Insect Snacks: The New Sustainable Superfood?

Like any other girl born in the early '90s I have fond memories of Disney movies, particularly The Lion King. The songs! The visuals! The strangely sexy, queer coded antagonist! And most embedded in my brain, the bug scene.
Cartoon insects – like any cartoon food – looked delicious. I would have loved to eat those bugs. They were genuinely enticing and I remember trying to get as close to the screen as possible during that scene, just to pretend to partake with Timon and Pumbaa.
In real life though, insects are not deemed delicious, or even vaguely appetising. Depending on how you see them, they are little annoyances at best, genuinely terrifying creatures at worst. They are rarely seen as a snack food – at least not in Western cultures. 
A combination of othering and learned behaviour has led to insects being considered an entirely unappetising foodstuff and even taboo in parts of the world like the UK. But elsewhere, like Thailand, South Africa, Indonesia and Mexico, entomophagy (the act of eating insects among humans) is embraced. In fact, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that two billion people worldwide are fed daily by insects.
There are many reasons for getting over your squeamishness – not least the big health benefits contained in these little insects. Mealworms and crickets, for instance, are very nutrient-dense – high in complete protein, fibre and amino acids. Crickets actually have more protein per gram than beef, and more fibre than brown rice.
They are also far more sustainable as a protein source. The farming of other sources of animal protein (particularly beef) takes up a huge amount of space and produces significant levels of greenhouse gas emissions. By contrast, insects take up far less space, can be farmed in pretty much any climate and, thanks to their short lifespans and speedy reproduction, can be produced in far greater quantities.
The key question is: can they taste good enough for us to overcome any learned squeamishness that we may have about them?
The brands Small Giants and Crunchy Critters think so.
We decided to try out their ranges of snacks (featuring mealworms, cricket flour and whole crickets) to see if they are as tasty as those Lion King grubs looked. No spoilers but they’re definitely worth getting over your squeamishness for.

Small Giants

Cracker Bites, Tomato and Oregano
Jacqueline Kilikita, senior beauty editor: "These crackers have a dense, crunchy bite to them. I can’t say I prefer them to crisps but they feel like a bougie snack – almost like the posh, artisanal crackers you get as part of a cheese board at Christmas. The tomato and oregano taste is really subtle, so they’d be amazing with cream cheese or dip."
Sadhbh O'Sullivan, health & living writer: "Started easy with cricket flour crackers. The flavour is alright! It’s a very firm, crunchy cracker with nothing to really suggest ‘insect’ about it. The actual flavour of tomato and oregano is a classic but the aftertaste – and this could be the cricket – is a bit sour and almost metallic."
Cracker Bites, Rosemary and Thyme
Jackie: "This is my favourite flavour. Without giving much thought to what’s inside, I could quite easily finish the entire bag in one go. The packet says they boast 9g of ‘plant-positive protein’ and they hit the spot. A good afternoon snack and no weird aftertaste."
Sadhbh: "This flavour has a Great Taste 2020 stamp, which is promising, and the initial flavour is lovely. A nice herby, fancy cracker. It has the same sour aftertaste which for cynics would come across as Weird Cricket Flavour but actually reminds me of sourdough. Makes for a lovely, almost bougie experience."
Cracker Bites, Turmeric and Smoked Paprika
Jackie: "The taste wasn’t there for me, unfortunately. They were a tiny bit bitter and quite dry and floury compared to the other flavours. Still, they give good crunch and would be great with something like hummus or guacamole."
Sadhbh: "What’s interesting about these is that the flavour is not powdered and blasted on like a Dorito but baked in, making each cracker different. These don’t do it for me but because I’m not a huge fan of turmeric as a dominant flavour. But the bite and artisanal-ness is still there."

Crunchy Critters

Choc & Fruit Critter Crunch
Jackie: "I squealed, flinched and dropped most of this when I poured out the contents. I know the packet explicitly reads 'mealworms' but I thought they’d be chocolate-covered and indistinguishable from their actual appearance. I was not prepared. They’re deep-fried worms among chocolate chips, apricots and sunflower seeds. I couldn’t back out, though. The worms themselves are crispy but light and airy and have a subtle nutty taste to them. Eaten all together, it’s basically like trail mix. I don’t hate it!"
Sadhbh: "Pouring these out into your hand is an experience, I’m not gonna lie. They look inescapably like worms and I kept waiting for them to move in my hand. But after getting over that initial squeamishness, the combination is nice! The worms don’t really have a flavour I could identify and texture-wise they have a very slight crispness before giving way. It reminds me of a popped grain or something. It's really light and a fun texture with the mix of seeds, apricots and chocolate. This is a great intermediate snack for bug eaters."
Bean & Pea Critter Crunch
Jackie: "My cupboards are full of salty snacks so I was excited to try this mixture but it wasn’t flavoursome enough for me. The worms don’t taste of much (which you could argue is a good thing) but a bit more seasoning wouldn’t go amiss."
Sadhbh: "I love salt and pepper so I went for that combination. Already a fan of a roasted fava bean and pea so I was a fan of this, though the pepperiness was really mild. Honestly if you closed your eyes you wouldn’t know you were eating worms – texture and flavour-wise all they bring is a momentary crunch. That might put you off or it might encourage you but if you're looking for something high protein and interesting to snack on, I’d say this is worth a punt."
Smoked Crunchy Crickets
Jackie: "Just like a bush tucker trial, the trick is not to study these too closely. Yep, they have little heads – and eyes. Call me weird but I ate the entire packet in one go. What can I say? The smoky flavour is great and the crunch is similar to the worms: featherlight but satisfyingly crunchy. My only gripe is that they do get stuck in your teeth, so make sure you have some floss to hand…"
Sadhbh: "I’ve been putting off the crickets. I could make worms make sense in my head to a certain extent but the whole crickets made me shudder involuntarily. They look far more like insects than the worms do, which can be off-putting. I think it’s because you can see where their eyes were. But once you get past that, these had a great crunch and a really intense smoky flavour I’m a fan of. It will take me a bit longer to get used to eating whole crickets but they’re definitely worth a try."
Honey Roast Crickets
Jackie: "To me, the crickets didn’t look as terrifying as the worms but Sadhbh will tell you otherwise. Anyway, this is my new favourite snack. It’s weird to say but after the initial crunch (light and airy, like the worms) they sort of melt in your mouth and taste a bit like honeycomb."
Sadhbh: "This bag did not smell good. The sourness that the crackers had was out in full force here, together with a sweet earthiness that I imagine came from the honey and the roasting. Flavour-wise there’s a nice hint of cinnamon in the mix and the texture is not bad but I’m not a fan of the overall flavour, which is better than the smell but still isn’t for me."

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