edible insect companies are constantly posting great stuff on the web.

Tweet this article!

Post this link: http://wp.me/p4fIin-3v

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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.

Insect food allergens are a bigger issue than previously thought

Potential insect allergens may cause the FDA to disagree with a GRAS determination. This premise means that an ingredient being added to food that is an allergen, like whey protein concentrate, would not be allowed. How is whey powder allowed as a food ingredient? I feel like I am missing part of the puzzle. But let’s not get into this for now.

There are a lot of food products that contain potentially fatal allergens. Regulators feel the danger is well managed by requiring allergen containing products to state that they contain allergens. The allergens that cause reactions are also well known to consumers. A person with a milk allergen knows that they can’t consume dairy products and they know to look at the ingredients and/or allergen statement to find out if the food is OK. We don’t have this luxury for insects. People don’t know that insects can cause a reaction and they don’t know if they will be affected if they eat insects.

Im making the assumption that some people are allergic to insects. Not all insects may be allergenic. Very few people may be allergic but we just don’t know. Protein sequencing can determine if proteins present in crickets, for example, are known allergens. The Food Allergy Research and Resource Program has an online database and other resources. While the technical information may be helpful, for now, a practical approach to addressing the issue is needed.

Proposal for Insect Allergen Communication.

Whether insects are being added to processed foods, sold as an agricultural product or used in restaurant dishes; a common platform for communicating the allergen risk can benefit entomophagy.

A visual to communicate risk:

  • Can be used on product packaging, posters and more.

Insect Allergen Warning Entomophagy

A source for more information:

Link to website about allergens

What allergens are in insects?

Who may be affected by insect allergens?

How do I find out if I am allergic?

What do I do if I have a reaction?

(I cant answers these at this time. Go to http://www.foodallergy.org/ for general Food allergies information)

 Not yet!

I don’t think we need to take these step yet. A strong warning may scare people from trying insects for the first time. However, this approach is an option to prevent regulator objection. This option could also be presented if and when any regulatory bodies object. Take a look at how the FDA addressed Added Caffeine in Gum. A potentially dangerous food ingredient (caffeine) was added to a food where it is not normally present (gum). A regulatory objection will probably start as a negotiation and not a new law.

I recommend a label explicitly stating that insects are an allergen, then providing more information about who is likely susceptible:

ALLERGY WARNING: Contains Insects (people who are allergic to shellfish may also be allergic to insects)

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.

Marketing Crickets by Weight

Selling crickets by number and age is fine if you are going to feed them to your pets. But it is not the information we (people who practice entomophagy) want. We want to the total weight of the crickets we are going to buy. This is how food is typically sold. The package of walnuts in my kitchen say “Net Wt 12 oz (341 g)”. This practice should be adopted when selling edible insect for human consumption.

Another consideration is the general size of the crickets. I recommend getting away from the “weeks old” categorization. Describing a chicken by its age at harvest is kind of weird. I think there are better descriptions we can use. The shrimp industry uses a number per pound system. “21/25” means that there are 21 to 25 shrimp per pound. The insect industry could adopt a similar system. For example a package of crickets might read:

Net Wt 12 oz (341 g)

Size: 200-250 crickets/lb

Shrimpers also use categories like jumbo, medium and tiny but these adjectives are somewhat open to interpretation and aren’t recommended.

Many insects undergo physical changes during their life cycle. For example crickets grow wings at about 4 weeks old. Categorizing based on a well-defined attribute could work. A producer could sell 2 varieties… “Adult Crickets” and “Wingless Crickets”.