Americans are generally unwilling to eat bugs. But for at least two billion people worldwide, bugs or insects are a normal part of the diet.
For instance, fried caterpillars are popular in Tanzania. In Mexico, many people enjoy chili-toasted grasshoppers. And some Thais like crunchy giant water bugs.
Now, a business in the U.S. state of Oregon is selling finely-ground crickets as human food.
The company's name is Cricket Flours -- that's "flour" as in the white, powdery substance usually used in baking. Charles Wilson is the founder and CEO. He says he became interested in crickets when he learned he could not eat some common foods, including a protein powder he used to build muscle.
"So I started looking for alternative proteins and alternative food ingredients and I stumbled across cricket flour."
Wilson says he recognized crickets could be more than a replacement for protein. He sensed a business opportunity. At the time, Wilson was attending the University of Oregon's law school. He mentioned the idea to his friend, Omar Ellis, who was studying at the business school.
Mr. Ellis said the idea of selling cricket protein powder was terrible.
“I just spent my first year in business school basically doing market research. My intuition is that's going to fail horribly."
Yet Charles Wilson convinced his friend to become a co-founder and leader of Cricket Flours.
At a recent conference in Oregon, Mr. Ellis gives people free samples of cricket protein powder.
"Why crickets? They're very sustainable. They take one-tenth the feed and one-sixth the water to get the same amount of protein that you would get from beef. It's got more iron than spinach, more calcium than milk. It's quite amazing..."
Cricket Flours Co-Founder Omar Ellis offers product samples in Portland last month. (Tom Banse)
Charles Wilson and Omar Ellis buy large amounts of dried, crushed crickets. Then, the entrepreneurs sell cricket flour, chocolate flavored cricket flour, and baking mixes online.
Mr. Wilson says cricket flour does not have a strong taste. Maybe, he says, it tastes a little like nuts.
Two people who attended the Oregon food conference were willing to try cricket flour on breakfast cereal.
"Well, It's a little bit disconcerting, clearly not going to work for a vegetarian. But ultimately there's a problem finding good protein powders that are not flavored and this isn't."
"In any other form, I would never do this. [laughs]. But definitely it might be something for the future. You never know."
Cricket Flours is one of more than a dozen new U.S businesses in the food insects industry. Other businesses focus on cricket farming or snacks made from cricket powder.
Mr. Ellis says it takes about 10,000 crickets to make a kilogram of cricket flour. In other words, cricket food costs a lot of crickets.
I’m Marsha James.
This report was based on a story from reporter Tom Banse. Marsha James adapted it for VOA Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.
Words in This Story
supplement – n. something that is added to something else in order to make it complete
ingredient – n. one of the things used to make a food or product
alternative – adj. offering or expressing a choice
stumble – v. to find or learn about something unexpectedly
disconcert – v. to make someone upset or embarrassed
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