Taste-testing crickets from a high-tech insect farm

Taste-testing crickets from a high-tech insect farm


(gentle clinking) – [Will] These right
here are whole roasted, Texas barbecue-flavored cricket snacks. They started out like this and went on a wild ride: born on a robotic cricket farm in Texas, raised in a big tub, frozen into cricket bricks, then roasted and flavored. And for the record, they’re alright. Eating insects is commonplace
in lots of the world. It’s just never caught on in the US, but some entrepreneurs think we’re ready. In fact, the past five years have been a roller-coaster of insect
farming booms and busts. And hanging in the balance is either a quirky snack or a food revolution. – I can’t look at this. (laughs) – It’s kind of nutty. (light guitar music) – [Will] Around the
world, 2 billion people eat insects as part of their regular diet. In Europe and the US, not so much. – I can’t do it, I won’t. – [Will] People have
tried. Back in 1885, entomologist Vincent
Holt wrote a manifesto called “Why Not Eat Insects?” He wrote, “Philosophy bids us neglect no wholesome source of food,” and then gave us some
pretty sweet dinner menus. – Slug soup, moth saute in butter, stag beetle larvae on toast. – [Will] But in
2013, the United Nations puts out their own version of a manifesto. The report starts with the apocalypse: 9 billion people by
2050, land scarcity, food crises, over fishing, climate change. But then it makes a pretty strong argument for insects as future food. Crickets, to start, are chock-full of fat, protein, vitamins, and fiber. They emit fewer greenhouse
gases than cattle, and they use a lot less land. And they’re coldblooded, so they spend their calories on growth
instead of warmth. So growing one kilogram of crickets only takes about 1.7 kilos of food. One kilogram worth of cow,
maybe 10 kilos of food. And that’s just crickets, one insect species out of the
1,900 we know to be edible. In other words, it’s time to take the idea of farming insects
much more seriously. – You know, every now and then you’ll hear a cricket that hit puberty. – [Will] Our cricket
snacks came from Aspire, a futuristic insect farm in Austin, Texas. Mohammed Ashour is the co-founder and CEO. He officially started
the company in 2013 after he and his team won the Hult Prize. It’s a college business competition with a hell of an emcee. – From McGill University, Aspire. – [Will] And that
year, a goal that played right into the UN report. – The simple premise was,
who can build a business that in a span of ten years can address food security for 20
million people globally? – [Will] Mohammed and
his team won by hatching a plan to farm insects on a grand scale. This place can hatch up to a million crickets a day, that’s 100,000 pounds per year. But apparently, that’s nothing. – Moving from here, we’ll be going to a commercial facility that allows us to do upwards of
two orders of magnitude in terms of annual
production every single year. – [Will] Depending on where you look, Aspire is either a Wonka-esque factory of the future, or a muggy storage
unit with an infestation. Maybe both. – We do have a very low population of crickets just sort of wandering. – [Will] So here’s how the farm works. The crickets are hatched from eggs and start out as tiny
dots called pinheads. They grow up in this
room for about six weeks with help from food and
water delivery robots. Once they’re nice and big,
they go to the harvester. – We load the bins into them, and then they flip them over, and inside the machine, everything
gets separated out. – [Will] Somehow, the live crickets get sorted from the dead ones, and from the frass, or cricket poop. That gets sold as fertilizer. Mohammed calls this a herding process, but everyone’s light on details. – Sounds like some of
the most proprietary stuff. – Yeah, that’s pretty proprietary, we just… – Yeah. – It happens. (both laugh) – And then it happens. – [Will] According
to Mohammed, the grease on all these wheels is automation, and they’ve got a whole R&D lab to tinker with new farming technology. – In our case, that cannot be understated. We focus on what are the steps that are isolatable, repeatable, and are perfectly suited for
automated approaches. Automation is going to be crucial in order for us to be able to really do things at scale. – [Will] Finally,
the harvested crickets are frozen to death. It’s a common way to euthanize insects. So all those thousands of crickets come back as 4.5-pound
blocks of protein. The culinary steps happen off-site, but the end result is snacks. Whole roasted crickets or protein powder for bars and granola. It’s a small step towards a big movement. – I think the challenge
that we understood from the very beginning is that
we’re not just building a company, we’re trying to lay out the foundation of an entire industry. – [Will] Which is
exciting, but that foundation isn’t exactly stable. – I’m not even going to approach, no, I’m already too close. (laughing) – [Will] So that 2013 UN report? It made waves. American insect startups got popular and the news media fell in love. – Insects may be on our menu. – Bugs for dinner. – Eating insects. – [Will] By 2015, the
insect biz was booming and farmers were having a real moment. – Yeah, I fed bugs to the art director from Pulp Fiction, which
