Eating crickets might improve the microbiome — the good bacteria found in the gut that wards off illness, according to a recent six-week study at Colorado State University.
Participants ate food made from cricket flour, that is, roasted crickets ground into a fine meal. The lead researcher, Tiffany Weir, said in a news release that she worked to conceal the distinct taste and texture of the cricket flour by adding it to malt milkshakes and pumpkin spice muffins.
“The foods we put the cricket in weren’t exactly the healthiest foods,” said Weir, an associate professor in at the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition. “We didn’t have the ability to produce premade bars or anything like that, so the muffins and milkshakes were what was accessible to us.”
While most people cringe at the idea of eating bugs, Wendy Lu McGill, who grows crickets at the Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch in Denver, said after the first bite, people are surprised by the mild flavor.
“They’ll often say something like ‘Oh, that’s not so bad,’ which is high praise when you’re trying to sell bugs as food,” she said.
Edible insects, including crickets, first appeared on the American health food scene after the United Nations released a study in 2013 promoting bugs as a nutritious and environmentally friendly protein. According to that study, insects like mealworms contain saturated omega-3 and fatty acids similar to fish and more than beef or pork.
In the CSU study, each group of participants ate cricket-based food daily for two weeks at a time.
Afterwards, Weir found an increase in their levels of bifidobacterium, a bacteria that’s thought to help boost the immune system. She also saw a decrease in the levels of TNF-alpha, a protein that causes inflammation and drives chronic diseases like Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular issues.
She said in the release that she found the results surprising because the test subjects were mostly college students.
“For the most part, that meant we were looking at young, healthy individuals. We didn’t know if we would see any benefits because the population is generally low-risk,” she said.
McGill produces about 500 pounds of crickets each month and sells them to local restaurants to make everything from cricket tacos to stir-fry.
“I call crickets ‘tofu bugs’ for that reason, they bring so little flavor on their own,” she said.
For Thanksgiving recipes, McGill suggests using cricket flour for pie crusts or pairing mealworms with roasted root vegetables.
Follow Esther on Twitter: @estherhonig.