Interview with cricket protein kickstarter Gabriel Lewis
As a website dedicated to concepts and trends in health and nutrition there are some stories that pop up on our social media radar that are impossible to ignore. Kickstarter is a crowdfunding platform designed to help bring creative projects to life. One such project was Exo, a brand of protein bars. One might wonder why anyone would attempt to enter this already crowded market with a product funded from scratch. However Exo are no ordinary protein bars. They are made from insect protein (cricket protein flour to be exact). HealthGauge spoke to Exo Co-Founder Gabriel Lewis…
How and why did you embark on this most unusual venture?
“I originate from Glasgow in Scotland and moved to the US to study at Brown University in Rode Island. During my senior year I began to experiment with recipes to make my own protein bars as the ones on the market either didn’t taste very good or were full of terrible ingredients. Meanwhile my room mate Greg Sewitz attended a conference at MIT on climate change and resource strategies where a topic of discussion was the notion that if we could convince Europeans and Americans to eat insects we could solve many of our environmental and food shortage problems. One problem in particular is the impossible challenge of feeding our ever growing population through traditional methods of farming livestock which demand huge amounts of space and resources whilst also producing waste products such as methane. So Greg proposed the idea of an insect protein bar.
Of course I laughed the idea off initially. But then as I researched, the idea started to make more and more sense. Insects are extremely high in protein. Not only in quantity but also quality. Unlike alternative protein sources such a plant protein, insect protein contains all essential amino acids, so it is very high quality. It is also high in micro-nutrients like iron and calcium.
With the combined nutritional and environmental benefits we then seriously started to explore the concept of an insect protein bar. After graduating we moved to New York and launched a Kickstarter campaign. The initial purpose of this campaign was to gauge interest and see if there really was a market for the idea. The campaign was a huge success and went on to raise over $55,000 as well as generating a huge amount of press attention. The first line of products finally launched in spring 2014.”
Have you had to overcome any challenges in developing and producing the bars?
“We’ve had to overcome so many challenges. Right from the start we’ve had to create the infrastructure for insect farming. Whilst there are cricket farms that raise crickets for animal consumption, there has never been anything like this that would be suitable for human consumption. So we had to work with existing cricket farms and tweak processes such as what the crickets were fed to make them suitable for humans. Then there’s the processing methods of turning the crickets into flour and finally the issue of finding a production partner that would even allow cricket flour into a food production facility. Farming insects isn’t particularly difficult. It’s simply a matter of farming, cleaning, drying and grinding. The main challenge was simply that we were the first to be farming crickets for humans.”
Do you really believe that you can convince people to eat insects?
“The reason we don’t currently eat insects in the west is due to an irrational fear. We see insects as unclean and a spreader of disease. Whilst this may be true of some insects, for the vast majority they are much cleaner than the cattle we eat on a regular basis. But convincing people to eat insects is certainly our biggest challenge.
We believe however that this can be overcome and there are many historical precedents. 40 years ago Sushi was seen as strange and the idea of eating raw fish for many was disgusting. Then the California roll hid the raw fish in rice which made it more appealing to consumers. Now sushi no longer needs to be hidden in rice and is eaten in raw sashimi form throughout the West as a common lunch option and a cuisine with high perceived value.
Once people have got used to the idea of insects as food by hiding it in bars, who’s to say we wont see people eating it in the same way as sushi in 40 years time. In fact some high end restaurants have already had insects on the menu for some time with Claridge’s in London and Noma in Copenhagen serving ants and crickets. The concept is also finding its way into mainstream awareness through survival personalities like Bear Grylls.”
Finally, what do crickets taste like?
“Nutty and crunchy.”