CHarles Wilson is founder and CEO of Portland-based Cricket Flours, a platform food ingredient and consumer food product company.
Wilson says his mother’s gluten-intolerance inspired the business. He founded the enterprise during his last year of law school at the University of Oregon.
“Ten or 15 years ago my mom got diagnosed,” Wilson tells EW, “and she couldn’t have gluten anymore.”
About four years ago, Wilson and his sisters were also diagnosed gluten intolerant. Wilson’s family had to make significant changes to their diets. “That’s what led me to find cricket protein sources,” he says. “The whole idea is to get this new type of food ingredient into your favorite recipes — dishes, shakes, smoothies. It’s basically a way to incorporate more protein into your diet.”
The crickets used in Cricket Flours’ products are raised in facilities approved for human consumption by the FDA. The insects’ diets are tightly controlled.
“This way there’s no pesticides,” Wilson says. “Or, if we want a non-GMO, organic-type thing, we can do that.”
“At about six weeks they’re able to be processed,” Wilson explains, “and they’re either frozen, freeze-dried or baked — depends on the process used. The moisture is removed. It’s milled like a normal type of flour, and that 100-percent pure cricket flour is used in our different product lines.”
Cricket Flours has produced a cookbook called All Cricket, No Bull, which is about to go into its second edition. Wilson says cricket protein is often used in energy bars, but it’s slowly making its way into shakes, smoothies and all manner of baked goods.
“It’s still kind of an emerging market,” Wilson admits. “You can use it in dressings and sauces. It has a slightly nutty or neutral taste, and it can be incorporated into a lot of dishes you are probably already making at home.”
“If you use our all-purpose baking flour,” Wilson adds, “you get about 35 percent more protein in addition to iron and calcium and magnesium.” He says cricket flour has about the same amount of iron as spinach.
So how do Wilson and his company surmount the possible consumer “ick-factor” around eating insects?
“It’s something that we embrace,” he laughs.
“It’s a little bit out there,” he admits, “but when you start talking about the sustainability or the environmental effect — we use less land, we’re more efficient than beef -— when you start talking about these other aspects, it becomes a little bit more normal.”
“It’s like rediscovering something that 80 percent of the world already eats,” Wilson says. “In the Pacific Northwest, we have Native Americans who pound and grind up insects. It’s going back to what our ancestors already knew.”
For more information about Cricket Flours and its product, go to cricketflours.com.