is kind of my personal, you know, high point. – [Will] Kevin
Bachhuber was in that new cohort of farmers and it changed his life. But the tidal wave of attention became a blessing and a curse. – We did this thing where we built up all this interest and all this demand and stuff, and production of actual living animals turns out to be a lot slower than production
and spread of ideas. People are like, “Okay, I’m ready to try bugs, where can I get them?” And everybody was like, “Well, we’re back sold for four months.” – [Will] It didn’t help
that the press… was the press. – It’s an absolute and utter exhaustion of puns from local news. – [Newscaster] In a couple of years, business could well be hopping. – [Will] Meanwhile, Kevin
was learning the hard way that raising livestock
of any kind is not easy. – I used to joke that you weren’t really a cricket farmer until you had accidentally killed your
first 100,000 crickets, and now I think that you’re not really a cricket farmer until you’ve,
you know, mourned those, moved on, feel nothing when you accidentally sack out 100,000 at a time. – [Will] So over hype
plus rocky production plus a lot of bad puns meant that the whole insect boom kind of misfired. Public interest waned, some companies failed. Others make insect products, but outsource the farming. Kevin moved on to consulting, though he still dreams about farming. – It’s kind of like a… one of those “when I’m old and retire” kind of fantasies. – [Will] But some
startups made it through. And on the balance, Kevin thinks the chaos of the past five years was worth it. – We got a little carried
away and you know what, sometimes you just get a little
carried away and that’s okay. – [Will] Aspire hung on,
and they’re still thinking big: robots and huge warehouse farms. But for what it’s worth,
it’s not the only way. – Monica! – Hi, nice meeting you. – Thanks for having us. – [Will] This is the final
stop on our cricket tour. Don Bugito is a boutique
business with a tiny greenhouse farm in Oakland, California. – I see many different kinds of food, I see some Cheerios, I see
lettuce, I see carrots. – Crickets are very sensitive, right? They cannot just eat anything. They’re the natural Cheerios, they’re
not really Cheerios by the way. – Oh, even they get the nice organic. – Yeah, they do actually (laughs) yeah. – [Will] It’s the
work of Monica Martinez who’s been at it since 2011. She’s actually in that UN
report as a case study. She shares Mohammed’s insect obsession and she sells very similar cricket snacks. But she tackles it all very differently. Her farm is almost
totally free of plastics, it’s unheated, and it’s
lit only by daylight. – So we are the organic, non-GMO. No free range, right, because you don’t want your insects to be free range. – [Will] That would be difficult. – [Will] For Monica, none
of this is revolutionary. She grew up in Mexico, where edible bugs are plentiful and delicious. She remembers her uncle bringing fresh agave worms home and
frying them up with butter. – Once you eat it, it’s like this… it’s like this connection that you get with the plant. It’s a
really beautiful, kind of umami kind of flavor, too. – [Will] When Don Bugito launched, Monica was not a farmer. She bought all her crickets
from other companies, but she couldn’t vouch for their quality. – So that’s when sometimes we’re stressed waking up in the middle
of the night thinking, “What’d this cricket eat?” You know, “How do I know these are safe to eat?” There were some farms
that were feeding their insects fish meal and the
insects would taste like fish. – [Will] The solution
was a farm of her own. To be clear, this is not enough crickets to run a business. Monica actually buys a lot from Aspire. But as much as she’s hoping to grow, she never wants to be Aspire. – One of the opportunities to do edible insects, because it’s such a new thing, that we
can do it differently. I don’t want to say it’s wrong or right, but, I mean, I would say right, but
there’s no need to go industrial farming practices
with edible insects. It seems like that’s the easy way… we’re doing the harder way. (laughing) – [Will] The hard way also means doing all the cooking, and seasoning, and packaging yourself, too. But one perk: free snacks. These two stories,
Aspire’s and Don Bugito’s, they begin the same and they end the same. What happens in between looks and feels pretty different, but both companies are on the same quest. They’re utterly devoted to their work. – It was sort of a group activity, we all went and got a
cricket tattoo together. – They’re DIYing equipment, killing thousands of crickets by mistake. – It’s been like three times when we’re like, “Oh my god, massacre!” – [Will] They’re
weathering the economy and fickle consumers. – That’s pretty gross. – [Will] They are plugging along, waiting for the insect boom. The big one. For real this time. – It’s actually pretty good. – It’s nice, got a good
crunch, I like the crunch. – Oh, oh, oh, oh okay, alright. They taste like little corn chips. Okay, that’s got a nice smokey flavor. – Mm, these are great. (laughs) They’re so good. – You can see their eyes. They’re like, they look like little
crickets ’cause they are.

