CLOSE
Tag Collective
Tag Collective

Exo Turns Crickets Into Protein Bars

Tag Collective
Tag Collective

"Our company exists solely for the purpose of making this normal. To make the idea of eating insects not be weird," Gabi Lewis says of Exo, the cricket-based protein bar company he co-founded with his college roommate, Greg Sewitz. "So today we have to disguise it and turn it into a protein bar, hide it somewhat. If we’re successful then in ten years we’ll see people eating whole crickets."

An admirable goal, but one that prompts the question: Why eat insects in the first place?

THE CASE FOR CRICKETS

"People, the first time they hear about this, have the most intense visceral disgust reflex. It’s just, like, instant," Lewis says. But despite what your initial reaction might be, eating insects isn't all that weird—people all over the world, in many different countries, count insects as a part of their diets. Ultimately, it all depends on your perspective. "[Drinking] milk is so weird if you think about it," Lewis says.

Then there's the fact that crickets are great for you. These chirping insects, which are more often associated with camping than culinary excellence, are a veritable superfood. They have more iron than beef and more calcium than milk. They're low in saturated fat and sugar. And they're a complete protein, meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids.

Eating them is environmentally responsible, too. Crickets require less food, less water, and less space to farm than most other forms of protein. They reproduce efficiently, reach maturity quickly, and produce 80 times less methane gas than cattle. All of this is good news in combating climate change and supporting increasing populations. (If you're interested in learning more about the benefits of eating bugs, check out this report that the United Nations published on the subject last year.)

TURNING CRICKETS INTO PROTEIN BARS

Despite all those facts, Lewis didn't immediately take to the idea of crickets as food. As a senior at Brown University with a job offer at a large hedge fund lined up he was, in his own words, "coasting." Skipping class quickly got boring, so the fitness and nutrition buff began experimenting with making his own protein bars. It was Sewitz who suggested crickets. He got the idea from a conference on climate change at MIT and thought they might present a solution to his roommate's quest for the perfect protein.

After a little convincing and a lot of research, Lewis was sold—so the pair ordered 2000 live crickets from one of the dozen or so domestic farms that raise crickets for fishing bait and reptile food. The insects arrived at their on-campus house in something resembling shoeboxes. And although they lost a few especially jumpy crickets in the process, Lewis and Seitz successfully froze, cleaned, roasted, and ground the crickets into a powder. With it, they made their first batch of cricket protein bars.

After receiving positive feedback from fellow students and athletes at a local crossfit gym, the pair decided to look into what their next steps should be. "I started talking to a professor of entrepreneurship about it, drew up a business plan, got more serious, raised a little bit of money from family and friends," Lewis says. And when they graduated in May 2013, they agreed to dedicate their summer to giving the company a real shot—starting with a Kickstarter campaign. They gave their campaign a $20,000 goal. When it raised close to $55,000 in the allotted time, Lewis decided not to join the hedge fund, Seitz scrapped his plan of teaching neuroscience to Tibetan monks, and the two dedicated themselves to Exo.

It wasn't immediately smooth sailing. The Kickstarter campaign ended in August and they produced their first commercial batch of 50,000 bars in March. Finding a manufacturer proved particularly tricky because there's a small overlap between shellfish allergies and cricket allergies, and companies were unwilling to contaminate their equipment in that way. "We were using crickets and they spend their whole lives trying to keep crickets out of their facilities," Lewis says.

Eventually, Louis and Seitz secured a manufacturer in upstate New York, partnered with some commercial cricket farms to set up separate all-organic facilities for the human-consumption crickets—although Lewis says that's more about consumer perception than necessity—and joined forces with a world-class chef.

Exo Now

After working as Head Chef of R&D at The Fat Duck and Culinary Director at Chipotle, Kyle Connaughton was designing a new curriculum in food science for the Culinary Institute of America when a friend of a friend introduced him to Lewis and Seitz. They expected to be handed off to one of his students, but Connaughton, who had participated in a BBC documentary about eating insects, liked the idea so much he joined the team.

"We knew that if this was gonna work, these bars had to be delicious—at least as far as protein bars go—and they had to taste better than most protein bars in a category that’s comically overcrowded," Lewis says.

Connaughton helped them to do just that. Though they currently have just two flavors—cacao nut and PB&J (there was a cashew ginger bar, which had ardent fans but was discontinued for not having a widespread enough appeal)—there are plans to develop more; blueberry vanilla and apple cinnamon are already in the works. And so far, people have liked what they've tasted: Exo can barely keep up with the demand. Every production run has sold out, with around 90 percent of those sales occuring online.

Being a "weird" food is good for word-of-mouth business (and media attention), but normalizing eating insects would be even better. Lewis compares his hopes for crickets to the trajectory of lobsters, which were once considered prison food, and sushi.

"Our attitude towards these things change," he says. "Granted, lobster took a hundred years. Sushi was introduced in the ‘60s in LA and now you can find a sushi bar in the Glasgow airport. And now, with people’s focus on nose-to-tail dining and farm-to-table cuisine and, I don’t want to sound old, with social media, these things happens quicker. So it’s feasible that the shift we’ve seen with lobster that took 100 years and sushi that took 30 with crickets could take five to 10."

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
holidays
Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
iStock
iStock

Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
holidays
What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?
iStock
iStock

Everyone knows to expect a partridge in a pear tree from your true love on the first day of Christmas ... But when is the first day of Christmas?

You'd think that the 12 days of Christmas would lead up to the big day—that's how countdowns work, as any year-end list would illustrate—but in Western Christianity, "Christmas" actually begins on December 25th and ends on January 5th. According to liturgy, the 12 days signify the time in between the birth of Christ and the night before Epiphany, which is the day the Magi visited bearing gifts. This is also called "Twelfth Night." (Epiphany is marked in most Western Christian traditions as happening on January 6th, and in some countries, the 12 days begin on December 26th.)

As for the ubiquitous song, it is said to be French in origin and was first printed in England in 1780. Rumors spread that it was a coded guide for Catholics who had to study their faith in secret in 16th-century England when Catholicism was against the law. According to the Christian Resource Institute, the legend is that "The 'true love' mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The 'me' who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the 'days' represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn."

In debunking that story, Snopes excerpted a 1998 email that lists what each object in the song supposedly symbolizes:

2 Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

There is pretty much no historical evidence pointing to the song's secret history, although the arguments for the legend are compelling. In all likelihood, the song's "code" was invented retroactively.

Hidden meaning or not, one thing is definitely certain: You have "The Twelve Days of Christmas" stuck in your head right now.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios