Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Utah business makes energy bars from crickets

Pat Crowley 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.

Crickets ground into flour — that way there are no legs or antennae to think about — provide 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.

"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."

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.

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.

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.

Not only were insects widely used as Native Americans’ winter food storage, they also were a delicacy. The mixture of insects, pine nuts and berries left to dry in the sun was called "desert fruitcake."

Chapul bars can currently be found in many locations in the Salt Lake City area as well as OARS in Vernal. Salt Lake Tribune