Being lactose-intolerant posed a problem for Vancouverite Dylan Jones when he was hitting the gym during his university days.
“I got the best results from animal proteins, but obviously, it’s pretty hard to eat, like, four chicken breasts a day,” the human-geography grad tells the Straight by phone. “And if you’re not eating that much, then you’re drinking whey, and that really wasn’t an option for me.”
Jones’s solution to the predicament didn’t come until a few years later, however, when he found a way to incorporate crickets—yes, crickets—into protein bars. But the insects, which are consumed regularly in parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, have benefits that go beyond bulking up the body.
“They’re very high in calcium, magnesium, and potassium,” explains Jones. “They have twice as much iron as spinach and are a better source of omega-3 and vitamin B12 than salmon, for example.”
This high concentration of nutrients is due to the fact that crickets are typically enjoyed whole—exoskeleton, organs, and all—but if you must know, they also pack more protein per pound than beef, chicken, and pork, according to a 2013 study by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. In fact, Jones relays that a single bug is 65 percent pure protein, which is double the amount in many edible plants.
These proteins are considered “complete”, to boot, meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids required by the human body to build and repair muscle. In addition to aiding your health, reaching for crickets—or insects in general—over other meats and seafood is pretty damn good for the environment, too.
“They don’t need a lot of land to grow, so we can use that arable space for planting other foods or trees instead,” notes Jones, citing the aforementioned FAO report, which proposes insects and insect farming as means to sustainably combat food insecurity. “They require very little feed and very little water, and they can be grown in urban environments once the market’s big enough, to greatly reduce shipping rates.”
This reality is partly what prompted Jones to launch the Vancouver-based Coast Protein with friends John Larigakis and Chris Baird in 2015. The trio now produces chocolate–sea salt and peanut-butter protein bars from dried and ground-up crickets sourced from an insect farm in Ontario. Free of dairy, soy, gluten, and added sugars, the snacks are all-natural, nutrient-dense alternatives to traditional protein blocks or shakes.
“They look just like protein bars,” says Jones, who notes that people are less averse to the idea than he had initially expected. “You really wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.”
The next step in helping the public become more comfortable with eating insects? Introducing the bugs into cuisine, though it’s safe to say that there are a handful of local shops and chefs that are well ahead of the curve. Cricket flour and roasted insects are readily available at Choices Markets (various locations), for example, while Vij’s has been known to serve up paratha made from seasoned, roasted, and ground crickets.
Jones, who’s had success mixing the critters into cookie and muffin batters, encourages bold cooks to experiment with them at home. “They have a nutty, earthy, deep kind of taste, so you have to pair them with stronger flavours,” he advises. “It’s like beef. You don’t drink white wine with beef; you drink red wine with it. It’s the same idea here because crickets will overpower lighter flavours.”
Given the “overwhelmingly positive” reception of Coast’s products—the startup will next be offering samples of its bars at the Fall For Local market at the Pipe Shop Building (115 Victory Ship Way, North Vancouver) on October 22—Jones has high hopes for the bugs.
“We know that people are squeamish about it, but they’re also adventurous,” he says. “And once they understand something and see that it tastes good, they’re okay with it.”