Exo, a Brooklyn-based company, is building a new kind of protein bar with a cricket-y twist.
In addition to natural ingredients like raw cacao, dates, almond butter, and coconut, the nutrient-dense snack bars each contain 6% of cricket flour, made from about 25 ground-up crickets, according to Exo founders Gabi Lewis and Greg Sewitz.
Inspired by a United Nations report that said eating insects can reduce world hunger, Lewis and Sewitz began experimenting with the bar last fall, during their senior year at Brown University.
The bars are quickly gaining buzz since Exo was posted to crowd-funding site Kickstarter on July 29 with the goal of raising $20,000 by August 28 so the product can be delivered to backers by October 13. So far, things are going well: Exo has pulled in more than $7,000 with 28 days to go.
A $25 pledge will buy you six cricket-filled bars, which seems kind of expensive in the realm of energy and nutrition bars. Lewis expects the bars to sell for $2.60 once they make their way onto grocery store shelves, gyms, and other specialty stores.
80 per cent of the world already eats insects. Western countries have long been the exception. And while creepy-crawlies are still far off from regularly being served to American and European diners, the recent graduates hope to make at least a few bug-eating converts with their super-healthy snack.
There is a wide net of edible insects, including beetles, wasps, caterpillars, grasshoppers, worms, and cicadas, but the large network of cricket farms within the United States (house crickets are typically sold for pet food or fish bait) made the little chirpers a practical ingredient choice.Crickets also seemed like an easier sell than some of the larger, but more protein-rich bugs, like the dung beetle, explained Lewis.
As far as bugs go, crickets are not only high in protein, they are also a rich source of iron, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids. Crickets are good for the environment, too. When compared to other protein-rich foods, like cows or chicken, insects use less water and produce less greenhouse gases than livestock.
Currently, the duo is making the cricket flour themselves in a space they rent in a commercial kitchen. The house crickets are trucked to Brooklyn from a cricket farm located on the east coast. The lively insects are immediately frozen, which keep them fresh, and then slowly roasted before they are crushed into a powder. “It’s 100% cricket,” says Lewis.
The cricket flour replaces the soy protein that you would find in most energy bars. And while the unusual ingredient doesn’t taste bad on its own — it has a neutral, slight nutty flavour — the founders recruited Kyle Connaughton, the former head of research and development for Michelin-starred Fat Duck Restaurant in England, to ensure the flavour of their bar is top-notch.
The bars have been “described as tasting like a healthy brownie or having a rocky-road flavour,” said Sewitz.
Exo’s founders understand the psychological barrier. They are hoping a nutritionally-superior product that is also yummier compared to other bars on the market will quell some of the natural hesitancy.
In addition to the revolutionary use of protein, “the taste is better than most or all protein bars,” said Lewis.
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