There's a Cricket in My Energy Bar

(Pat Crowley)

A small Salt Lake City food company called Chapul has a new line of energy bars that are raising eyebrows for their unique ingredients. Their Thai Bar has Coconut, ginger, lime … and crickets.

A chart in a video on the Chapul website shows that both cows and insects are 57 percent protein, but cows are 43 percent fats, while insects are just 22 percent fats.

"It basically means that insects have similar protein contents [to] livestock, but are healthier because they have less fat," Chapul founder Pat Crowley said. "We thought the people who would be most receptive are environmentally conscious and food conscious people who already eat healthy products and energy bars."

Insect diets are common in many countries, globally speaking, but they are mostly absent in the United States and Europe.

Crowley wants to introduce insects into American cuisine, but feels his main obstacle is that there is a psychological barrier Americans have about eating insects because it isn't part of the culture. So he looked into other industries that had to deal with the same barriers, and came to sushi, saying Americans were "repulsed" by the thought of eating raw fish before sushi became mainstream.

Crowley wanted to introduce insects into the American diet delicately by using other ingredients like chocolate and peanut butter, the way sushi was introduced into American cuisine with the subtle California Roll.

According to Steven R. Kutcher, an entomologist based in Arcadia, Calif., there are insects in almost everything Americans already eat.

"When you eat rice, flour, beans or anything, there are going to be insects in them, but people don't see them," Kutcher said. "So that's always been part of the human diet, especially before there was processed food."

Kutcher confirmed that insects are high in protein, but pointed out one negative aspect to eating insects.

"The downside is, especially with something like crickets, they have spines, they have claws, they have exoskeletons made from chitin and it's not digestible, so it goes right through you," Kutcher said. "When you eat crab or lobster, you don't eat the whole thing, you take off the shell. That's the chitin, but with something like crickets, you can't remove the chitin."

Chapul grinds the crickets into a flour in its bars so there are no legs, claws or antennae present. When they are ground that way, Kutcher said, the chitin is still not digestible, but consumers don't have the problems that come from eating all the body parts and they still get all the nutrients.

(Pat Crowley)

Aside from online sales, Chapul energy bars are sold in approximately 30 locally-owned stores in 12 states and are looking to double that in the next month.

"A lot of our expansion comes from people contacting us saying they want to stock bars and their stores, so we're always eager to hear from people who want to give us a try," Crowley said.

"We're getting a lot of response from Europe now. There is a lot of talk now from universities and companies in France, Germany and Netherlands about increasing insects into the diet, because the environmental footprint is much less than the majority of our mainstream food products."

"The Lion King's" Timon and Pumbaa famously told Simba that insects "taste like chicken," but Crowley described the flavor in more-gourmet terms.

"It's not quite like chicken, in this case, actually," Crowley said. "It has an earthy taste like sunflower seeds. The insects are pretty mild tasting, so it tastes like whatever you flavor it with. It's like popcorn , if you flavor it with butter, it taste like butter. We use ingredients that complement the natural flavor of insects, like dates and almond butter."

Crowley and his small group of employees and volunteers sometimes go to fairs and other events to sample their energy bars to the public.

"It's awesome; it's all over the map," Crowley said about people's reactions to his bars. "Some people are like, 'No way, get that away from me,' and others say, 'We've been waiting for something like this for years.' All reactions are very amusing."

"People will buy them because of the novelty of it," Kutcher said. "Or they might buy them because they really want the nutrient out of it. If the insect tasted good, I would eat a bar and I would serve the bars to all my friends without any hesitation."

Chapul is made up of only four employees, but Crowley said there are a lot of people who help them out.

"It's a community effort, because people believe in our mission and want to be part of positive change," Crowley said. "It has been super motivational to have so many people who are passionately backing us and encouraging our growth."