Imagine if you could feed your body the protein of a steak, the vitamin B12 of a piece of salmon, the iron of a spinach salad and the potassium of a banana, all in one snack-size bar.
Thanks to Crickstart, a new Montreal-based food company, you can. There’s just one catch: technically you’ll be eating insects. Crickets, to be exact.
Crickstart founder Daniel Novak was weirded out the first time he tried crickets, too. The former investment banker and self-proclaimed health nut had heard that the insects packed a nutritional wallop, so he ordered a can of cricket powder from a Canadian farm and mixed up a smoothie for breakfast.
“I hesitated!” he recalls with a laugh. “I was with my girlfriend, and we said, ‘Okay, three, two, one, here goes.’ I took a sip, then she took a sip, and we were like, ‘Oh, alright.’ ”
The taste was surprisingly pleasant, with “the earthiness of a beet and a little bit of chocolatey, nutty flavour,” Novak says. He shared a photo of his cricket smoothie on Facebook, and was immediately bombarded with questions — many of them inquiries about how his friends could try cricket products for themselves.
Novak started making baked goods from cricket flour and selling them at cost to friends and family, but quickly realized there was a larger market for insect-based products.
“I was amazed at the spark the topic lit in people,” he says. “It brought them out of their comfort zone in a way that was uncomfortable but touched on their concerns about food from an environmental and a health perspective.”
Novak teamed up with a couple of business partners, and in 2016 founded Crickstart, which now sells snack bars, crackers and smoothie mix online and in health food stores across Canada. Come February, Crickstart products will also be available at Bulk Barn stores nationwide. Every ingredient the company uses is certified organic, including the crickets, which are farmed near Peterborough, Ont., and their products are also gluten-free and dairy-free. Novak has since made it his mission to convince as many Canadians as possible that the benefits of eating crickets far outweigh the mental ick factor.
By dry weight, crickets have twice the protein of beef, twice the calcium of milk, twice the iron of spinach, and seven times more vitamin B12 than salmon.
Cricket farming also has a tiny ecological footprint, requiring 2,000 times less water and emitting 80 times less methane than cattle. Crickets can be farmed vertically, and as a swarming species, they thrive in close quarters surrounded by large numbers of their kind, so they take up very little space. The entire cricket is processed for food, and their feces make excellent fertilizer, so nothing is wasted in production.
This makes crickets an appealing alternative for what Novak calls “ethical omnivores” — people who want to eat nutritious food that is raised humanely and sustainably. And really, he says, we’ve only been socially conditioned to think eating insects is strange. Crickets are arthropods, meaning they’re related to commonly-consumed crustaceans such as shrimp and lobster.
“For me, eating crickets quickly went from being a pretty big mental hurdle to, ‘How did I think that was a mental hurdle,’ to, after a while, having a hard time remembering why I ever thought it was strange,” Novak says.
Watch as Canadian Geographic staff sample Crickstart products: