Tag Archives: Crickets

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”.