Western curiosity in entomophagy has resulted in several hundred startups appearing in the US and Europe in 2015 alone. However many who seek the health benefits hesitate when they see eyes, legs and wings. Cricket flour is one solution that Bugsolutely took to a whole new level.
Born and raised in Milan, Massimo Reverberi left his home for South East Asia in search of new challenges: he found the best one in Thailand with Bugsolutely. Their Cricket Pasta reflects his views of the edible insect market. He believes that it should be built with patience, education and sacrifice. Overcoming cultural barriers takes some strong arguments, including taste.
EBF: Many companies are producing cricket flour, what made you decide to go one step further and sell products out of cricket flour?
Massimo: On top of being such a common food, pasta is a “soft” approach to the cultural problem with eating insects in the West. Pasta is clean and sterilized after boiling. We feel that Cricket Pasta is the easiest starting point for entomophagy and a viable option for “ento-newbies”. The nutty flavour of cricket flour also matches very well with the wheat flour. Most of the foodies who have tried our home-cooked Cricket Pasta with pesto or mushroom and cream sauces confirmed this.
How did you become interested in eating insects? How often do you eat insect-based meals?
I was asked to lead some research in edible insects in the spring of 2014. At the time, there were no signs of the boom that was going to happen. It seemed strange that no one was producing pasta-based Cricket Flour (with the exception of two small artisanal local productions). Pasta is the most common food in the world and a feasible product to use to overcome Western cultural bug-eating barriers.
I’d love to try more insects. Food products made out of insects are the most appealing to me, as are dishes prepared by ento-chefs. Surprisingly, in South East Asian people are increasingly considering bugs to be an old-fashioned farmer’s snack. They are distancing themselves from centuries of tradition just as Western countries are discovering it.
My edible insect meals in Thailand are usually my own pasta. During my recent trip to Cambodia I had a few tasty experiences in restaurants, including a whole tarantula (a popular local speciality) and red ants with beef and holy basil.
Bugsolutely is a great name for an edible insect business. How did you come up with it?
Thank you for the compliment. My first job was as an advertisement copywriter over 20 years ago, but the name is the result of professional brand copywriter, Giuliano Tedesco. He specializes in company names and has worked internationally. Giuliano, as well as others, have helped us because they believe in the business value of edible insects due to their environmental advantage over other proteins.
What was the process of creating the recipe for Cricket Pasta?
Bugsolutely’s cricket flour is mixed with wheat flour. First, we tested gluten-free cricket pasta using brown rice flour, tapioca flour, xantham gum (a common substitute for gluten) and 20% cricket flour. It did not turn out tasty which is a common problem when eliminating gluten. We don’t want people to blame the bad taste on the cricket flour, and the current (and final) generation of Cricket Pasta is the third. The feedback received from chefs and customers has made us proud of all the necessary effort we put into it.
Many cricket products integrate 5-10% cricket flour. The flour represents by far the highest cost element in the production, however we believe that there is a minimum amount necessary to enjoy the nutritional benefits of crickets. In our opinion, 20% is a good compromise between reasonable market price and significant protein content.
Where do you get the crickets?
We do not farm crickets because it is an entirely different profession. We are also happy to see thousands of Thai farmers benefit from this new market. The Thai production for the internal market was already huge and barely meeting demand, but this is a totally new sales opportunity for them. There are 3 known producers of cricket flour in Thailand: all have an R&D department or collaborate with local universities to improve the product and process. Bugsolutely is in contact with two Food Technology Departments in two universities in Bangkok.
Right now we are evaluating the feasibility of making the flour. Thailand has low cost of labour and land, advanced agricultural skills and the perfect climate for crickets. A local production of cricket flour would have indisputable competitive advantages. In the next months, however, we will first focus on the launch of our Cricket Pasta, as this is of the utmost importance for us right now.
What other types of pasta are you working on this year?
There are more than 250 types, but we think that fusilli (and probably penne and farfalle) will work best in most situations and customers preferences. We can easily produce different shapes or flour percentages of course, but we need to carefully evaluate the collateral costs, like lab analysis (bacteriological and nutritional) and FDA approval.
Where do you see your product in 5 years?
We are the proud member of the community of edible insect startups. Most of the founders are in contact, share information and feel like they are pioneering a new field with great results and without the resources of multinational companies. The big corporations will of course arrive, but right now we have time to affirm our brands and play our cards.
Bugsolutely’s strategy for Cricket Pasta is to go mainstream and beyond the common edible insect channels. We really believe that some bug foods will sell extremely well in supermarkets. In five years, we expect to be well positioned with 3 or 4 products in the US and several EU countries (like the UK, France, Germany and Spain) by collaborating with large food distributors.