100 thoughts on “Taste-testing crickets from a high-tech insect farm”

  1. Having eaten cricket and used cricket flour I would like to see selective breeding to reduce the intensity of the "nuttyness". Crickets have a musky taste that seasoning alone doesn't quite remedy.

  2. Last time I checked insects were still WAY MORE expensive than beef or even chicken.
    Price is the major problem, not the disgusting look.

  3. I think I’d rather eat the stuff the crickets are eating …

    OR

    I’m using the crickets as bait to catch a fish!!

  4. Yea ok I'll eat bugs while the rich laugh at me with their steak dinners, saying how they made the poor folk eat bugs just like animals. I'll stick to hunting thanks

  5. Super cool video, was wondering when y'all would be putting out a new video! Def worth the wait, liked the whole breaking it into Chapters!

  6. I'm already getting my governments recommend daily allowed portion of insects and rat droppings in my preprocessed factory food's, thanks. 😨

  7. I've tried cooking meal worms for a bunch of preschool kids once, just on a hot pan with lots of oil, garlic and paprika! Tasted delicious and ALL the kids had a try, the adults on the other hand .. didn't want any of it (one of them even hid while we did it). The problem is that we, as adults of Western heritage, have learned what is right to eat and what is not, that will be hard to change. I believe that insect protein is inevitably going forward, but I also believe that it will not be a succes in "insect shaped" form, it might have to be disguised and added to other foods as a supplement (at the beginning at least).

  8. Insect food is fairly common here in Thailand. We commonly cook red ant eggs and some sort of beetle that I make into pizza. Pretty good.

  9. idgaf. i may try crickets one day cuz i keep hearing them being compared to nuts. but i draw the line at flies. phuck that. ew.

  10. If this becomes the norm… and one day they all break out "even from one facility " , north America would be a desert in a week

  11. My knee jerk reaction to the thought of eating insects is disgust. But how different is it from eating shellfish? They mentioned SLUG STEW snd I wanted to vomit. But seriously, how different is it from clams, oysters… Ffs, escargot is literally snails, slugs with shells.

    But, the thought of eating insecfs still causes an automatic reaction of visceral disgust! And I know I'm not alone… Freaking wild :-/

  12. Keep in mind "Global Starvation" isn't really about developed nations however the knock on effects globally from developing nations isn't something we should just ignore either. In addition, from a humanitarians viewpoint its a pretty shitty attitude to walk around not caring about global starvation since you were lucky enough to be born in a country where you go to bed with a full stomach every night and easy access to clean water.

    From what I've read and watched the 12th billion person will never be porn as population demographics even out (death rates = birth rates). However, that 'evening out' still takes decades (we are talking human lifespans here remember?) and even when it does finally even out we'll be looking at least a few more billion people on the planet than currently exists, all farting, shitting, drinking and consuming.

