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They’re some of the most convenient foods ever invented, but when it comes to nutrition, most protein bars aren’t much healthier than a traditional candy bar. But one new company is looking to change all that, and they’re starting with a protein source currently hopping around your backyard.
Exo is a cricket-based protein bar, and it just launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring insect protein to the masses. Is chowing down on six-legged snacks really a healthier choice, and can it pass the all-important taste test? Here’s what we found out.
What It Is
Exo has one of the simplest ingredient lists of any protein bar: cricket flour (slow roasted, ground crickets), almonds, dates, coconut, raw cacao, honey, vanilla, and sea salt. Each 65-gram bar — roughly equal in size to a Clif Bar — clocks in at 290 calories, 20 grams of fat, 27 grams of carbs (14 of which is sugar), and 10 grams of protein. In addition to containing all nine essential amino acids, the bars are also rich in iron, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids.
These gluten, grain, dairy, and soy-free bars are the brainchild of Exo co-founders Gabi Lewis and Greg Sewitz. Frustrated by existing bars that tasted chalky and relied on sugar for flavor, the two began researching alternative protein sources that could hold flavor without all the fillers. After reading a UN report on food sustainability, Sewitz found their answer: crickets, and lots of them.
Now, Exo is using Kickstarter to scale up production. The campaign runs from July 29th through August 28th and is looking to raise $20,000 for kitchen rental, packaging, and promotion to take the bars nation-wide.
Why It Matters
We’ve raved about the benefits of insect protein before, both for its health and environmental benefits. Recent research has shown insects (especially crickets) to be one of the best food sources around: they're nutrient dense, take less feed and water to than other animals, and also produce less waste. That could mean healthier, cheaper protein for a world population the UN estimates will increase by 70 percent in the next 40 years.
While much of the world already enjoys eating insects on the regular, it’s less common in the West. It's something Lewis hopes his company can help change: “In the long term, we want to be the go–to company for foods made from insects. Protein bars are just the first step… With the cricket flour, you can fold it into anything big.”
Is It Legit?
Yes (and they’re only getting better). In order to refine their recipe and develop new flavors, Lewis and Sewitz have enlisted celebrity chef Kyle Connaughton, formerly the head of research and development at Michelin-starred The Fat Duck in England, and former culinary director at Chipotle. But the bars won’t need too much tweaking — in addition to an impressive nutritional profile, Exo bars are already downright tasty.
The company sent Greatist samples of their prototype flavor — “Cacao-Nut” — and we were hooked at first bite. The naturally nutty cricket flour paired well with the almonds, coconut, and cacao, and the combo of soft and crunchy ingredients made for a pleasant chew — sort of like trail mix blended with chocolate chip cookie dough.
Instead of taste, the bigger obstacle will likely be the bars’ primary ingredient: cricket flour. Even adventurous eaters might not become insect aficionados overnight, and it’s going to take more than one new bar to turn the tides of consumer opinion. But Exo bars are a good first step in convincing Westerners that insect-based foods aren’t just a sustainable option; they can be a tasty one, too.
Would you eat an insect if it was good for you? Let us know in the comments below and tweet the author @d_tao.