Up until last week, my closest encounter with a cricket was I caught one in the school playground aged 6, and it peed on my hand. The whole experience put me off crickets - and all insects, for that matter - so much that I've tried to avoid any further involvement since.
So, when I hear rumblings that edible insects are the next big thing in wellness, I stay silent and hope the whole idea blows away as nothing more than a fleeting fad. It doesn't - in fact, by the end of 2018, Sainsbury's had announced that it would be stocking edible crickets from , a sustainable food brand aiming to introduce insects into Western eating, into hundreds of its stores with immediate effect.
Turns out, edible insects are far from a fad and make sense on so many levels from nutrition to sustainability. And so, albeit reluctantly, I resolved to get involved.
Whereas traditional livestock farming requires vast amount of land to rear the animals and vast amounts of food to feed them, insects require 93% less land per kilogram of protein. Plus, farming insects produces far fewer greenhouse gasses than farming other animals does.
On top of the environmental benefits, insects are a good source of protein, containing all nine essential amino acids that humans need. While many foods, like nuts, beans and some vegetables, contain protein, they don't contain all nine essential amino acids and so can't be relied upon as the sole source of protein in a comprehensive diet.
All sounds great in theory, but what about actually sitting down to eat them? My first stop was my local Sainsbury's, which conveniently stocked bags and bags of Eat Grub's Crunchy Crickets. Holding the perfectly packaged snack in my hand and I start to think it won't be any different to tucking into a packet of crisps. I give it a quick squeeze and feel the contents ominously crunches inside the bag. Gross.
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I picked up Smoky Barbecue flavour, but the snack comes in a range of flavours including Peri-Peri and Sweet Chili and Lime, and can be eaten alone, or sprinkled over soups and salads as an extra helping of protein and crunch.
Upon opening the bag, I realised this wasn't going to be like an average packet of crisps. I could see the wings, the legs, the eyes of every one of the many, many crickets within. It was like they had been perfectly preserved in their living form, with the dusting of smoky barbecue seasoning doing little to make them more appetising. Nonetheless, I popped one in my mouth and bit down. I expected them to really crunch and require quite a bit of bite to break down, but it crumbled into powder with the slightest touch, which felt far less satisfying.
While I wasn't a fan of eating the Crunchy Crickets as a standalone snack, I did sprinkle them on a salad, which was a far more pleasant and tasty experience. My only caveat with this is that while crickets contain more protein than beef does per kilogram, what that actually means is I would have had to sprinkle on ten packets of crickets to get the same amount of protein as one small steak. And there's no way I'm eating ten bags in one sitting. Ho-no.
Having said all that, I am a firm supporter in the sustainability side of edible insects and acknowledge that we need to dramatically rethink the way we farm and consume traditional livestock if we want this planet to be around for much longer. I'm keen to explore the sector more thoroughly, including cooking with an insect protein powder - a concentrated version of the crickets that is easier to incorporate into your favourite foods - doesn't involve creepy crawly legs.