I’ve been fascinated by the concept of entomophagy (edible insect consumption) ever since I heard about Don Bugito when visiting La Cocina in the summer of 2011 (Don Bugito is a San Francisco street food operation serving dishes inspired by pre-Hispanic Mexican cuisine in which insects play a starring role). When I think about the challenges of feeding the population of 2050, edible insects make a lot of sense: raising them is economically efficient (with ultra-low start-up costs), the operations are infinitely more environmentally-friendly than farming animals, and they’re healthy: packed with protein, good fats, and fiber. The May 2013 UN report on edible insects helped to fuel my excitement on the topic (for a summary, this National Geographic article is great).
I was even more excited to learn that two recent Brown University graduates are launching a food product with insects as a key ingredient. Exo is a protein bar made with cricket flour. Founders Greg Sewitz and Gabi Lewis have launched a Kickstarter project to raise $20,000 over the next 30 days. The Kickstarter page has a bunch of data and rationale supporting the entomophagy movement. They also have a pretty interesting story of how the idea came about. Check it out. I’ve included their press release below as well.
If you’re interested in meeting the founders, trying the product, and learning more, we’ll be featuring them at the next Food Startups event on Thursday, August 8th. The panel on “the future of protein” will feature Gabi along with founders/investors from two plant-based protein startups: Hampton Creek Foods and Beyond Meat, and another insect venture: Tiny Farms. Tickets are limited and available for $20 at https://cosemble.com/foodstartups/the-future-of-protein.
Exo to Make Protein Bars from Crickets
Innovative food start-up launching Kickstarter campaign to make first large batch of cricket-based bars. Crickets are exceptionally nutritious and uniquely sustainable
BROOKLYN, NY — Exo seeks to introduce entomophagy (the eating of insects) to the West through a protein bar made from cricket flour. The company was founded by Gabi Lewis and Greg Sewitz, college roommates since their sophomore year at Brown University. Lewis has an obsession with everything health related—from nutrition to powerlifting—and was searching for a protein bar that would satisfy his high nutritional standards.
He couldn’t find one. He realized that there was a market opportunity for an all-natural, paleo-friendly protein bar and set out to create it. Sewitz, having just returned from a conference at MIT hosted by His Holiness the Dalai Lama on climate change and resource scarcity, suggested insects as a protein source. After much iteration—and a few runaway crickets later—they have created a bar that solves both of the issues that inspired it.
Exo uses crickets because they are very high in protein, iron and calcium, and are much more sustainable than traditional protein sources. Cricket protein is also exceptionally good quality: it has high bioavailability and contains all the essential amino acids. Additionally, eating insects represents the first viable solution to the 70% expected rise in food demand by 2050. They require almost no water, a tiny amount of space, and very little feed. Some studies suggest that raising crickets for protein is 20x more efficient than cattle.
“Eating insects is sustainable in every dimension: nutritionally, environmentally and economically,” says Lewis. “In that sense, insects are a true superfood.”
About 80% of the world already eats over 1,681 insect species, and with the recent May 2013 UN report on the benefits of eating insects, governments and private investors are taking note. Nordic Food Labs, the research arm of Noma restaurant, named the World’s Best Restaurant by San Pellegrino for three years running, has just won a 3.6 million Danish Kroner grant to develop gourmet insect-based food.
The product has been formulated with the help of Three Michelin Star Chef Kyle Connaughton, the former Head Chef of R&D at the Fat Duck Restaurant in England, making it unique amongst protein bars for its emphasis on taste. In addition to crickets, the bar contains almonds, dates, cacao, honey and sea salt; it contains no gluten, grain, soy or dairy. Exo will be among the first insect food products widely available in the US.
“We’re really using sushi as a model,” says Sewitz. “As crazy as it sounds, in the 1960s, the idea of eating raw fish seemed disgusting to Americans. But a chef in LA mixed the fish with cucumber and avocado, wrapped it in rice, and people loved it. Now of course people even love sashimi. We hope our bars will act as a similar vehicle to introduce insects to the mainstream.”
Exo’s Kickstarter campaign launches July 29th, with a goal to raise $20,000. This will cover their first large production run, including kitchen rentals, equipment, ingredients, and packaging.
Exo was formed in early 2013 by Gabi Lewis and Greg Sewitz during their final year at Brown University. Motivated by the nutritional and environmental benefits of entomophagy, Exo seeks to normalize the practice of eating insects by creating healthy, delicious, and sustainable protein bars.