Cricket-flour protein bars pass the taste test

Cricket-flour protein bars pass the taste test

Consumer Reports' experts munched on snack bars and cookies

Published: December 10, 2014 08:00 AM

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Products containing roasted crickets are popping up on store shelves.

Crickets in cookies and energy bars? Really? Protein products aimed at people interested in a paleo diet or weight loss in general are becoming increasingly popular, and cricket flour is seen as an environmentally efficient way of getting that nutrient in your diet.

But the cricket products popping up on store shelves in the U.S. don't contain insects that are rounded up in the wild. These critters are raised on domestic cricket farms, where they are fed a grain-based diet. They're dried or roasted and then milled into a fine flour. About 40 crickets are packed into an average snack bar. "Crickets and other insects are an excellent source of protein in many parts of the world," says Marvin M. Lipman, M.D., Consumer Reports' chief medical adviser. "But somehow the idea has not caught on in the U.S."

Until now, that is. Cricket-flour goodies attracted plenty of attention at the recent Natural Products Expo in Baltimore, where manufacturers claimed they are making an investment in the environment because the insects don't require much land or water—certainly much less than cattle, for example.

The makers of the products are also promoting them as a healthy alternative to eating meat, claiming that cricket flour contains twice as much protein as beef, 15 percent more iron than spinach, and is high in omega-3 fatty acids. They point out that cricket flour offers micronutrients such as calcium and B vitamins as well.

Crickets are in diets and on the menu throughout the world, but not so much in the U.S.

Taste test

But the big question is: How edible are these cricket-flour products? Our food experts were intrigued, and we decided to taste-test six snack bars from two manufacturers, Exo and Chapul, in a variety of flavors along with chocolate-chip cookies made by Bitty.

You wouldn't know you were eating crickets, they said, and none of the goodies carried a hint of insect grossness. Instead, they tasted more like nuts and fruit, and a look at the labels shows why:

  • The Exo cricket-flour snack bars start off with almonds or peanuts, followed by fruits such as apricots, blueberries, dates, and strawberries. Of the three we tasted, apple cinnamon, blueberry vanilla, and peanut butter and jelly, the apple was a little sweeter than the others. The other two flavors were lower in flavor, but there were no “off” or odd tastes at all. Exo also makes cacao nut protein bars.
  • The Chapul cricket-flour products had more adventurous flavor combinations: dark chocolate, coffee, and cayenne; peanut butter and chocolate; and coconut, ginger, and lime. The first ingredient was dates, and the snack bars tasted like it. The dark chocolate and coconut-ginger bars were slightly spicy and the peanut butter bar tasted like peanuts and dried fruit and had some ground nut bits. Overall, they were similar in style and quality to the Exo products.
  • The Bitty cricket-flour chocolate-chip cookies were dry and crumbly. The coconut flavor was bigger than the chocolate and they weren’t very sweet. The cookies would be fine in a snacking pinch, however. Bitty also makes chocolate-cardamom and orange-ginger cookies and cricket baking flour.

Find more snack reviews from our experts in our Food and Drink Guide.

Should you buy it?

Overall, our tasters said that these protein snacks were just OK. Those who want to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to an environmentally efficient food source may want to consider them. Still, cricket flour isn't found in many products yet, and the environmental benefits aren't going to amount to much right away.  

Are they a healthy alternative protein source? Most likely, our nutrition experts said. When you look at the list of ingredients you see simple foods at the top, such as peanuts or almonds, which provide the bulk of the protein along with the ground-up crickets. Depending on the manufacturer and the flavor, the labels say the cricket bars contain 5 to 10 grams of protein, 13 to 25 grams of sugars, 1 to 20 grams of fat, and 150 to 300 calories.

For comparison, the Zone Perfect Perfectly Simple Almond nutrition bar provides about the same amount of protein (10 grams), but its main source is soy protein isolate. It also has 19 grams of sugars, 4 grams of fat, and 170 calories. 

Two cricket caveats: First, be careful if you're allergic to shellfish. The critters are genetically similar to shrimp, crab, and lobster, so you may be allergic to crickets too. And second, cricket-flour snacks aren't cheap. The cookies cost 83 cents each, and the bars sell for $2.67 apiece. Compare that with a Tate’s chocolate-chip cookie for 63 cents (top-rated by Consumer Reports for taste) and a Kind Fruit and Nut bar for $1.50. 

—Adam Kaplan and Sue Byrne

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