Cricket Juice Tastes Way Better Than It Sounds
But will it really solve the global hunger crisis?
This article originally appeared in Danish on MUNCHIES DK.
The first thing we notice in the large cellar is the sound. It is constant and strangely crackling and grows stronger as we move further into the heart of the insect farm. What we're listening to is the sound of thousands of crickets, burrowing themselves into their homes of cut up egg trays in large, food-safe IKEA plastic boxes lit by the warm light coming from the incandescent bulbs.
The cellar here in northwestern Copenhagen is home to Denmark's first insect farm and the 'stable' is a 15-square-meter space where the crickets eight-week-long lifecycle takes place. Here they grow up healthy, on a diet of organic vegetables, discarded coffee grounds, and leftover beer mash, among other things.
The insect farmer showing us around in the crickets' crackling and humming stable is entrepreneur Jakob Rukov, who became totally obsessed with the creepy-crawly cuisine world six years ago.
"Eating insects is going to become a thing. I have no doubt about that," says Jakob, as he brings his thousands of crunchy, crispy insects forward. "Ten years from now, it'll be a completely natural part of the diet. It isn't certain that everyone will be eating them, but they will have rich opportunities to do so."
In any case, Jakob will definitely be doing his best to make sure that this happens. As the owner of Bugging Denmark and InsektKBH he has—through insect workshops, taste tests at festivals, and countless presentations—been working intensely to convince Danes of insects' culinary and climate-friendly excellence.
Many of us have heard this tune before at some point in the past few years, as insects have gained increasing media attention. Jakob is definitely aware of this. He has also become aware of how the sight of a whole-roasted mealworm or a crispy, crunchy cricket can inspire disgust and revulsion.
He has therefore come up with a cunning plan to bring insects further into the Danish food pyramid. Instead of roasting the insects and presenting them in all their crunchy horror, he and his business partner Philip Prive developed the insect juice Femten Fårekyllinger ("15 Crickets") which will allow the crickets to slide pleasantly down Danes throats.
The product consists simply of apple juice pressed from organic Danish apples, ginger, and—for the final magic ingredient—15 fat crickets that have been blanched, processed in a blender, and subsequently blended into the drink. The idea is for the juice to function as a healthy ginger shot with the added benefit of the high protein content and natural umami flavor of the crickets.
"We are very aware of the fact that insects pose an aesthetic barrier," says Jakob. "The juice is made in a way to get people to try a new product and integrate them in a natural way."
He pours small shots of the insect juice. It is cloudy, like a good apple juice fresh from the orchard. The remains of the 15 crickets have accumulated in the bottom in a gray mass, so the glass bottle must be shaken before it can be enjoyed.
It tastes strongly of ginger. We don't even notice the insect taste we expected. But the drink does have an extra rich mouthfeel and a certain texture that must be ascribed to the blended crickets. The crickets' presence is most noticeable in the umami flavor, but not at all in a nasty way.
The first glasses of the juice are made with crickets that Jakob and his partner Philip Price have imported from Holland. This is because insects are still so new here at home that the Danish office of food product regulation has not yet given permission for consumer sale of insects produced in Denmark. As soon as they do come, the Dutch crickets will of course be swapped out with crickets from the insect farm in the Northwest.
"We want to create an urban ecosystem that is sustainable in any environment. At the moment, we have the production capacity to make 100 kilos of crickets every year. During the span of its lifestyle, the cricket can lay up to 2,400 eggs at a time."
Sustainability isn't just a buzzword. The insect farm is part of a circular system that extends far beyond the egg trays. Jakob works together with the company Beyond Coffee, which grows mushrooms in used organic coffee grounds from the city's cafes. When the mushrooms have sucked the nutrients out of the coffee grounds, they leave a block of used grounds, which is degraded and full of fungus mycelium, which contains protein and calcium—and crickets love it. The crickets' excretions then turn it all into fertilizer for the insect farm's upstairs neighbors in the company, TagTomat.
In this way, the leftovers from the production of your overpriced latte end up as insect shit and sun-ripened tomatoes. It's actually pretty beautiful.
Before the insect world took control of his private and professional life, Jakob lived the calm life of a researcher, with tenure at the University of Copenhagen and a PhD in molecular biology in his arsenal. One day in 2011, he read an article in The New Yorker, which describes how millions of people have already incorporated insects into their daily diet.
"I had no idea that this was the case, and for some reason, after I could not shake the thought of eating insects," he said. "The whole idea that herein lay a healthy and sustainable solution for the global hunger crisis was incredibly fascinating to me."
The nerd in him became so taken by this idea that he ripped two months out of his calendar and hopped on a plane to Ohio, where he was able to practice at the first authorized cricket farm in the U.S., Big Cricket Farms, where he learned all about the cricket life cycle and its nutritional needs.
When he returned home, he created Bugging Denmark and began to spread awareness of the benefits of insects to anyone who would listen. Last year, he left his job and decided to go all-in on the insects and now, six years from his first "insectual" awakening, Jakob Rukov is now ready to begin production on the first 5,000 bottles of cricket juice. The formal approval from the Danish food agency went through, which means that the insect juice will be on store shelves at the 10 different store chains that have already agreed to stock it.
But it isn't just small business owners like Jakob who are eyeing the potential of cultivating insects. Big industry has also noticed the possibilities, and in November 2016 the Innovation Fund distributed 19 million kroner to a large project concerning industrial production of mealworms with residual effects reaching from bakeries to breweries.
InsektKBH has also received 600,000 kroner from the Innovation Fund to expand and market the insect juice and future insect products. The whole thing has to be done, of course, with gastronomic quality in mind, underscores Jakob.
"Our goal is to make the world's best insects, not animal feed," Jakob says. We want to shape a whole new culture around insects. It's fine that they can be used as pig feed, but this here, where it really counts, is when humans begin to see insects as something other than a gimmick, and like a real food choice."
The insect revolution is right around the corner. And it starts with a ginger shot.