Eating bugs sounds more like a summer camp dare than a pre-workout ritual. Just don't tell that to eXo and Chapul, two emerging companies that are pushing cricket-based food products as a healthier, smarter alternative to traditional protein sources.
America's reliance on protein sources such as cattle, pigs and chickens has had a huge impact on the environment in the form of resource consumption (such as fresh water), greenhouse gas emissions and massive land requirements. And that's to say nothing of issues such as antibiotic use, grain-fed beef and animal rights.
Soy-based protein bars bring another set of issues, as their high concentration of phytoestrogens can cause low testosterone in men and breast cancer in women.
We tried out Chapul and eXo bars to see if downing crickets could become the next Big Thing.
First things first. Don't expect to open either of these bars and have Jiminy Cricket staring back at you. Both are made with cricket flour, meaning that the crickets are cooked, dried and ground into a fine flour. That flour is then used like traditional flour for cooking purposes, so if you think you see a leg or an antennae, you're just paranoid.
The Chapul bars have some variety in terms of nutrition. If it's lean energy you want, look no further than the Aztec bar. It has only 150 calories and 1 gram of fat to go along with 7 grams of fiber, 36 grams of carbohydrates and 5 grams of protein. It does have 25 grams of sugar, however. The Chaco bar offers a bigger protein punch at the cost of a higher fat content. It has 8 grams of protein, 27 grams of carbohydrates and 3 grams of fiber to go with 220 calories, 8 grams of fat and 18 grams of sugar. The Thai bar is almost nutritionally identical to the Chaco bar.
The nutritional profile of the eXo bars is more uniform. Each variety contains between 260 and 290 calories, 14-16 grams of fat, 5-6 grams of fiber, 23-28 grams of carbs, 14-18 grams of sugar and 10 grams of protein. Definitely a higher fat and calorie content than the Chapul bars, but more protein to go along with it.
Although the nutrition facts of both bars won't have you chirping with joy, they're solid overall. But what do they taste like?
The Chapul bars have a slightly bitter taste rather than the sweetness found in most energy and protein bars. It's actually refreshing not to be overpowered by sweetness. The texture is tender and soft, almost like frozen cookie dough. Despite the shared taste—organic dates are the main ingredient in every bar—you can definitely taste the ingredients that made each variety unique. The Aztec bar has notes of dark chocolate and coffee and an aftertaste of spicy cayenne. The Chaco bar is the sweetest of the three and features an occasional peanut crunch; but it's still nowhere as sweet as a candy bar. The Thai bar has subtle notes of coconut and zesty lime. Each bar's taste is uniquely good and understated, and the texture is enjoyable.
The flavor and texture of the eXo bars is more varied. Both the Apple Cinnamon and the Blueberry Vanilla bars have a somewhat gelatinous, gummy texture, and they are greasy. The Peanut Butter and Jelly flavor is not greasy, and it has a crumbly, slightly crunchy texture. The Apple Cinnamon and Blueberry Vanilla varieties are very sweet and fruity. The Peanut Butter and Jelly bar is less sweet and more nutty. It was the favorite among the STACK team. People liked its crumbly texture and subtle taste more than the sweet, gummy and greasy properties of the other two varieties.
Both cricket bar brands have positives and negatives. While the Chapul bars have a little less protein than you might like, they're packed with carbs and they keep the calories and fat content reasonably low. The texture is good and they're tasty enough that we could see them becoming a regular afternoon snack.
The eXo bars are higher in calories and fat, but they have more protein. Some members of the STACK team were turned off by the greasiness of the Apple Cinnamon and Blueberry Vanilla varieties, but the Peanut Butter and Jelly variety, with it's crumbly texture and subtle sweetness, was well received.
Both of these bars are worth a shot if you're feeling adventurous or just looking for something new. None of us could "taste the crickets" (whatever that means), and if you ate one of these without knowing it was bug-based, you would think it was a normal protein or energy bar.
Looking for another creative way to add protein to your diet? Check out our review of ProTings chips.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock