- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 6, 2016

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) - Some describe the taste as nutty or having the flavor of a sunflower seed.

Austin Miller of Eugene says the crunchy brown morsels taste like popcorn.

But Miller, a 33-year-old with an unusual new business, isn’t describing a typical snack.

He’s talking about crickets.

Eating crickets.

“The primary way I eat them is on chips with salsa, maybe five or six per chip,” Miller said. “Sometimes I put a handful on a salad. They pair well with soft cheeses as well, but their appeal isn’t their unique awesome flavor. Really, they just provide a protein-rich crunch.”

Miller breeds, raises, freezes, boils, bakes and packages the small insects for humans to buy - and eat.

His business, Craft Crickets in west Eugene, started selling crickets last week through its website.

The thought of eating crickets may be revolting to most Americans, but Miller and others contend that the insects are a nutritious and environmentally friendly food source that will play a larger role in the human diet as the world’s population explodes.

“When the world has 9 billion people, we’re not going to be able to necessarily feed the population with our current agricultural practices,” Miller said. “I’m not sure if it will be in five years or 50, but we’ll all be eating insects eventually.”

About 30 companies in the United States sell insect-based food items, he said, including a handful of cricket breeding, raising and processing firms.

Cricket Flours, founded in Eugene in 2014 by two University of Oregon graduate students, started by making flour from ground crickets. The founders moved their firm to Portland. Earlier this year, they said they had developed the world’s first brownie mix with milled crickets.

In other states, Aspire Food Group, Exo, Chapul and All Things Bugs sell cricket-based products, ranging from flour to protein bars, cricket powder and whole crickets.

Aspire, based in Austin, Texas, claims to be a “global industry leader in the edible insect movement.” The company, with operations in Texas and in Ghana, west Africa, says it works to raise food-grade crickets on a commercial scale as well as normalize the consumption of insects in the Western world.

There’s a variety of ways people can consume the tiny, protein-packed bugs, according to Miller, who says he often adds crickets to tacos for extra texture. His life partner, Zoe Anton, 32, grinds them up in a food processor and puts them in shakes or bakes the remains into a cake for added protein.

“It’s probably the most protein-rich cake that I’ve ever eaten,” Miller said.

His company’s crickets are not seasoned with spices or salt. After being baked, they’re packaged - antennas, legs, eyes and all - into 2- and 4-ounce resealable bags. The 2-ounce bag costs $15 and contains about 650 to 750 crickets. The 4-ounce bags cost $20 each and have about twice the amount of baked bugs.

At Craft Crickets, Miller raises about 500,000 crickets at a time in a 3,000-square-foot, rented warehouse on Conger Street, off West 11th Avenue.

He and Anton became interested, and eventually passionate about, eating insects following a yearlong trip to such countries as Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.

“We did some traveling in South America, where eating insects is very common,” Miller said. “In Oaxaca (Mexico) they sort of pan fry them and season them, and then sell them in large bags and people eat it like candy - they’re tasty.”

It cost the couple about $25,000 to start the business. The Oregon Department of Agriculture recently approved Craft Crickets as the state’s first food grade producer of crickets, Miller said.

It took awhile to find a place to raise half a million crickets, he said.

“I probably called between 30 and 40 places before we got this space,” Miller said. “Many people we talked to were concerned about smell or the sound, or bugs getting into their space.”

Inside the multi-room warehouse, crickets are divided into 5,000-bug batches in plastic bins, depending on their various live stages.

Crickets chirp loudly when they become adults. However, Craft Crickets, with mostly young critters who reside in lid-covered plastic containers, is surprisingly quiet.

A small greenhouse that serves as a cricket nursery, where cricket eggs hatch, occupies most of one room. It’s kept at 89 degrees with 70 to 80 percent humidity.

Tiny palettes of peat moss line the bottom of several large plastic bins where, after about 10 days, the eggs become tiny crickets, similar in size to gnats. Once they’re slightly bigger, the bugs are relocated to larger, shelf-lined rooms, but remain in their bins. Each bin is given a number and a letter to help Miller keep track of the growth stages.

After six to eight weeks, the crickets are full-grown adults and are ready to be harvested.

Miller then wraps the bins where the bugs have spent the entire lives in large plastic bags and drives them to an industrial-sized kitchen at FOOD for Lane County, the regional nonprofit food bank, on Bailey Hill Road.

“That’s where I have my license to process the crickets,” he said. “I can only do it there. I have a warehouse full of crickets. However, the warehouse is not a commercial kitchen, and freezing them needs to be done in a sanitary commercial kitchen.”

The crickets are frozen in a walk-in freezer for about 24 hours. When the bugs are placed in the freezer they go into a sort of hibernation before freezing to death, Miller said, a process that takes about two hours. They are subsequently baked in an oven.

“I spend a lot of time with them and monitor them and make sure they’re happy and healthy,” Miller said. “And you do form an attachment because there’s a sense of personality in the little guys, but I don’t have a lot of guilt when I harvest them. I do think it’s one of the more humane ways to get protein.”

Craft Crickets is a small operation, only having sold about a dozen 2- and 4-ounce bags in the first week after getting the Department of Agriculture approval.

Although Miller and Anton hope to make a profit from their venture, their bigger mission is to start an insect-eating movement.

Miller’s assertion that the future of food and human life will be linked to the consumption of insects is based on a 2013 report published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations with the title of “Edible insects: future prospects for food and feed security” which estimates that about 9 billion people will populate the planet by 2050.

The report states that entomophagy, or the practice of eating insects, has taken place across the globe for thousands of years.

“People throughout the world have been eating insects as a regular part of their diets for millennia,” the report states. “The earliest citing of entomophagy can be found in biblical literature; nevertheless, eating insects was, and still is, taboo in many westernized societies.”

The report estimates that insect eating is practiced regularly by at least 2 billion people around the world and that nearly 2,000 species have been documented as edible.

The 171-page report discusses the nutritional, environmental, economical and social benefits of humans eating insects. According to the UN report, insects are a “healthy, nutritious alternative to mainstream staples such as chicken, pork, beef and even fish.”

The report also states that edible insects are rich in protein and good fats, high in calcium, iron and zinc, emit fewer greenhouse gasses than most livestock and take very little farming space.

“Crickets, for example, need 12 times less feed than cattle, four times less feed than sheep, and half as much feed as pigs and broiler chickens to produce the same amount of protein,” the report states.

Insects also can be sustained on organic waste, and raising them can be low-tech and relatively cheap, according to the report.

Miller’s crickets, which yield about 57 grams of protein per 100 grams of bug, feed on a variety of local fruit and vegetables, such as apples, cucumbers, potatoes and plums, as well as organic chick feed.

Miller closely monitors what the crickets eat daily, meticulously weighing the contents of their diet and putting the data in a spreadsheet. That information, if people are interested, is available for every batch of crickets processed in Miller’s operation so consumers can see exactly what they’re eating.

“People can look up a batch number and see what the crickets ate and where that food came from, as well as how much food they had to eat to get that size,” Miller said. “It’s not the same for every batch.”

While Miller admits eating insects is nowhere near mainstream in the United States, he said people should not be afraid to try something different.

“I understand the hesitancy, but people should take the plunge,” he said. “It makes a lot of sense on many different levels. We’ll probably all be eating insects in the future. A lot of people already do.”


Information from: The Register-Guard, https://www.registerguard.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide