The next big thing: cricket powder

There's no denying the nutritional perks of these little insects.

Many post-workout proteins are sugary and highly processed, thus making them counterproductive to any exercise itself. Similarly, a lot of agricultural protein production—now we’re talking farm animals—is counterproductive to the environment: Animals are raised for consumption, yet themselves consume far more than they are able to produce.

So, while the solution may sound odd at first, it resolves both problems: Crickets—yes, the insects—could right agriculture wrongs while also giving you the healthiest workout recovery.

The cricket’s proponents chirp praises about its sustainability and low impact on the environment. For instance, it takes just six weeks for a generation of crickets to mature, and for every 100 pounds of feed, they produce 60 pounds of edible protein (twice as much as chicken, and 12 times as much as beef). They also require significantly less water—up to 2,000 times less per pound than beef.

One proponent is Ali Bouzari, a food scientist who works closely with culinary powerhouses like Thomas Keller Group, Benu, and Bar Tartine. He experiments with crickets in numerous recipes.

"Crickets as a protein source are so eco-friendly, but the part that really excites me is their functionality in the kitchen,” he says. “With meat from a cow, you can sear it, grind it, or extract tasty stuff from it. That's about it. Crickets have a breadth of function on par with things like wheat or soy.”

To Bouzari’s point, the little buggers can be ground into powder and used for things like pasta dough, cookies, and gumbo. Bitty founder Megan Miller uses cricket powder in her baking mixes, concocting everything from pancakes to banana bread. The team behind Exo—as in “exoskeleton”—employs the same practice to make protein bars, touting that crickets are a “complete protein, containing all the essential amino acids, and are also high in micronutrients such as iron, calcium and B-vitamins.”

Exo founders Gabi Lewis and Greg Sewitz started their company at Brown University in 2013. They froze, roasted, and pulverized two boxes of crickets, creating the powder to make their first protein bars. They sampled to friends as well as fitness and nutrition buffs, garnering enough vocal support to launch a Kickstarter campaign that nearly tripled its $20,000 goal. So convincing was their crickets-as-solution argument for protein production, Lewis and Sewitz have since secured $2.9 million in two rounds of funding from angel investors like author Tim Ferriss (The 4-Hour Workweek), and their PB&J-flavored bars were served as a dessert at last year’s Clinton Global Initiative dinner. The bars are also sold at many Equinox locations.

“We wouldn’t have gotten that [support and funding] if just for the protein bar,” says Lewis, who now counts Ferriss and renowned chef Tom Colicchio as two of his brand’s biggest supporters. “These investors know that crickets can change the landscape of food production. The protein bar is our vehicle product and a good way to get people comfortable with eating crickets, because there is so much more you can do with the powder.”

“As for the whole insect taboo thing, that will work itself out really quickly,” says Bouzari. “When I was in grade school, people were still freaked out by eating raw fish."