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Crickets could be coming soon to the University of Winnipeg cafeteria

Chef Vikram Vij presents Roasted Cricket Parantha (ground roasted cricket bread).

Laura Leyshon/The Globe and Mail

Crickets could soon be on the menu at the University of Winnipeg.

Ben Kramer, executive chef of Diversity Food Services Inc., the company that provides food services to the university, is planning on introducing cricket and mealworms.

"There's the obvious kind of fear-factor reaction," he said. "But everybody who we've tested it on has enjoyed it."

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The introduction of crickets falls in line with the company's drive for sustainability, environmental awareness and focus on using local suppliers, Mr. Kramer said.

But he is also introducing the ingredient because crickets are tasty.

"If it didn't taste good, we wouldn't do it. We're not doing it strictly because it has an environmental impact, strictly because it has a novelty factor behind it," he says. "I mean part of it is that, if it tasted bad, we wouldn't do it because it wouldn't sell," Mr. Kramer said.

He said crickets taste like sunflower seeds.

A 2013 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimated that two billion people worldwide include insects in their "traditional diets."

The same report outlines health, environmental, economic and social benefits as reasons for people to consume insects.

For example, crickets need 12 times less feed than cattle to produce equal amounts of protein, are rich in minerals and emit less greenhouse gases than most livestock.

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Mr. Kramer's team has experimented with the ingredient in naan bread, as salad and pizza toppings and in granola.

But so far the only product that Diversity Food Services is set on launching is a protein bar, Mr. Kramer said.

He said he has been toying with the idea of implementing crickets into the company's menu for a while, but it wasn't until he tried them at Vij's restaurant in Vancouver that he decided to experiment with the ingredient.

"It was my first experience with [crickets] hitting a broad, mainstream audience, and not just something that you eat when you go travel, and that kind of sparked the 'okay, well [Vikram Vij] is doing quite well and people are responding well to them,' " he said.

Mr. Kramer said he is introducing crickets to the Winnipeg market. "Obviously we didn't create it, it's been going on for years, and years and years. … I'm just seeing if the Winnipeg market is ready for it," he said.

But he isn't the only one introducing cricket-based products in North America.

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A cricket protein bar company, Chapul, appeared on the U.S. television show Shark Tank last year, landing an investment with Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks of the National Basketball Association.

The company sells its product in more than 200 locations in the United States and Canada.

Other companies that have created cricket-based food products include Crik Nutrition, which has formulated a cricket protein powder, and Six Foods, which has created cricket-based chips called Chirps.

Six Foods raised more than $70,500 in just over one month on Kickstarter in 2014 to fund the creation of Chirps.

Marie-Élaine LaRochelle, a spokeswoman for Food Secure Canada, said that while insects as a source of protein have been promoted by numerous people over the past 10 years, "it is not really catching on yet in North America."

To that, Jarrod Goldin of Next Millennium Farms, an insect farm in Ontario, said: "They haven't seen the amount of orders we're getting on our website."

Mr. Goldin said the company breeds 10,000 pounds of crickets a month, selling its products to companies, restaurants and "thousands" of buyers online.

He said crickets are a "healthy, nutritious superfood," and it is a "no-brainer" for people to opt for crickets over food that contains little nutritional value.

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