Powerful protein: Edible insects packing a punch

Powerful protein: Edible insects packing a punch

Michi Abe, founder of Abundance Food, launched the ProPro energy bar last year in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. 

The product packs a bigger protein punch than any other similar bar on the market—much higher than well-known American cricket bars, which usually have less than half as much cricket content, and sometimes even under a quarter. 

The cricket flour is sourced from Thailand, where the cost is up to five times cheaper than in North America. Here Abe discusses his experiences in developing the ProPro bar and his views on the future of the edible insect industry.

 

Why did you decide on placing an energy bar at the centre of Abundance Food's edible insect range?

ProPro bars really came about organically from my own frustration with finding a healthy bar made without a lot of artificial or processed ingredients. I think bars are a great form factor that are convenient and also allow for a lot of creativity in terms of flavours and ingredients. 

We felt that the nutritional and environmental benefits would be most appreciated by those who enjoy an active and healthy lifestyle already, and that meant bars which could be eaten quickly and easily before a run or the gym, or even at your desk when healthy options aren't easily available.

What makes ProPro different from other insect-protein energy bars?

ProPro strives not just to have insects as a novelty ingredient. Cricket constitutes solidly 20% or more of our bars—that’s more than 200 crickets per bar—and that alone makes ProPro unusual. On top of that, we have no added sugar, syrups, fillers or artificial ingredients. We're big on minimally processed foods and we develop products with an ingredients list people can read and understand. That's why we use just seeds, nuts, oats, fruit and of course crickets.

What have you learnt from consumer testing of your products?

We've had a number of focus groups and surveys in Thailand and abroad. While the bar has been received very positively in general, there's been relatively more resistance from Thais over eating insects, which few of them do on a regular basis. 

Among westerners, most have at least heard about the benefits of edible insects and were eager for the opportunity to try them out. What was interesting was, for the few who couldn't or wouldn't try ProPro, the obstacles were other dietary restrictions like being vegan- or gluten-free, rather than a general aversion to eating insects per se.

Why do you think the crickets represent the most common choice for edible insect products geared towards Western markets? 

I think crickets are much easier to market and have the broadest potential appeal.  They're kind of cute and familiar, like the character Jiminy Cricket from Pinocchio, and are less intimidating than more wormy insects. 

In terms of potential products, I'd like to see more products that take advantage of the unique nutritional properties of crickets to cater to specific demographics. For example, the elderly and those who are averse to eating traditional livestock may find getting the right balance of nutrients elsewhere challenging, and crickets have a lot to offer there.

What do you see as the opportunities and challenges for the expansion of edible insects in the West?

One challenge will be to develop a range of dishes and foods from scratch to really bring out the best flavours and textures of insects. At the moment, they're often used as a garnish, or a meat/protein substitute. 

I think edible insects will really come into their own once chefs and food scientists are really able to maximise the unique qualities of insects in cuisine and this is a great opportunity for creativity.

What do you think is the “next thing” for edible-insect food innovation?

I think it will be advances in farming and a better understanding of how best to optimise raising insects at scale. When prices start to come down, it will hopefully bring more innovation and interest to the space, and let more and more people give this too-often overlooked food group a try.

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