These truffles were made with only three ingredients, well, four if you include the white chocolate chips on top. One of the ingredients inside them is a bit, well, controversial.
That ingredient is…. crickets. Yup, the insect. Let me rewind a little:
Three of years ago, when I was on the first year of my MBA, I wrote a paper on insect protein powder. I’d always been really curious about the idea of insects as a source of protein and the paper needed to be on innovation so I went for it.
To gather original data, I published a questionnaire that 390 of you were kind enough to answer. In the questionnaire, I asked everyone a few questions about insects as a protein source. That data is, of course, a bit dated by now. A lot of articles on insect protein have been published between 2014 and today (here’s one by Time magazine, for example, and another by the Guardian) and several companies have been created to dish out insects to the masses in the US, Canada, and Europe.
Regardless of the popularisation of the idea, I am not sure whether public opinion has changed too dramatically. Maybe I’m wrong, but based on anecdotal evidence, I think the findings below probably still stand so I want to share them with you. Do comment below this post, by the way, to share your views as well! I always love to hear from you.
Some have, of course, been swayed by the articles/data and that’s fantastic! But many people still react rather emotionally to the idea of eating insects. They start shaking their heads and vehemently refuse to give them a go.
A HEALTHY AND SUSTAINABLE SOURCE OF PROTEIN
The first time I ate insects (knowingly at leas!)! was 2012.
By no, I’ve been learning about nutrition and buying/cooking with protein powder for over 15 years now. One of the things that makes me most excited is innovation, innovation in the world of healthy food in general and protein in particular. I’m all about thinking outside the box, looking beyond what currently IS to see what actually COULD be. That’s what gave rise to Protein Pow after all! That’s why ours is the world’s first protein powder recipe app and why the Protein Pow Cookbook remains the first and best-selling book on protein powder cooking, globally. We were the first to take a dent at popularizing the idea of protein powder for cooking as opposed to purely shakes. You guys and I have been at the vanguard of protein cooking from the beginning! Which is pretty cool. But anyways, I’m not saying this to throw flowers at Protein Pow randomly, I’m saying it because innovation is what excites me and innovation is exactly what Chapul has always been about.
I first heard about Chapul in 2012. As soon as I did, I got really excited! I found the idea of insects as a protein source fascinating for a number of reasons. So I got in touch with Pat, the founder of Chapul, shortly after they released their first bars. I was really intrigued by what he was doing and wanted to find out more. As soon as I tried the bars, I dug in and wrote a blog post about them (check it out here, it’s pretty old school, hehe).
With their bars, their company, and their story, Chapul truly shook things up. They were the first to go into a land no one ever had, not in the US at least. They were the guy in the machete hacking his way through wild thick brush to create a completely new path. Chapul were pioneers of this whole space – the ones that walked where there was no path was and left a trail (to cheesily quote Emerson). Chapul started a movement: a movement to make eating crickets a mainstream ‘thing’ in the US. A ‘thing’ that over time has gained incredible momentum, coverage, and praise (click here to watch a talk Pat, Chapul’s founder, recently gave about eating insects).
By now of course, there are many other players in their space launching all kinds of insect-based products to tap into the popularisation of the idea in the US, Canada, and Europe. But, to me and to anyone that knows enough about the junction between insect protein and nutrition, Chapul were the first and they remain the most disruptive.
NO WAY IN HELL I’M TOUCHING THAT
Companies and people releasing well and truly innovative products into the world – products that are completely pioneering and indeed, ‘revolutionary’ – face many challenges. Selling crickets and other insects to people not used to the idea is not easy! It’s not a straight forward ‘sell’ because most people still mobilise images of grubby critters when they’re asked to eat crickets or insects of any kind. They get squeamish and think ‘eeeew,’ recoiling at the very thought of consuming them. Many of them tell you flat-out that there is nothing you can do to make them eat insects. “No way in hell I’m touching that,” to quote a friend of mine. No matter what you say to them, they downright refuse! Of course, that’s not everyone but some people still react rather emotionally to the idea. Let me share with you a funny story:
THAT WASN’T WHAT I EXPECTED!
Last year, when we were at the BBC Good Food Show in London running Protein Pow workshops, there was a French company there selling dry insects, in baggies. Here are some of their crickets:
When I first saw what they were doing, I went up to them and tried a selection of their stuff. I found it funny though how, while I was at the stand trying their range of products, several people shrunk away from the idea of even trying them. “Listen”, I said to the girl (wo)manning the stand, “why don’t we make some tasty truffles and walk around the show letting people try them?”
So we did and it was pretty funny. We had a bunch of truffles on a tray and went up to people, explaining first what was in them and then seeing if a) they would eat them, and b) they would like them. In a couple of cases, as soon as people saw them, they reached out and gobbled them down (the were some good-looking truffles, what can I say?). They ate them before we even got a chance to tell them what was in them! We then said to them,
“You just ate insects.”
Upon hearing that, a few of the people stopped chewing completely and an expression of horror crept up in their eyes.
Most of them were pleased though, which was cool. They thought insects would be gross, but realized, upon eating them, that they really weren’t that bad at all.
Two of the people totally shrugged at the idea of eating insect-containing truffles. “I’ve had insects before” they said, unperturbed by the whole thing. No big deal. It’s just food.
