Anyone for cricket? Insect not sport!

There is a new product available marketed as an alternative protein source. This product is aimed at “adventurers” “athletes” and “foodies”: the product is cricket flour or cricket powder.

Would you eat cricket flour? No I am not a celebrity, get me out of here! Or Yes Jump it over here please!

Eating insects is called Entomophagy and surprisingly we already eat insects! Cochineal is a red food colouring and is made from crushed scale beetles and is found in red velvet cupcakes, other “red” cakes and pastries, yogurts and meat products like sausages.

Before you consider cricket flour take a look at the advantages and disadvantages found through my research for a Dietitians magazine, NHD. If you are not a Dietitian or Registered Nutritionist, the completed article is available at http://www.dietitianclaire.com/media/

Advantages of Entomophagy e.g. cricket flour.

·         Insects are a sustainable food source

There is a huge amount of evidence that insects are a sustainable food source for the planet. In the future we could see food shortages globally due to increased populations and weather changes which could harm our current crops and be detrimental to our food chain.

·         Insects are a high protein and high calorie food source

Insects are a high protein and high calorific food. 100gm Cricket flour contains an average of 475calories and 64gm of protein. This protein level is very high when compared with other protein sources. Roasted chicken contains a lower amount of protein at 27gm per 100gm, vegetable protein like baked beans contains 5gm per 100gm and milk contains 3.5gm of protein per 100gm.

·         Hazardous chemical levels acceptable to humans.

Studies on hazardous chemicals e.g. pesticides and metals in cricket flour were found to be comparable with commonly protein rich foods e.g. meat, fish and eggs.

·         We’ve accepted red crushed scale beetles!

There is very little evidence regarding consumer acceptance of eating insects in the UK in fact insects are seen more as pests and more responsible for food spoilage and contamination rather than part of a meal. Like cochineal, cricket flour could allow a more visually acceptable introduction to Entomophagy.

Disadvantages of entomophagy e.g. cricket flour

·         Cricket flour is not suitable for anyone allergic to seafood and dust mites.

Disturbingly allergic reactions to cochineal food colouring are on the increase in adults and children. There are similar allergens present in insects that are also found in crustaceans e.g. prawns and dust mites. Therefore anyone allergic to shellfish and dust mites should be cautious and not eat any insect products.

·         We don’t have much knowledge on this food.

Insect products sold in the UK are classed as a “Novel Food”. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) (who ensure that the food available to the public is safe to eat) have very little information on this product. Therefore there are no formal policies in place for the farming of crickets e.g. diet, environment, hygiene practices etc.

·         High levels of bacteria found in cricket flour.

Studies looking at microbiological contamination showed high levels of harmful bacteria in cricket flour. Samples also contained high levels of mould spores, both of which can contribute to food poisoning in humans. Thus for food safety do not add cricket flour into a drink without heating the product to a high temperature first.

·         Nutritional information was inconsistent and missing on four cricket flour product labels.

Websites declared “Crickets ……contain all the essential amino acids, iron, B12, Omega-3s, Omega-6s and more.” And “….. high in calcium, iron and zinc”. Vitamins and minerals amounts on printed labels of four samples of cricket flours were inconsistent and missing. Iron amounts were all different and varied greatly, what did they feed the crickets? Vitamin B12 wasn’t listed on some flours or was very low. Calcium levels should be low given the lack of bones in a cricket! Some of the statements did not match up to nutritional labels.  In fact due to the wide differences of iron content between them, the companies were contacted and advised to double check their calculations of iron in case they had mixed up milligrams and grams.

·         Other labelling information on the cricket flours was against labelling guidelines.

 Despite sodium no longer being permitted on a UK food label this has changed to salt in gm. Sodium mg was listed on two of the flours.

·         How would you eat 100gm of cricket flour?

100gm of cricket flour/powder is made from over 1000 freeze dried crickets farmed from either the Netherlands or Thailand. Eating 100gm of insects will be substantially more in volume than eating 100gm of meat which is about a breast of chicken, or a small glass of milk or a quarter a tin of baked beans.

·         You can only use 10% of cricket flour in a baking recipe.

If using Cricket flour in baking muffins or biscuits, only 10% of the recommended flour amount in gm is needed, this is due to the high protein content which will affect the finished product. For 100gm of cricket flour to be consumed in a double chocolate chip, cricket muffin recipe would require eating 33 muffins!

·         There are other nutritionally superior and planet sustainable foods to eat.

340gm of cooked Mycoprotein (Quorn fillets or pieces) and 6 Brazil nuts provides 384kcals and 50gm protein. The vitamin and mineral content is far superior to the cricket flour as the above example provides a quarter of the daily iron and potassium requirements, half of the daily copper, magnesium, thiamine (vit b1), niacin (vit b3), vit b12 and selenium requirements and all of the daily requirements for phosphorus, riboflavin (vit b2), zinc and fibre.

Conclusion

Cricket flour is a high protein high calorie food product, which has evidence of benefits for our future planet when compared with other farmed animals in the current food chain.

Further research is required in particular on allergens, vitamin & mineral composition and bioavailability (how humans absorb) of insect nutrients. More evidence is required regarding food safety from the cricket farm to the packaged labelled product.

Until the Food Standards Agency has a clear policy on cricket flour for human consumption, this is one product I am not chirping about just yet!

“Separating nutrition fact from nutrition fiction, always trust a Dietitian”