Tag Archives: Entomophagy

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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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.

Natural Habitat Farming of Grasshoppers

There are grasshoppers everywhere in the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas. You see them during the day as they jump away from as you go about your business. And you hear them at night as they sing you to sleep. They thrive in the open plains and short grass.

Photo Jul 27, 3 09 29 PM

How can we capitalize on the fact that grasshoppers love it here?

The consensus is that harvesting insects from the wild is risky because we don’t know where they have been (As in the neighbor’s yard where they just sprayed fertilizer and pesticides). What if I go out into a state park and catch some tasty treats there? What if we farm grasshoppers in the ‘middle of nowhere’ Texas?

The Plan

  1. Buy, rent or borrow a large plot of prairie land away from other cultivated land.
  2. Select a grasshopper species that is already successful in that area. Differential Grasshopper?
  3. Foster shrubs and grasses that accommodate that species of grasshopper. Mow the perimeter to prevent inward or outward migration.Photo Jul 27, 2 52 38 PM
  4. Add the grasshopper to the field. You probably need to farm eggs/nymphs in a controlled setting like they do for crickets. I understand this can be difficult but it may be easier if the grasshoppers only live part of their life cycle in a man-made environment.
  5. Sit back and relax as the grasshoppers mature.
  6. Harvest by attaching nets to traditional farming tractors and sweep the plot in an inward spiral. They do this by hand in Asia.
  7. Freeze for storage.

Plan B:

Just go to a middle of nowhere field and harvest. Depending on the time of year there may be plenty to catch. Then send a sample out to a lab for analytical testing including heavy metals, pathogens and pesticide residue. The contamination issue is solved assuming the results come back negative for any bad stuff. Make huge profits with little work by selling the catch to restaurants or processors.

Plan C and more: This Mother Earth News article has great insight on grasshopper harvesting.

Key Points:

  • Farm insects in their natural habitat and climate.
  • Instead of controlling the entire farming operation, let grasshoppers be grasshoppers and ensure safety and wholesomeness of the product with post-harvest testing. Companies such as Certified Laboratories specialized in doing such safety analyses.
  • What insect thrive in your area?

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.

Food Recalls – Can this happen to entomophagy products?

As we all know, a food recall is bad PR. What reasons do recalls take place and who initiates recalls?

Most recalls are initiated by the manufacturer. The top two reasons foods are recalled are for undeclared allergens (ex. milk) and pathogens (ex. salmonella). Any product that violates the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) or the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) should be recalled.

The FDA states that they hear about a problem a variety of ways:

  • A company discovers a problem and contacts FDA.
  • FDA inspects a manufacturing facility and determines the potential for a recall.
  • FDA receives reports of health problems through various reporting systems.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) contacts FDA.

Up until fairly recently, the FDA did not have the authority to mandate a recall. They now have the authority to mandate a recall with the passing of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).  From Food Safety News: FDA Reports Only One Use of Mandatory Recall Authority To Date . The FDA would first request a recall, and if matters are not sufficiently handled, the FDA would then mandate a recall. It seems unlikely that edible insect products would get to this stage. My understanding is that the FDA can also proactively send a desist letter for products before they get to market.

A recall request is a more likely scenario. Here is what the Regulatory Procedures Manual says about requesting a recall:

“An FDA request that a firm recall a product is ordinarily reserved for urgent situations. The request is directed to the firm that has primary responsibility for the manufacture or marketing of the product when the responsible firm does not undertake a product recall on its own initiative. FDA requested recalls are most often classified as Class I. Generally, before FDA formally requests recall action, the agency will have evidence capable of supporting legal action, i.e.seizure. Exceptions include situations where there exists a real or potential danger to health, or in emergency circumstances such as outbreak of disease involving epidemiological findings. The completion of either a firm initiated or FDA requested recall does not preclude FDA from taking further regulatory action against a responsible firm.”

Recall classes from FDA website:

Class I: Dangerous or defective products that predictably could cause serious health problems or death. Examples include: food found to contain botulinum toxin, food with undeclared allergens, a label mix-up on a lifesaving drug, or a defective artificial heart valve.

Class II: Products that might cause a temporary health problem, or pose only a slight threat of a serious nature. Example: a drug that is under-strength but that is not used to treat life-threatening situations.

Class III: Products that are unlikely to cause any adverse health reaction, but that violate FDA labeling or manufacturing laws. Examples include: a minor container defect and lack of English labeling in a retail food.

If insect products were to be recalled just for having insects, my understanding is that it would be a class III. There is not evidence to supports that farmed insects pose a “slight threat of a serious nature”. Insect products could have a Class I designation if they are contaminated with pathogens etc.

One situation where edible insect products could be subject to recall is by not meeting GRAS criteria. If a GRAS determination is deemed not valid, then the products would be in violation of manufacturing laws. This scenario can happen when the FDA (in partnership with state regulatory agencies) inspects a manufacturing facility. I recommend that firms have at least some documentation that supports a GRAS determination be internally filed. So if inspectors question the safety of using insects as food, the firm will have information detailing its safety, and hopefully prevent an escalation of a safety issue/ recall/ facility shutdown.

Where are we at now?

  • The FDA is marginally aware that insects are being introduced into the food supply
  • The volume at which insects are being consumed is very low
  • Manufacturers that use insects have a GRAS dossier available upon regulatory inspection?
  • The FDA’s risk assessment of insect containing foods (without other hazards) would result in low risk and therefore not a priority to the FDA when considering a proactive recall

What else do we need to consider?

  • There may be ways for regulatory agencies to prevent manufacturing/marketing of products before they get to a recall stage.
  • State and local rules vary state to state and may also cause, unaccounted  for, road blocks.

Allergies and Insects

Bee AllergenInsects can cause an allergic reaction in people. Generally speaking, one mechanism is through a food consumption, secondly is through environmental exposure.

What does the FDA think about food allergens?

The FDA’s primary concern with regard to food allergens are the ‘Big 8’. They are Milk, Eggs, Fish, Crustacean shellfish, Tree nuts, Peanuts, Wheat and, Soybeans. These foods account for over 90% of food allergic reactions. There are over 160 foods that can cause allergies but these 8 are the only ones that require labeling by law. People allergic the shells may see cross reactivity to insects. The prevalence of shellfish allergy in the United States is around 2%. The majority of the population can consume insects without significant risk of an allergic reaction. I do recommend voluntary allergen labeling for packaged insect products. Consumer education will help general acceptance of insects as food.

Environmental insect matter can cause allergy symptoms. Skin contact and dust inhalation can have adverse effects on people farming and post-harvest processing of insects. Fecal matter and dried insect parts can become airborne and subsequently be inhaled. Sensitization can occur from repeat exposure. Issues with worker related environmental allergens would involve the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). I am curious to know if insect farmers that currently produce high volumes have come across this issue.

What should we do about insect allergens?

  • Regularly clean farming facilities including the farming equipment and other building surfaces to remove dust and particulate matter.
  • Monitor the health of insect farmers for development of allergic sensitization. Use personal protective equipment such as mask and googles when appropriate.
  • Limit dispersal of fine particulates when making insect flour through engineering controls.
  • Label insect containing food products with an allergen statement such as ‘People allergic to shell fish may also be allergic to insects’.