Many health-conscious people and those on medically-restricted diets limit their carbohydrate consumption, making cake and muffins a rare treat. If research at Lehman College is any indication, a novel high-protein, low-carb flour—made of crickets—could change that.
Katherine Burt, an assistant professor of dietetics, foods, and nutrition at Lehman, understands that insects are a nutritious staple in the diets of non-western cultures. While insect-based foods are gaining some traction in western diets, there is still a strong resistance from most people. She wanted to see if a blind taste test could overcome the aversion that many in the U.S. have toward eating insects.
"Eating insects is the norm in other countries, and we have a diverse student body," said Burt. "Mainly it is western cultures that are averse to eating insects. As dietetics professionals we could work on that, reflecting a more inclusive environment for people who eat these things regularly."
Although there has been some research on insect food products, no study so far has used blind taste testing where people were not aware of the use of insects as an ingredient. Burt asked her graduate students to design a study that would to gauge people's reactions to taste and texture.
The taste test compared muffins made from all-purpose wheat flour and those made with high-protein cricket flour. Burt chose muffins because a baked good would readily appeal to test subjects, mask the ingredients well enough to make a blind taste test possible, and enable the flavor to be fairly evaluated in relation to the differing nutritional profiles.
A banana chocolate muffin recipe was chosen to disguise the differences in color and, potentially, of flavor between the wheat and cricket flours. A slight recipe adjustment was also necessary to account for the different properties of the flours. None of the test subjects was aware that flour made from crickets was an ingredient in one of the muffins.
Volunteer test subjects, primarily other Lehman students, tasted the two muffins and filled out a questionnaire on taste, texture, and their general food preferences.
"I didn’t expect it to come out about even!" exclaimed Burt. "People on average rated the muffins the same. I was curious if aftertaste would come up, but not as frequently as I expected."
In fact, the cricket flour muffins generally rated higher for texture than those made with wheat.
Although nearly 60% of the testers stated that they were averse to eating insects, over half indicated they would be interested in eating a high-protein baked good for health reasons. This suggests that, barring some culinary biases, flour made from crickets could be a healthy and palatable substitute for wheat and other grain-based flours.
Burt, along with her graduate students and Lehman lecturer Marina Stopler, published a paper based on this research in the Journal of Culinary Science & Technology earlier this year titled "Acceptance of Using Cricket Flour as a Low Carbohydrate, High Protein, Sustainable Substitute for All-Purpose Flour in Muffins."
What is Burt's personal opinion on including insects in her diet? She is now more open than before undertaking this study to eating insect-based foods. Still, don’t look for cricket flour to become a supermarket staple just yet. Because it takes 5,000 crickets to make just one pound of flour, the expense makes it unlikely to become a popular grocery store item in the near future.