Even with an increasing number of commercial kitchens available for Lowcountry food entrepreneurs to rent, finding the right facility can be a challenge, especially when you’re proposing to haul a bunch of bugs into the Department of Health-approved space.
“The thing you want to keep out, we want to bring in,” says Gabby Barons of Jiminy Co., a new local company in the exploratory stages of making cricket flour. “It’s insane.”
Barons, 25, and her sisters, Alexandra, 30, and Victoria, 21, have finally located a kitchen in which they can roast and grind insects. They’re now maneuvering various bureaucratic obstacles but hope to have a product ready for sampling by fall.
“It’s such a sustainable way to get your nutrients,” Barons says.
Environmentalists have long hailed edible insects as the solution to chronic food shortages projected to worsen with global population growth, land degradation and a growing worldwide demand for meat. Advocates estimate 2 billion people already eat caterpillars, beetles, grasshoppers and other insects on a regular and intentional basis, but years of marketing hasn’t fully eroded the “ick” factor endemic to the world’s wealthiest countries, including the U.S.
To deal with potential customers’ reflexive disgust, the Barons sisters decided to use the old parental trick of disguising the offensive food. So instead of plopping a single cricket atop a cupcake, they pulverized thousands of them, stirring one part cricket into four parts flour.
“At first we didn’t know what the consistency would be,” Barons says, adding that the flour lends a faintly nutty flavor to sesame chips, cookies and cakes.
About half a dozen companies already are trying to capitalize on the anticipated insect-eating trend, including Exo, a Brooklyn producer of cricket flour-based energy bars. Much like Jiminy Co., Exo was launched by green-minded recent college grads.
Exo has been fairly well-received by followers of the Paleo diet, which stresses the consumption of high-protein meat. Jiminy Co. is starting to make inroads with the same community in South Carolina. Barons says existing insect entrepreneurs have been very helpful with the start-up process.
“They’re more than happy to get Charleston turned on to edible insects,” she says.
Without much guidance at the outset, the Baronses first tried rearing crickets in a guest bedroom. “Then they started chirping, and we were like, we need a legitimate farm.”
Now the crickets come from an Upstate breeder, but Barons says the sisters are prepared to further adjust their business plan if necessary.
“It depends on everyone’s perspective when we take it to the streets,” she says. “We’ll see what happens. If the flour doesn’t sell, we’re going to make it into treats.”