I had the opportunity to spend last weekend feeding gourmet cricket bars to 67,000 people at the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, California. The cricket bars are made by a company called Chapul, based out of Salt Lake City, Utah. Currently, Chapul is the only company in the US that has a cricket-based food product on the shelves. Pat Crowley, the owner of Chapul, just happens to be my first cousin. He invited me to spend the weekend with him at the Natural Products Expo to help get the word out about his company and the health and environmental benefits of eating insects.
As a company, Chapul, which was the Aztec word for cricket, has earned a lot of recent attention. Crowley pitched his idea to the investors on ABC's Shark Tank. The episode is set to air in less than two weeks, on March 21. The host of the Natural Products Expo, New Hope Media, nominated Chapul for an award that honors the most innovative new exhibitors each year. The award recipient will be announced at next year's expo, and all nominees will receive preferred placement for their booth in 2015.
So, why eat insects? According to Chapul's website, "Insects are an extremely healthy, delicious, and sustainable form of protein. Humans have evolved eating insects, and even today, 80% of countries around the world have them on the menu in some form." Humans have actually evolved with specific enzymes that digest insects, in particular their exoskeletons, which are made of chitin.
The many health benefits of the chitin included in Chapul bars are discussed in an article on DaresProducts.com. "Chitin will not only help you lose weight but it also is going to help you control and lower your cholesterol, blood pressure, and alleviate stomach and bowel ulcers, indigestion and constipation." Another major health benefit of eating insects is their high levels of complete proteins and amino acids present in crickets.
There are also positive environmental impacts that come from eating cricket bars. As their website points out, "Chapul was inspired by the need for a more water-efficient food supply. The majority of global water use is dedicated to agriculture, often very inefficiently." According to Chapul's website, a water input of 100 gallons only produces 6 grams of protein from beef, while the same amount of water produces 71 grams of protein from crickets.
Another benefit of including the cricket and other insects in our diets is that it diversifies our protein supply. Pat told me, "We're not trying to tell people to stop eating beef, chicken, or any of their other favorite protein sources. We're just trying to diversify our food supply and lower our environmental impact so that we can adapt as a species to issues like climate change, drought, and human over population."
The process for making Chapul Cricket Bars is fairly simple. The crickets are grown on a farm in the US specifically for human consumption. The crickets are then frozen. The cold temperatures put the insects into a kind of coma so that they die as humanely and painlessly as possible. Next, the crickets are dried in an oven. Finally, they are ground into a very fine powder, referred to as cricket flour, and included in the gourmet energy bars with other ingredients.
Chapul cricket bars come in three flavors and include all natural whole ingredients. Each flavor is inspired by a different region of the world that already eats insects. The North American-inspired bar is peanut butter and chocolate. The coconut, ginger, and lime bar is inspired by Thailand. A bar inspired by Meso-America includes coffee, dark chocolate, and cayenne pepper. All three bars use an organic date paste as a base, raw organic honey as a sweetener, and cricket flour as the main source of protein.