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Food & Drink

A startup from Iceland is making food products using edible insects

By Jón Kaldal

  • The pioneers Búi Bjarmar Aðalsteinsson (right) and Stefán Thoroddsen want to normalize insect eating in the western world. Photo/Bernhard Kristinn

An Icelandic startup that makes food products using edible insects is raising funds on Kickstarter and interest around the globe.

Can we offer you a protein bar made with dates, seeds, chocolate, and cricket flour? What about hot dogs or lasagna where the main source of protein comes from edible insects?

jungle_bar.jpg
The Insect Powered Protein Bar The Jungle Bar is a protein bar made with dates, seeds, chocolate, and cricket flour, its main source of protein and minerals. The cricket flour in the Jungle Bar is made out of crickets that have been dried and ground into fine flour.

This might strike you as a joke, but the Icelandic startup behind the Jungle Bar protein bar is dead serious.

And after digging into the bar and also a little bit deeper into the concept behind the idea, you might agree that protein production based on edible insects is just what the world needs.

The Fly Factory
The company behind the Jungle Bar, Crowbar Protein and was founded last year. Its first mission, to develop a protein bar where the main source of protein is derived from sustainably farmed crickets, is explained on the project’s page on Kickstarter.

But why eat insects? And how did this idea pop up in Iceland—which is one of the most insect-free countries in the world?

First, for more than one third of the world’s population, insects are already a vital source of protein. Crowbar Protein’s main pitch is that the rest of the world just hasn’t caught on yet.

Secondly, it all started last year with Búi Bjarmar Aðalsteinsson’s thesis project in product design at the Iceland Academy of the Arts: a conceptual work showing how insects can be harvested for food.

Búi Bjarmar, Fly Factory
The Fly Factory

Búi explains that the idea came to him after reading a 2013 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN. Called Edible Insects - Future prospects for food and feed security, it examined the ways insects could solve the threat of world famine. 

Búi called his design “The Fly Factory.” A kind of a micro-factory, it was a metal box on wheels with one glass window showing the larvae being cultivated and farmed inside and another showing an oven where larva pâté is being cooked.

The visual message was quite striking. Actually, it was so striking that The Fly Factory grabbed the attention of media around the world and almost knocked Búi off his feet.

“It was quite overwhelming. The phone kept ringing. The Fly Factory was covered by both the general media and design publications, and I got invited to all kinds of conferences outside of Iceland,” Búi explains.

Normalizing eating insects
Búi quickly sensed that he was onto something big and got his friend Stefán Thoroddsen to join him in founding Crowbar Protein. With the innovative focus on normalizing the eating of insects in the Western world, the first product they aim to put on the market is the cricket-rich Jungle Bar. 

The two-man team makes a very convincing case for why this is, in fact, quite a brilliant concept.

Edible insects are indeed an excellent source of protein, good fats, minerals, and vitamins. Also, and perhaps of even greater importance, this kind of protein production is much more sustainable for the planet than almost all other types of protein-rich food production.

It’s a known fact that producing protein can take up a lot of resources—land, water, and feed.

Let’s look closer at Crowbar Protein’s assertion that sourcing protein from insects such as crickets is more sustainable than deriving it from other animals.

You will need 10 kg (22 lbs.) of feed to make 1 kg (2.2 lbs.) of protein from cows. Crickets only need 1.7 kg (3.7 lbs.) or six times less feed to make the same amount of protein. 

Crowbar_feed.jpg
Illustrations by Rán Flygenring

When we look at the numbers for water needed for the protein production, the picture becomes even more interesting.

For 1 kg of cow protein you need 8350 liters (2206 gallons) of water, for 1 kg of chicken protein you need 1250 liters (330 gallons), but for 1 kg of cricket protein you only need 8 liters (2.1 gallons). Meaning that you need a thousand times more water for the cow version.

Crowbar_water.jpg

That’s a serious savings indeed.

A good gateway product
But Búi and Stefán have bigger plans than just the protein bar. They are convinced that the Western world will have to get used to the concept of edible insects.

“It’s just a matter of time, it will happen sooner or later,” says Búi. “The population of the planet is growing, but the resources for farming—land, water, and feed—are not.”

Búi and Stefán see the Jungle Bar as the perfect gateway product. If the Jungle Bar takes off, it will be a much smaller step to get people to taste bread, lasagna, or any other everyday food, with insect protein as an ingredient.

But how does an energy bar with sustainably farmed cricket flour taste?

“Actually it’s similar to other protein bars, only better, because cricket protein has much better flavor than soy or whey protein,” says Búi. He explains that the flour on its own has a mild nut flavour. Similar to flour in general, it’s the other ingredients and spices that determine the taste.

Around 2500 people in Iceland, Denmark, and the Netherlands have tasted the product. According to Búi, people understandably tend to be skeptical at first. “But when they see that the bar looks just like a normal energy bar they are usually ready to dig in and enjoy it.”

The first batch of Jungle Bars will include cricket flour made in the USA, where there are already farms that produce sustainably farmed crickets. The bars are made by a factory in Canada from Crowbar Protein’s recipe.

Búi says that the long-term plan is to build both an insect farm and a processing factory in Iceland, and he is optimistic that Iceland will soon gain a foothold in this field.
“The conditions are excellent. We have cheap renewable energy, a lot of natural water, and a lot of space.”

Crowbar Protein’s Kickstarter campaign ends May 10th and is closing fast into the USD 15.000 goal. If you are to late to make a pledge you can make a direct order on crowbarprotein.com and get your juicy Jungle Bar delivered in August.

The Fly Factory from Bui Bjarmar on Vimeo.

 

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