Pat Crowley has visions of bugs in his hamburgers. And wax worms in his trail mix.
This isn’t a "Fear Factor" inspired nightmare, but a hope. The Salt Lake businessman wants to attract Americans to what most of the world’s population already knows: Edible insects are a rich source of protein that’s easy on the Earth.
Are they vegetarian?
The Chapul bars are gluten-free, since they’re made with coconut flour. But are they vegan or vegetarian? Owner Pat Crowley, who notes that his chefs are vegetarian, said it depends on the eater’s reasons for foregoing animals. People motivated by health or environmental reasons may be willing to eat insects. Those who eschew meat for animal welfare reasons may not.
Insects could cause allergies. Those who have a shellfish crustacean allergy are warned they could have the same problem with insects.
Where to buy Chapul Bars in the Salt Lake City area
Salt Lake City
Cali’s Natural Foods » 389 W. 1700 South; 801-483-2254.
Earth Goods General Store » 1249 S. 900 East; 801-746-4410
Liberty Heights Fresh Market » 1290 S. 1100 East; 801-583-7374
Mololo Gardens » 361 W. 400 South; 801-366-6000
2Nd Track Sports » 2927 E. 3300 South; 801-466-9880
Jade Market » 353 W. 200 South; 801-521-2106
Off The Grid » Salt Lake City food truck, http://www.offthegridslc.com/
Corner Market Store » 203 Hampton Avenue; 801-484-0204
Taqueria 27 & Coffee Bar » 1615 S. Foothill Drive; 385-259-0712
The Leonardo » 209 E. 500 South; 801-531-9800
OARS » 221 N. 400 East; 1-800-346-6277
But Crowley, 33, realizes he has to take baby steps down the path of this culinary revolution. That’s why he chose the friendly cricket — think Jiminy — as his first menu item.
"Our main mission is to make it culturally acceptable" to eat insects, Crowley said. "We thought the cricket was a fairly easy transition, as opposed to a worm or a beetle."
Crickets ground into a flour — that way there are no legs or antennae to think about — provides the protein in the energy bars Crowley and his three partners started making last September.
The business is small but growing steadily, with 2,000 bars sold last month. The Chapul Bars — it means cricket or grasshopper in Aztec — are sold for about $3 in 30 locally-owned stores in 12 states, and Crowley expects to double the retail locations in the next month. He also is about to double the number of energy bar flavors — bringing it to four — and will soon be moving to a larger kitchen.
While a company called Hotlix sells lollipops and toffee with crickets, worms, scorpions or ants inside as a novelty, Crowley says his is the first nutritional product created using insect parts.
"It’s about time," agrees Florence Vaccarello Dunkel, associate professor of entomology at Montana State University, who runs The Food Insects Newsletter, which promotes the use of insects as food for humans and other animals.
She calls insects "land shrimp," since they’re genetically cousins to ocean shrimp. She uses the wax moth larvae, crickets and mealworms in the quesadillas, stir frys and dream bars she’s been serving for 25 years at her university’s annual Bug Buffet.
"It’s very odd that we feed our turtles and lizards and other reptiles this high-quality protein and we eat things like chicken, beef and pork," she said in a telephone interview from her Bozeman office, noting that a 100-gram serving of insects is higher in protein, calcium and iron than 100 grams of beef. There’s no cholesterol in insects and they have the healthy omega 3 fatty acids, she said.
"The insects are like mushrooms — they take on the taste of what you put with them," she added.
She and Crowley agree that Americans are more receptive to insect protein than ever.
"People are ready for a change," Crowley said. "They’re more in tune with where their food comes from and the unsustainability of our mainstream food products."
A global food • Some 80 percent of the world’s population intentionally eats 1,700 species of insects for food. People eat red tree ants in Cambodia, bee larvae in Japan and grasshoppers in Mexico, Crowley said.
Americans and Europeans are notably absent from the guest list.
Of course, we eat bugs as well — but just not on purpose. The Food and Drug Administration allows all kinds of "insect fragments" in food — up to 60 per 100 grams of chocolate, 30 per 100 grams of peanut butter, and up to 10 whole insects per 8 ounce of raisins, according to its Food Defect Action Level booklet.
As Crowley mixes up a batch of his Thai flavored bars — cricket flour stirred with coconut flakes, dates, almond butter, agave nectar, cashews, ginger and lime — he says the flavors are inspired by cultures where insects are traditionally consumed as part of their diets.
The brown flour that smells fishy comes from out-of-state cricket farms that primarily raise them for pet food. Crowley says he bakes the insects to kill bacteria and then grinds them into a flour. Each 51 gram energy bar contains the equivalent of 12 crickets, for 6 grams of protein.
Utah has its own cultural tradition of eating insects. Like about 50 percent of Native American tribes that used insects as food, the Utes and Southern Paiutes did, too. In the 1870s, John Wesley Powell noted that grasshoppers and crickets were collected in droves, roasted like seeds and ground down to be eaten as a mush or in cakes.
They were eaten whole, salted and sun-dried, "much as residents of any present-day neighborhood lounge consume beer nuts," David B. Madsen, Utah’s former state archeologist, wrote in his article "A Grasshopper in Every Pot" published in a Nevada historical quarterly in 1989. Madsen has also written that Mormon pioneer diaries were full of references to eating insects.Next Page >
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.