Unless you’re a contestant on “Fear Factor,” you probably haven’t eaten an insect. At least not intentionally. (Some probably erroneous statistic assures me that we swallow eight spiders a year though. Oh wait, spiders are arachnids so we’re still in the clear, phew!). But maybe we should rethink our dietary intake of bugs, or lack thereof. At least that’s what one Finnish bakery wants us to think.
While the health and environmental benefits of insect-eating have been well-established, Fazer Bakeries claim to be the first company to have created insect bread. Their cricket loaf contains about 70 of the insects, ground to an unrecognizable pulp. While the taste is supposedly comparable to non-insect-based bread, it’s richer in vitamin B12, calcium, protein, and iron content.
In addition to its robust health benefits, cricket flour and other insect-based foods have long been praised as a godsend for sustainability efforts worldwide. Compared to other protein sources, like pigs and cows, insects have a minuscule carbon footprint, requiring far less water and land to raise. With more tailored production methods, mass harvesting could be a easy and affordable way ease human environmental impact and combat food insecurity.
While insect-based foods have barely reached the mainstream in the United States and Europe, the United Nations estimates that insects supplement the diets of over two billion people in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. As an easy-to-farm source for nutrients, beetles, caterpillars, crickets, and their multi-legged brethren go sadly untapped in the diets of most in the Western world.
The most obvious reason for this is reputation. The typical American consumer reacts with disgust at the thought of eating creepy crawlers best reserved for a Halloween decoration. Bug eating is a last resort, acceptable only when stranded in the woods with zero sustenance “Survivor”-style. A point of both nausea and pride if ever consumed in that apocalyptic scenario.
But such cavalier cultural attitudes are only one of the barriers preventing insect-based food from taking hold in the West. Legal restrictions also play a role in barring the spread of this culinary trend. The aforementioned cricket bread had been in development for over a year before it hit the market. Its release coincides with Finland lifting a long-held ban on the sale and marketing of insects for food. So far only five other European countries—the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, and Denmark—allow for the sale of insect-based food.
When insect-based food does hit the market, it’s usually viewed as a novelty item. Cricket lollipops are hilarious souvenirs from the natural history museum, not dinner. However with the recent uptick in products, there’s been a gradual shift in consumers’ attitudes. Pre-made cricket flour snacks like chips and protein bars have helped mellow out the “yuck” factor. Billionaire Mark Cuban has even invested in several snack brands, like Chirps and Chapul when pitched on “Shark Tank.” So if he’s betting his finances on the stuff, it may have a future beyond fad diets after all.
Header image courtesy of Getty.