In the arid American Southwest, a band of bold hydrologists have created an unlikely product aimed at slowing the rush of water to industrial agriculture. It’s an energy snack.
Chapul Bars eschew the use of water-intensive ingredients such as wheat flour and grain-fed beef in favor of … crickets. Specifically, flour made from crickets is mixed with dates, nuts and spices to generate three flavors of bar: chocolate, coconut-ginger, and a new mocha-chipotle.
The use of crickets offers a water-wise way to build protein into a bar, says Pat Crowley, the water scientist and river guide who founded Chapul Bars in 2012. Insects in general convert grasses and grains into edible protein much more efficiently than cows and pigs. Cricket flour allows Chapul to avoid using water-intensive flours made from wheat or grains. Crowley came up with the idea after growing frustrated with the fact that global agriculture accounts for an estimated 92 percent of all freshwater used annually.
“I think all the while I knew a much larger change would have to come from the consumer level,” he says.
The crickets used in Chapul Bars are raised for human consumption and ground into flour. Crowley says the use of cricket flour, rather than whole insects, makes it psychologically easier for people to eat an insect-based food.
The bars, which are available at Liquid Planet in Missoula, are compact and chewy, with a mild flavor, and a bit on the dry side. They do not taste like cricket, and there are no discernible cricket parts in the mix.
“It’s not this totally-out-of-this-world thing that people are putting into their mouth,” says Crowley, who has heard all sorts of reaction about his product.
“People are repulsed, people are excited about it,” he says. “Some say they’ve been waiting for something like this for years.”
A 2008 study of the nutritional value of field crickets published in the journal Insect Science found that the bugs are a good source of protein, fatty acids and chitin, a polysaccharide. The study also found that crickets contain about 58 percent protein. By comparison, a hamburger patty contains about 25 percent protein, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“The field cricket … is an ideal source for food and feed,” the study’s authors concluded. Further, they found that cricket protein is low in fat, though unlike beef it does not provide all the amino acids humans need.
Chapul Bars—the name comes from the Aztec word for cricket—started with the help of about 400 backers from 13 countries who donated to a Kickstarter campaign. Crowley focused his appeal for funding on contributors interested in reducing the water consumption of industrial agriculture. Similarly, eco-conscious, politically active snackers are the company’s target market. Crowley says sales have grown each month for over a year.
The company received a PR boost in May when the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization released a report extolling the potential of insects to ease global food insecurity. A flurry of related articles mentioned Chapul as the only food producer actually bragging about its insect content.
“I think we’re spreading the message more than we’re selling our bars, which is good for our mission,” Crowley admits, “but maybe not so good for our business.”