science of us

What Is Cricket Powder and Why?

Photo: Fernando Trabanco Fotografía/Getty Images

Was I the last person to hear about cricket powder? What rock was I living under? (Or should I say: What meadow was I hopping in??)

Cricket powder, which can be used like protein powder but is instead made of whole, milled crickets, is now seemingly everywhere (or at least everywhere-adjacent). Some cricket facts: The North American edible-insect market is expected to rise 43 percent by 2024 — although you can already find entire cookbooks devoted to cricket cuisine, as well as multiple domestic cricket-powder vendors on Amazon alone, one of which I bought a half-pound bag from, to bake with, but more on that later.

Flavor-wise, cricket powder is often described as mild, slightly nutty, earthy, dirt-like, and neutral. Also: umami-esque, with “a hint of raw cocoa.”

The oft-repeated claim, which I’ll pull here from Cricket Flours’ literature, is that cricket powder can contain as much as twice the protein of certain cuts of beef, although some recent, independent research suggests it’s more complicated than that. Crickets are touted as a more sustainable, less water-thirsty source of animal protein, as well as a significant source of vitamins and minerals (such as iron, calcium, and vitamin B12), and fiber. This fiber comes in the form of chitin, which is also found in crustacean shells and why crickets aren’t recommended for people with shellfish allergies. In one study, researchers found that chronic inflammation “might be reduced by eating cricket powder.”

I hadn’t heard of cricket powder before starting this story — at first I wondered if it was a beauty trend like moon dust — but once I started Googling I felt very out of the loop. I ordered a half-pound bag from the Oregon-based company Cricket Flours, which had a FAQ section I especially enjoyed. (Food-grade crickets are typically frozen to death, in case you were wondering.)

I also spent about 15 minutes looking up cricket-shaped cookie cutters, envisioning the treats I was going to make. Or was it an hour? Pro tip: Use the search term “grasshopper.” (I didn’t end up buying one.)

My bag of cricket powder arrived a couple days later, and I recorded myself opening it, in case I had a similar reaction to the Amazon user who said that the experience was like being punched in the face. Instead, it smelled like … nothing. Or, like regular flour. Mildly nutty, pleasant. As advertised.

I wanted to try baking with the cricket powder, so I used a recipe for something called “breakfast cookies” that I found on the website of another cricket-powder vendor: Entomo Farms, North America’s largest edible-cricket provider.

The cookies call for oats to be added last, and when I opened my oat canister a moth flew out, and then I realized the entire thing was crawling with small insects — moth larvae? I don’t know. I bagged it and threw it away before thinking to take a picture. For a second it seemed appropriate to cook with another bug-rich ingredient, but I wasn’t actually ready for that, and maybe you’re not supposed to eat moth juveniles, or whatever they were. I got another canister of un-infested oats and finished mixing everything together. I took a bite of the batter while mixing it, and I couldn’t taste anything out of the ordinary.

I’m typing this now as I wait for them to bake.

For what it’s worth, the only thing that gives me any pause about the idea of eating crickets isn’t that they’re bugs, it’s that they’re enough like crustaceans to warrant the shellfish-allergy label. (They also may or may not be kosher.) This made me start to think of them as little ground-up crabs, which — even though I like crab — was somehow worse than thinking of them as cheerful, sun-dwelling bugs. I was relieved to learn that their crab-shell-like fiber, chitin, is also present in mushrooms, which negated the whole thing for me. Mostly.

As a bonus, I’m new to the Cut, and bringing in bug cookies to share with the office was a fun icebreaker and a good reason to group-Slack a bunch of people. Among the reviews from New York Magazine staffers:

“edith, thoughts on cookies: moister than i anticipated (what a phrase), savory, smooth, nutty flavor. no discernable unpleasant insect-y flavor. would pair beautifully w morning tea/coffee”

“They taste like granola. I don’t taste anything strange.”

“they’re not too sweet, so good for a snack or breakfast i think. not that i’m above dessert for breakfast. but they feel healthful”

“I didn’t taste anything strange”

“just sorta tastes like an oatmeal cookie”

One woman who was initially interested as I was setting the cookies out ultimately declined when I told her there were crickets in them. Another agreed that the shellfish-allergy detail was the worst part. “It’s just … a bad mental thing.”

The original version of this post incorrectly stated that products containing cricket powder are available at Whole Foods; they are not.

What Is Cricket Powder and Why?