Based in Norwood, Ont., Entomo Farms was started by three brothers with a mission to help global food security issues, while also sustaining the earth. It’s now North America’s largest farm raising crickets for human consumption.
The company name is a nod to the term entomophagy – the practice of eating insects – and a trend that is on the rise in the West.
Crickets, in many forms, are packed with a nutritious punch, with a protein source nutritionally similar to meat, but more sustainable to raise than other traditional sources. Yet, unlike meat, they also contain a natural prebiotic fibre, which supports gut health, notes Entomo Farms’ chief operating officer Kelly Hagen.
While Entomo Farms has a thriving cricket product line, including powders, whole crickets, and seasoned snacks, the company had a challenge with the production of their popular line of flavoured whole roasted crickets.
“We were mixing the crickets with spices before we roasted them, but often the spices would burn in the time it took to dehydrate the crickets,” explains Hagen, adding they tried several oil-based products but nothing worked properly. “We tried applying dried spices after roasting but we needed a way to make the spices stick to the crickets and not just fall off.”
The process was also disruptive to the company’s normal large-scale roasting operation when they needed to make small-flavoured batches.
Entomo Farms partnered with the food scientists at the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre to help with methodology and to develop a more effective process to adhere seasoning blends to the roasted crickets that would not impede the absorption of flavours.
The company also needed something that was healthy, easy to operationalize, kept the crickets crunchy, and didn’t increase costs. They were also interested in adding some new flavours that would blend well with the nutty taste of roasted crickets.
“The research team agreed to take on this new ingredient and suggested a wide range of potential options for experimentation,” says Hagen. “In the end, none of the more obvious solutions worked. At that point, they came up with an unexpected and unusual approach using a whole food source that we never would have thought of.”
It fit with the company’s requirement for something natural and healthy, it was easy to train its staff to do, and it even slightly lowered the ingredient cost per pound in production. The researchers also provided about 10 different spice mixtures.
Entomo Farms can now do small production runs with previously roasted crickets, so it does not disrupt its daily large-scale roasting operations.
This enables them to do more production on demand so they don’t store as much inventory. Production chefs are now able to easily experiment with new flavours using this method and have since launched Cinnamon Sugar crickets, followed by a limited-time Pumpkin-Spice cricket during the fall.
“Crickets are still very new as a food, so there aren’t many professionals who have worked with them. We look for research partners who aren’t afraid to take on something unknown and who love to think creatively when the usual approaches don’t work,” adds Hagen. “The team definitely proved themselves with this project, finding a superior solution that no one had thought of at the beginning. They took the time to understand our needs and our constraints and worked closely with us to find a great answer.”
This project was made possible through the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP), which provides up to 20 hours of access to the equipment, facilities, and expertise of a Technology Access Centre (TAC) to solve a specific business or technical challenge.
This is one example of the types of technical services offered by the CFWI Innovation Centre. To discover other resources and capabilities, visit the website.