Cricket Flour Fuels These High-Protein Cookies

“When you hear crickets chirping, what do you think of? Warm summer nights? Grassy fields? . . . I think of the future of food, because I eat crickets almost every single day,” says Megan Miller in her TEDx Manhattan talk. Miller is the cofounder of Bitty Foods, a Bay Area­–based food startup that uses cricket flour—yep, bug flour!—as a base for cookies, muffins, pancakes and snacks.

The company began when Miller returned from a trip to Cambodia, where she had eaten insects. A former journalist, Miller had read the 2012 United Nations report that stated that insects were the future of food sustainability. She was passionate about food sustainability, so she decided to experiment with crickets in her own kitchen.

Friend and co-founder Leslie Ziegler was quick to jump on board, joining her in the test kitchen. Crickets are more water efficient than any other protein source (crickets use 1 gallon of water for every 2,500 gallons used to produce cattle). In fact, about 80 percent of the world’s population already eat insects as part of their diet. Miller became an evangelist for the idea, “gave her TED talk and was immediately approached by investment partners,” explains Ziegler. It doesn’t hurt that Miller is also a “really incredible cook,” she says.

Ziegler had her own motivations. “While I also believe in sustainability, I spent a long time eating terrible gluten-free ‘health’ products,” she relates. Diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, she made herself “a human experiment” to see if she could identify food triggers for the condition, which eventually went into remission. Cricket flour was another experiment along the way. “When you’re told you can’t eat things you love, it changes your worldview. When the opportunity to make delicious foods with a sustainable delicious ingredient came along, I knew it was what I needed to do,” she says.

What do crickets taste like? As flour, “they taste nutty, a bit like hazelnuts,” says Ziegler. Cup for cup, cricket flour performs a lot like buckwheat flour. It’s gluten-free yet binds well and is easy to use as a base for baked goods, such as banana bread or pancakes. “A lot of our customers are moms and kids,” Ziegler remarks. Some have allergies or gluten issues, but certainly not all, she says.

Because crickets are high protein, other early-adopter edible-insect companies have focused on protein bars. Bitty Foods decided to introduce cookies because “no one says no to a cookie!” explains Ziegler. “They’re a delicious way to get more people to try this new category.” Not every single person will take to eating bugs, she says, but the company already has big fans and ships to all fifty states as well as thirty countries worldwide.

Ziegler believes that the water drought in California is helping drive interest. “People are realizing that it’s time to get serious about environmental ramifications of growing food.” With population growth, experts say we’ll need new protein sources by 2050, and “we’re not going to have the same configuration of meat, starch and vegetables on our plates,” she says.

With more and more folks hooked on Bitty’s cricket cookies, what’s next? “Cricket flour is a powerful ingredient. I’d like to see many new products using the flour for kids’ lunches, food service . . . It’s a delicious protein source. In some ways it’s not even new,” Ziegler says. “It’s a new way of eating something that humans have been eating for a long time.”