Got grasshoppers?

Got grasshoppers?

Israeli gastronomists jump on new protein source

They may not look like lunch to you (or us), but grasshoppers add a high-protein, low-fat crunch to the diet of many people around the world.

Your taste buds may not yet thrill to the trill of insects — but soon they will, if a new Israeli company Steak TzarTzar succeeds in its ambitious gastronomic goals. Actually, Steak TzarTzar — tzartzar being Hebrew for cricket — is less concerned with promoting the delicate flavors of insects than it is with giving the world a new source of nutrition.

Behind Steak TzarTzar is an innovation in bug breeding: The company has found a way to lengthen the normally short breeding season of edible grasshoppers by leaps and bounds. As a result, this costly and scarce source of nutrition will be more widely available, all year long.

It’s no joke: Chockfull of whole proteins, vitamins, and healthful fatty acids, with no cholesterol or saturated fat, grasshoppers could be one answer to the chronic malnutrition affecting hundreds of millions of people.

This is a serious social business opportunity. Steak TzarTzar is one of 24 food startups nominated for the second annual Food+City Food Challenge Prize to be awarded in Texas next month.

Nevertheless, cofounders Dror Tamir, Ben Friedman, and Chanan Aviv know that eating grasshoppers sounds funny and gross to Western ears, so they play up the funny aspect of their business — and downplay the gross part — to make it more palatable.

One way to get around the yuck factor will be using Steak TzarTzar grasshoppers as a basis for protein powders, a multibillion-dollar market. “There is a lot of interest from leading retailers such as Whole Foods,” Tamir says.

Many other populations don’t need convincing. In Uganda and some other African countries, grasshoppers are considered a national food. “An African will take a full fistful at a time, scooping them up the way Israelis scoop hummus with pita,” says Tamir of his observations at Steak TzarTzar tasting events.

“Even in Japan you can find imported grasshoppers in supermarkets, cooked in sauce,” he adds. “There’s also a huge industry of desserts from insects.”

We’ll take his word for it.

Tamir is an accountant-turned-entrepreneur. His first venture into the nutrition business was less adventurous. He developed PlateMyMeal, a set of sectioned children’s plates imprinted with dietary guidelines to help parents serve the right foods in the right amounts.

“I got so many reactions from all over the world about PlateMyMeal that I started reading more about nutrition and learned how a lack of protein in children’s and young women’s diets in Africa affects their growth, brain and immune system,” Tamir said. “Ben Friedman and I explored alternative proteins and stumbled across insects.

“Grasshoppers have the greatest potential because they are the most edible insect around the world. About 1 billion people consume them, but they’re considered a delicacy and there are no commercial grasshopper farmers, so 90 percent of edible grasshoppers are harvested in the wild during a very limited season.”

Tamir realized that if his company could grow the grasshoppers steadily, it would have no competition for 11 months of the year and would stand to make a tidy profit. So it developed a method for breeding grasshoppers all year and helping them hatch in 11 to 14 days rather than in nine months, as they do in the wild.

One of the two species Steak TzarTzar sells will carry kosher certification. As close readers of the Torah well know, Leviticus lists several species of locusts as kosher.

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