Food Entrepreneurs

Plant-based eating has never been hotter, and food companies have taken note.

Celery Root

Rob from Eden Prairie is always writing in about new food trends. Sweets made with vegetables are a huge trend right now. Think zucchini brownies. Plant-based eating has never been hotter, which stimulates food companies to create products with plant-based proteins.

Pea protein is white hot right now because it may be the supreme alternative to egg and dairy protein. Zing Bars use pea proteins, and Bob’s Red Mill has seen sales of green pea flour shoot through the roof in the last two years. Pea flour has twice the protein of whole wheat flour, and peas in general have almost five times the fiber and seven times the proteins of brown rice, so I’m sure they will be trending for years to come as companies roll out more and more pea protein–based products.

Seeds like chia and hemp are showing up everywhere because they replace nuts for many who have allergy issues, plus they are protein-dense and high in healthy fatty acids. And yet with all this good news, I truly believe that nothing will touch the impact of crickets on your food life in the next few years.

Last month I told you about Josh Tetrick’s Hampton Creek Foods and its quest to recreate the chicken egg using plant-based proteins. On that same trip to San Francisco, I spent some time with Megan Miller, who has launched Chirp Farms, a company that raises crickets and mills them into a baking flour substitute that will eventually be available to the public. High in protein and gluten-free, this “flour” is delicious and bakes up beautifully in cookies and brownies. I tasted both. Miller also makes an energy bar that’s made with crickets, called Chirp Chomp energy bars.

The New York Times profile of Chirp focuses on Miller’s fascinating background in tech start-ups. It seems Silicon Valley’s failures are a boon for other industries, because some very smart people with incredible expertise and passion are available to shift their focus and create new companies or improve existing technology.

The mindset of these entrepreneurs is radically new to the food business: They bring a healthy brand of disruptive thinking. You’ve seen it before in other industries, of course. Remember what Napster did for music? It changed the music industry in a way that hadn’t been seen for 75 years. The tech-world sales model is perfectly adaptable to the food scene.

Miller and her team know how to build something on a microscale and then introduce it to the market, develop a way to reproduce quickly, and scale up in a hurry. With the short time needed to raise crickets to maturity, she may have hit on the perfect product. On the downside, and this is where the food business differs from the tech side, food development like this can’t be patented, so it’s crucial to be the “first to market.”

Chirp Farms has predicated its growth on a few simple ideas, some tested, some new. We all know that the increase in global population is outpacing protein resources, potable water, and arable land, and that eating well is a class privilege, especially in America. Chirp is simply attempting to expose our culture to the idea that eating bugs is acceptable. The rest of the world enjoys them, and perhaps we will get over the culture gap before it’s too late. Anyone looking to get into this for themselves can obtain live crickets from flukerfarms.com, and for inspiration, here is a superb recipe. Bon app├ętit!

Wok Tossed Crickets with Chinese Chives and Salted Black Beans

4 c. fresh crickets
2 T. brown sugar
2 c. chopped Chinese golden chives or flat chives
1 large shallot thinly sliced
1 T. sliced ginger
1 T. sliced garlic
2 T. toban djan (hot chile fermented bean paste)
2 T. salted Chinese black beans, slightly mashed with a fork in 2 T. Chinese rice wine
2 whole hot dried chiles (tsin-tsin or arbol)
1 T. natural soy sauce
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
1 T. peanut oil

Place wok over high heat for several minutes. Add peanut oil. Just before it starts to smoke, swirl the pan, and add the sugar, chiles, toban djan, chive pieces, garlic, ginger, and shallot. When scorched with the “breath of the wok,” toss a few more times and add the crickets. Toss for 90 seconds, add the beans, sesame oil, and soy sauce. Toss a few more times as liquids evaporate and serve immediately.