While Lucas Becker was being interviewed for this story, he mentioned that his family were breakfasting on a pile of mango, coconut and cricket pancakes. Yes, cricket. Becker doubted that there’d be any tasty critter fritters left over for him.
The very family he speaks of are all Brazilian-born and Byron Bay-based. There’s Lucas’ girlfriend Camila, her sister Martina, and Martina’s boyfriend – who’s also Lucas’ best mate – Pedro. They all live and work under the one roof. The business? Producing organic cricket energy bars and the country’s only organic cricket protein powder. Oh, and they also create Instagram-worthy recipes containing said powder. (In our blog Four Totally-Not-Icky Cricket Recipes To Try At Home they teach us how to make falafel, chocolate pie, cacao cookies and green smoothies, and there's not a single crunchy bug to seen.)
How did you all start out in the edible bug industry?
We all share a passion for food, sports and nature, and we wanted to find a clean source of protein to support our active lifestyles. We started researching and found out about crickets, and a whole new world opened to us. The more we studied, the more shocked we became at the environmental impact caused by the current food system. For instance, 22,000 litres is needed to produce just one kilogram of beef, but only one litre of water is needed for the same amount of crickets. They also produce 80 times less methane than cattle so they’re great for reducing greenhouse gases. Plus they’re incredibly nutritious.
We’d always wanted to do a lifestyle business together, where we could inspire people to eat well, live well and just get outside of the box. We’re lucky that between the four of us, we have a good skill set: Pedro and I are both chefs; Camila’s a graphic designer and Martina does our marketing. It’s a very nice set–up. Everyone’s happy, we’re on the beach, surfing, doing martial arts, running, yoga. Living the dream, basically.
And eating lots of crickets...
So why crickets over other insects?
They’re very high in B12, calcium, iron and they contain 69% protein. Compare that to eggs, which you also think of as high-protein, but they contain just 13%. Also, crickets are considered a kind of entry-level “gateway bug” to get people to start eating insects. I don’t know why really, it’s a funny one. Maybe because they don’t look as scary as mealworms! We did a bug expo in Adelaide and we had the opportunity to try mealworms, crickets, caterpillars, scorpions, all sorts of bugs. Green ants are good, too. Once you forget that you’re eating an insect, it’s actually really nice.
Is insect gobbling a new thing?
Yes and no. Two billion people around the world are already eating insects; it’s mainly in the west that we lost that edible insect part of our diet. So it’s a growing movement but it’s an old movement. From what I’ve researched, we stopped eating crickets when we started to domesticate animals, maybe because there’s more money to be made on cows than on crickets. The Mayans, Incans and all the old civilisations were reliant on crickets to survive because they were so rich in nutrients. But for cultural reasons and the “yuck” factor, we left aside eating insects.
Yes. About the “yuck” factor…
Well Pedro and I have always been open to trying new things because we’re both chefs. It was simple for us to get over the whole insect thing because of the sustainability they represent, and their nutritional benefits. We’ve found that that’s also the main driver to change people’s perceptions about eating insects.
We want insects to become part of people’s daily life, just like any other food. I think we’re coming into a time where the world can’t afford any more to have a "yuck" factor about insects. We just have to get over that, and try to establish more sustainable food production systems and eating habits.
The powder is much more acceptable to people but on the other hand there is more adventure in eating the whole cricket and some people get intrigued by that as well!
Where do you source your chirpers from?
We use crickets from Canada because there are currently no organic cricket farmers in Australia. Our supplier has a big warehouse where the crickets run freely and they’re fed organic and gluten–free food waste. Actually what’s amazing about cricket farms is that they can exist anywhere, even in urban areas. There’s even one in Los Angeles. [Read more about that here.]
And finally, where to from here?
Early next year we want to bring in whole crickets and encourage people to cook them with garlic, herbs and spices. And try to make them into nibbles for Happy Hour. They’re pretty good whole, I really enjoy them. Some say they have a nutty, earthy flavour, a bit like popcorn. They’re also very crunchy, almost like peanuts. But they taste much nicer than peanuts.
Lucas and the team at Grilo have shared with Smith their top cricket protein powder-based recipes here (and by the looks of the pics below, this grub looks pretty darn tasty). For more on entomophagy, check out the terrific article in The Conversation, 'Eating Insects: Good for you, Good for the Environment' by Susan Lawler.