    There is a great analysis of this I watched recently which talked about the 5 classical stages of a countries development in comparison to it's average child per household amount (~2.5). Turns out most countries now are in 4th of 5th stages of this development as child fatality rates go down as medicine and clean living conditions increase, even those lagging behind will catch up as technology makes it easier to address these issues (automation and clean energy mostly).

    Take this into consideration with the reduction in available arable land and the reduction in usable water for farming (the most popular farming areas in the world are seeing significant reductions in their underground water resources – you can find documentaries on this too) and lets not forget climate change on top, you have to take a much more broader view of the potential impacts all of this will have on global food availability.

    Those of us in developed nations most likely wont feel it as much as we've already stabilized our populations mostly and have fairly solid food chains, maybe… ever wonder why China is buying up so much African farming land lately and essentially economically colonizing it with Chinese farmers selling products under cost to force more African farmers to sell? People smarter than you and I have run the numbers.

    The knock on effects from developing nations (ignoring for the moment simple human compassionate foreign aid) means more refugees looking to escape starvation and inevitable war over resources and more places for disease to incubate and spread globally from squalid conditions.

    The things that happen in 3rd world countries no longer remain in 3rd would countries when you have a globally travelling population. We already have vaccine/antibiotic resistant TB on the rise, something we thought we'd solved for good with vaccines.

    Sure there are technological solutions to a lot of these issues such as asteroid mining for water, producing cleaner energy products that can be used in conjunction with mass desalination plants to create usable water, lab grown meats, genetically targeted medications etc etc., however they are untested in large scale commercial operations and still in development.

  13. one mistake here is comparison with the amount of food a cow eats.
    a cow eats GRASS (yes, they're often fed with other things, but that's not essential for the cow. thats just because its cheaper…)
    and grass can grow in almost all places. places where regular crops can't grow.
    so, put cows on grasslands = useless land is suddenly food supply, through cows.

  14. As long as insects are 10 times and more expensive as even cattle who wants to eat insects? I won't through out my money for that scam…

  15. I've had a few insects, and I'd love to try more. The only reason I don't regularly have them is because they're just too hard to find and way too expensive. As soon as they get cheap and I can find them regularly, I'll be eating them all the time.

  16. Another insect story. Another claim that insects are healthier and better for the environment. Another claim that we will all eat whole insects soon.
    No, it's not gonna happen. Process insect protein into something else, and you may succeed.

  17. Our local cricket farm (Cowboy Crickets) here in Bozeman, MT is growing at an incredible rate. I work in wildlife conservation and from a data and practicality perspective, this is the future.

    And yes, I said Montana. Blue collar beef country, just like Texas.

  18. I think the 2 billion he said are Chinese yellow race type people like China Japan Korea Myanmar Indonesia and Malaysia we in south Asia don't eat insects at all as a food it's feel disgusting too us .

  19. You could always turn vegan instead + there are plenty of good methods to cultivate fresh-water fish cheaper and without any CO2 either and without any disgust factor.

  20. I know it's a little Buzzfeedy… But I would love to see a cut of all the Verge staff eating and commenting on the bug snacks!

  21. In Air Force Survival School (SERE Training) I learned that ants taste like lemons and grasshoppers taste like almonds!

  22. No thank you, i will sit patiently and wait until we have affordable nutritious delicious lab grown meat. I get the whole point of this, but no, thanks.

  23. For being a "sustainable" food source, They're too damn expensive. A 70 calorie pouch of crickets goes for about 3$, 70 calories of chicken goes for about 50 cents maybe even less.

  24. If in the future the only meat I can eat is made out of insects then I and many others will certainly have a plant based only diet. There's no way I'm eating that shit, fuck you.

  25. Excited for this. I know they're more expensive at the moment than traditional meats in the US, but as they scale up and refine their operation, maybe even get some competition, prices should come down closer or even lower.

  26. 9 billion, less space to grow crops and meat…. How about we just reduce population rather than add to the problem?

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