Bugs might be a diet staple in many parts of the world, but the thought of munching on insects is probably enough to make most Canadians squirm.
Yet three brothers think it's time for people in this country to get over their squeamishness and eat the nutrient-rich creatures.
"If you want your relationship with food to be one where the food you eat enhances your life, enhances your wellness and helps you live longer, then you should consider insects. And at the same time they help the planet," says Jarrod Goldin, president of Entomo Farms, which raises crickets and mealworms for human consumption near Norwood, Ont., about two hours northeast of Toronto.
"If you don't care about living longer and your health and all you want to do is drink pop and eat Doritos, then God bless you, go right ahead. It's not for us to preach or try to convince.
"There is a massive, massive value to eating insects, massive value, for people, for their children, for their families."
Eating insects, known as entomophagy, is a nutritious alternative to other proteins like chicken, pork, beef and even fish.
"As a source of protein, for example, weight for weight, it has twice as much protein as beef," says Goldin.
"It has all nine essential amino acids, again twice the amount of beef. It has about 30 times more B12 in it than beef does."
They emit fewer greenhouse gases and less ammonia than cattle or pigs and need significantly less land and water than cattle rearing, adds Goldin, also a chiropractor in the Toronto area specializing in health, fitness and nutrition.
A 2013 report, "Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security" by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, proved inspirational to Goldin and his brothers Darren and Ryan.
By 2050, the world will host nine billion people and current food production will need to almost double, according to the report. Yet land is scarce, oceans are overfished and climate change and related water shortages could have profound implications for food production.
The FAO estimates insects form part of the diet of at least two billion people and thousands of species have reportedly been used as food.
Darren and Ryan Goldin had been farming insects and worms for the reptile trade and fishing for about 10 years, so it was relatively easy to make the switch to human food.
At any given time, Entomo Farms houses about 90 million crickets in various stages of development, says Darren Goldin, who runs the farm.
A blast of heat greets visitors to the industrial-style barns, where the temperature in the dim insect rooms is kept at a humid 32 C to encourage breeding and incubation. The noise level is high, with male crickets chirping to attract females.
Eggs and hatchlings are housed in plastic bins in a separate area until they're large enough to join the adults.
At maturity — age six weeks — the crickets are ready to be processed.
"Being cold-blooded they don't really feel the pain.... They just freeze and fall asleep, then they're out. Then we wash them and roast them," Jarrod Goldin explains.
Afterward they're left whole or ground into a very fine powder, or flour, which can be used in a variety of foods, like energy bars, chips, cookies, pasta, bread and smoothies — "all kinds of products that you already eat that just have this ingredient in it that really enhances the nutritional value," says Jarrod Goldin.
Besides being sold in Canada, product is shipped to the U.S., South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Europe and Mexico.
"People also buy the whole roasted crickets and instead of munching on a bag of chips at night they munch on some flavoured roasted crickets or flavoured roasted mealworms — and again they're much healthier," says Jarrod Goldin.
Roasted crickets or mealworms can be sprinkled on salad like croutons, he adds.
Crik Nutrition of Winnipeg uses cricket powder from Entomo Farms in its protein powder, and Summerhill Markets in Toronto began stocking the company's crickets and mealworms earlier this year.
"We do a lot of research about food trends and one that kept popping up was about insect protein and they're talking about the sustainability of it, and that there's more protein and more bang for your buck, so to speak, so it was something we thought we'd consider and bring into our store," says manager Christy McMullen.
"I'm not going to say that it's flying off the shelves, but it's doing OK so we're going to keep it on the shelves."
When they introduced the products, staff set out samples and concocted several items to sell, such as a peanut butter protein ball enhanced with insect powder, and chocolate-covered crickets. They made minty-green grasshopper pie, putting cricket powder in the crust and garnishing it with chocolate-covered crickets.
There are also packages of whole crickets flavoured with sea salt and pepper, Moroccan, barbecue and honey mustard flavours.
"It's kind of like a potato chip. It takes the flavour of whatever is on it," McMullen says.
"I say the texture is kind of like toast or maybe like a Rice Krispie sort of. They're a little crunchy," she adds.
"Once you get over the insect factor it tastes OK and that's sort of what I find. Everyone is like, 'Oh, that's better than I thought it was going to be.' "
Here are five things to know about edible insects:
WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMONLY EATEN INSECTS?
The FAO says they include beetles, caterpillars, bees, wasps, ants, grasshoppers, locusts, crickets, cicadas, leaf and planthoppers, scale insects and true bugs, termites, dragonflies and flies.
The FAO says insects are healthy, nutritious alternatives to mainstream staples such as chicken, pork, beef and even fish. Many insects are rich in protein, good fats and high in calcium, iron and zinc. They're also low in calories.
HOW DOES THE AMOUNT OF PROTEIN STACK UP?
One hundred grams of cricket flour contains 65 grams of protein, while 100 grams of steak contains less than 30 grams of protein.
HOW DO YOU EAT THEM?
Grinding or milling is a common method for processing insects. Cricket powder (cricket flour), which is just ground roasted crickets, adds a subtle nutty or earthy flavour to whatever you bake or cook, including cake, cookies, muffins, protein shakes, soup and chili. If you only add a small amount, you won't even taste it. Flavoured whole crickets and mealworms taste and feel a lot like a potato chip. Whole crickets can be coated in chocolate, while crickets and mealworms can also be used as a garnish like croutons in salads or soups.
ARE THERE ANY DANGERS?
People with seafood allergies should be cautious as there are distant relations between some insects and shellfish. If you have an allergy to insect bites or stings you should also proceed with caution. Insects like crickets are gluten-free, but the grain they are typically raised on is not, so some companies have designed a special feed to accommodate individuals with celiac disease. Insects should always be cooked. Though they may be tempting, don't eat those brightly coloured raw insects you find in your backyard.
SOURCE: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Entomo Farms