In college Laura D’Asaro studied abroad in Tanzania. When a street vendor offered her fried caterpillars, she tried one and was surprised to find that it tasted s bit like lobster. “Well, they are both arthropods,” she laughs. “I liked it.”
She learned that outside of the United States, more people eat insects than speak English. So she did more research. “The more I learned, the more excited I got. A pound of beef requires 2,000 gallons of water, but a pound of crickets takes only 1 gallon. So, they are incredibly sustainable, besides being very high in protein and other nutrients.”
Laura got together with her college friends Rose Wang and Meryl Natow. Through their research, they learned that over 2,000 varieties of insects are eaten all over the world. Among them, crickets are special because they are so high in protein, about 70% of their weight. With their other nutrients, they are an excellent replacement food for other proteins.
“We did a lot of experimenting in the beginning with different edible insect varieties, and it came back to the farming, because only a few varieties are farmed in the U.S. In one of our experiments, we used ground-up insects, including mealworms which are nutritionally similar to crickets, to make something like ground beef. We put the ‘meat’ in tacos and put the tacos in the fridge at work. People just ate them. However, when they learned what was in them, they were a little freaked out. So we abandoned the ‘meat’ idea,” Laura says with a smile in her voice.
The question was, how could they induce people to try eating crickets? “We asked ourselves, what is it about eating insects that people don’t like? It was obvious that they wouldn’t eat whole crickets – but then again, we don’t eat whole cows either,” Laura astutely pointed out.
“Cricket flour was the answer. People are looking for healthy, nutritious foods. Since
various types of proteins are added to supplement many foods, why not start with a good source of protein? And cricket flour didn’t meet resistance.”
To source their cricket flour, the group located cricket farms that meet FDA standards for human consumption, both ingredients and processing facilities. “Crickets eat plants and these are fed a special diet, so they are safe to eat.”
Then the decision became what to make with the cricket flour. They experimented with cookies, and they continue to make cookie mix, but Chirps Chips were the winning idea.
“Kids are all about how things taste, and they’re willing to try things if they come in a form they recognize. Chips are ‘normal’ to them. They’ll try them, and hopefully as they grow up, having cricket flour in their food will continue to be just fine. We’re also working on a teaching component, developing a curriculum with teachers for schools and summer camps.”
Laura, Rose and Meryl have a bold mission: to get Americans excited about eating bugs, by spreading the buzz about eating Chirps.