ATLANTA – In recent years, crickets have been gaining prominence as a new protein source, most notably for sustainability reasons.

“Insects are excellent feed converters,” said Kelly Hagen, chief operating officer, Entomo Farms, who spoke at the American Bakers Association’s annual Technical Conference, being held Oct. 20-23 in Atlanta. “It takes very little food to produce a pound of cricket.” she said.

The ratio is about 1.5 lbs of food to produce a pound of cricket, as opposed to pork, which is about 6 to 8 lbs feed, or beef, which is about 15 to 20 lbs, Ms. Hagen said.

“When you need less food, you need less land, less water, less fertilizer, less transportation,” she said. “That’s the heart of the sustainability story for crickets.”

But there’s more to this story for bakers.

Crickets are a meat-type of food, so they produce a very similar nutritional value, including protein, iron and vitamin B-12.

“In addition to what we’re used to in terms of meat nutrition, insects also contain a prebiotic fiber, which comes from the exoskeleton,” she said, noting that recent research has indicated an immunity boost effect from the prebiotic.

“Insects have a very different immune system from people, and that affects the animals and people who eat them; it appears that some of that antibacterial, antimicrobial peptide is being passed through to the organism eating them and providing an immunity boost,” she added.

Ms. Hagen referenced other research in the past three years, including a study from Italy that indicated insects are high in antioxidants.

“Last year, a study on gut bacteria from the University of Wisconsin showed that people who ate cricket powder every day in a smoothie, after two weeks, saw a difference in activity of the gut biome,” she said.

Once dehydrated, it takes about 4 lbs of raw cricket to produce about a pound of cricket powder with about 65% protein.

Consumers should be aware, Ms. Hagen indicated, that cricket is considered an allergen. The makeup of the insect’s exoskeleton is similar to that of shellfish.

“If you have a shellfish allergy, you might be allergic to crickets— or any insects— though not everyone is,” she said. 

Lastly, Ms. Hagen addressed a common misconception that cricket powder could be a substitute for flour, which is not the case.

“This is not cricket flour,” she said. “That was a source of confusion because it doesn’t behave like flour; it behaves like protein powder.”

Cricket powder can be found in product applications such as bars and chips.

Entomo Farms is a 60,000-square-foot open cricket farm in Ontario that has the capacity to produce up to 9,000 lbs of cricket per week.