ChefsBest Certified Master Tasters Taste-Tested Bugs

In a blind evaluation conducted earlier this month at the Center for Taste® in San Francisco, ChefsBest Certified Master Tasters® taste-tested bugs found in two varieties of alternate sourced protein energy bars.

When creating the category’s quality definition, chefs determined the bars should be soft to the bite, moderately chewy, moist and rich, and they may have crunchy inclusions. High-quality bars should also possess a low-grit or chalky feel, and a moderate length of dissolve.

They didn’t mention anything about containing crickets.

“Our methodology was repeated in the exact same manner as all of our other blind taste tests. During our introduction discussion, we didn’t mention any of ingredients with the chefs for the products they’d be judging,” said ChefsBest Sensory Director Janet Williams. “We did briefly discuss the options for alternative protein sources – plants, fungi, kelp or even animals – but we didn’t want to bias their evaluations.”

Chapul Bars and Exo Protein Bars, the two varieties tasted, represent a new wave in the food industry of protein products sourced from alternative means – in this case, insects.

While Chapul Bars catapulted to fame following an appearance by founder Pat Crowley on ABC’s Shark Tank, Exo began as the brainchild of co-founders Greg Sewitz and Gabi Lewis. The duo began producing the bars following a month-long Kickstarter campaign in 2013, and recently announced they were expanding following the procurement of $4 million in venture capital.

Both companies are leaders in the insect-as-food revolution, which believe it or not, isn’t much of a revolution if you consider 2 billion people worldwide already eat insects as part of their regular diet, according to a 2013 report from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of The United Nations. In addition to possessing nearly double the amount of protein as beef jerky (33% protein), crickets (65% protein) also contain all essential amino acids and more than 2.2 times more iron than spinach.

The United Nations has even praised the use of crickets as food due to their low environmental impact. Turns out they produce fewer greenhouse gasses than cows and require far less water than other animal protein sources, according to The UN.

But, the big question – how do they taste?

Chefs who tasted the Chapul Chaco Bar (peanut butter and chocolate) and the Exo Blueberry Vanilla Bar concluded that both varieties ranked high in quality, but when it came to taste, consumers may have to sacrifice a bit when it comes to the blend of flavors in each variety.

The Chapul Bar incorporates complex flavors including peanut, molasses, carob, fig, dried fruits and chocolate, as well as coffee, but there were also some negatives like charcoal ash and soy sauce. The texture was moderately adhesive with a soft initial bite, with some crunchiness and a low level of grittiness.

The Exo Bar had moderately strong flavors and aromas of dried fruit, fig and molasses, but despite being dubbed the Blueberry Vanilla variety, chefs did not detect a flavor of vanilla. They did say it possessed flavors of carob, nut and soy sauce that were lower in intensity. The bar was slightly gritty with a soft initial bite, chewy and included some crunchy inclusions.

“Although the taste left a bit to be desired, both of these products were high in quality and, the fact that our Certified Master Tasters, who possess a massive amount of training and experience, didn’t initially realize they contained insects speaks to the viability of using cricket flour as an alternative form of protein,” Williams said. “Although it may seem unconventional in our culture, the use of insects in these instances may be a great source for other brands to utilize in the future.”

According to the New York Business Journal, which covered the Rethink’s Future Food-Tech conference in Manhattan in May, other brands as large as General Mills have been exploring alternate protein sources.

Erika Smith, technology director at General Mills, said during the event that the company is interested in technologies surrounding, for example, the use of algae in food products. It has also explored the use of crickets.