Look at the bag again though. Would YOU buy and excitedly munch the above bag as a snack? I‘d venture to say most of you wouldn’t because in your mind, the above isn’t food. It’s… the kind of thing you find in an abandoned drawer, you know?
GETTING OVER THE MENTAL PICTURE
Insects are a phenomenal source of nutrition and protein. They have 2x more protein than beef, 4x more iron than spinach, more Vitamin B-12 than salmon and they’re environmentally friendly to produce, requiring as they do little water and land compared to other sources of protein like cattle. Many people call insects the ‘protein of the future’ and I agree with that. Millions of people around the world eat them every day after all! Just not in the US, Canada, and Europe. Not traditionally at least.
That future – a future where we all eat insects, isn’t here for us yet.
There’s still a lot of pushback that stops people from venturing into the land of insects. Most people simply can’t mentally conceive – or imagine – insects as a food source. They think of them as critters, as bugs, as pests to be avoided.
To counter those mental imaginaries, proponents of edible insects bring up the fact that hey! We eat raw fish (e.g. sushi, sashimi) and once upon a time that was considered gross and unacceptable. We eat caviar. Many of us eat shrimp and other crustaceans too – we eat them whole, head included – and that’s like the ocean’s insects! Some of us east escargot as well (snails). None of those things face as hard a pushback as insects because they have, by now, become widely accepted as ‘food.’ The idea then is that, in the future, the same will happen to insects here in the US and in Europe: we’ll accept them as a source of protein, as food. We’ll eat stuff like this Canadian mealworm pasta, have worms, make cricket tacos, etc. Well… unless we’re vegan. (Random side note: would insects be considered vegetarian?)
TO HIDE OR NOT TO HIDE
How do we bring the above future – a future where everyone eats insects without recoiling in disgust – closer? One option is go totally hardcore and release insects without hiding them. Like the French company above that sells them in a bag or like these guys do, in chocolate: blatant, in your face, unavoidably there (to see more of their chocolates and other pics from the expo we were at when we met them, click here):
The other option is to go down the route of Chapul and do it introduce insects slowly or, rather, more discretely. By yes, still featuring them as a source of protein, but including them with flavors and protein-containing food concepts that we readily accept and indeed, enjoy eating. Like bars and protein powder. So instead of being straight in your face – an insect eye staring at you as you bite into your chocolate, the insects are ground into a powder and combined with other foods we would readily consume.
I think the latter route is what Chapul has chosen to go down, with their new cricket protein powders. They sent me a couple of samples a few days ago and I used the vanilla one here to make some Protein Pow truffles. They’re really tasty! Check out the recipe video below. I even shared them (with an insect-skeptic!) and they went down a treat :-)
CRICKET PROTEIN TRUFFLES
The recipe is couldn’t be easier. It’s just one little bag of vanilla cricket protein powder and 3 tbsp of cashew butter: mixed, rolled into balls, and dunked in melted dark chocolate. POW! Done. Here’s the whole thing:
The packaging doesn’t say how much of it (% wise) is crickets and how much is the other stuff (pea, rice, chia, etc) but it doesn’t taste like plain cricket powder which, I think, is a good thing. I’ve tasted cricket protein powder, in case you think I’m just saying that. I have a bag at home! Here’s evidence:
Cricket protein powder, in plain form, is very… smoky, savory, and a bit chickeny in flavor. Does that make sense? It’s not friendly to what anyone would call a ‘mainstream’ palate. Chapul have done a great job with this powder. It’s sweet and it has a really nice vanilla flavour, which is something I don’t often write because I love vanilla, have tasted dozens of powdered vanilla flavours (for product development purposes), and think 80% of the vanilla-flavored protein powders out there are pretty gross.
So taste-wise, Chapul have done an excellent job. It has a tiiiiiny bit of a cricket aftertaste but I think I can tell that because I know what cricket powder tastes like. Someone who’s never had cricket powder I think would just say it has a mild smokyness to it which isn’t a bad thing.
All in all, I’d say try it. If you think insects aren’t something you’d consume, give them a shot before you refuse them, why not? Millions of people around the world eat insects every day without a problem. Chapul’s protein powder offers a soft (and tasty) introduction into the world of insects, a world that’s full of innovation and forward-thinking minds! That’s what I think at least. I’d love to hear what YOU think too! So do drop a comment below if you have a few minutes to share your views as well :-)
Just in case any of you guys are curious, Chapul did not pay me to say any of this, they didn’t even know I would be writing this post! Just as they did not in 2012 when I first wrote a blog post about their just-released bars. I normally wouldn’t be forced to say this but, nowadays, more and more people expect that anyone with a big platform speaking positively about a brand and/or its products was paid for it. I understand this trend – it’s tied to the whole world of ‘influencer marketing’ but it’s a trend that makes me a bit sad because integrity and authenticity have been compromised by advertising, you know? So you get people out there who LOVE this and LOVE that and OMG TRY THIS and so on because they were paid to say it and you’re left wondering what to trust. But hey ho, that’s another story! All I want to say about it now is that, here at Protein Pow, I hold integrity dear to my heart and will always promote and share things and brands with you guys that I think you will enjoy learning about and find value in!