BackEat & Drink » Food Culture » Chowing Down on Crickets: Vietnam’s First Mass-Market Edible Insect Business

Chowing Down on Crickets: Vietnam’s First Mass-Market Edible Insect Business

Crickets look a lot different when they’re fried and doused in seasoning.

For starters, their bodies aren’t nearly as big as you would expect. Perhaps it’s been a while since I spotted a cricket in the wild, perhaps it's the fact that my understanding of cricket anatomy is based largely on a Disney character, but in the half-day between ordering a bag of fried bugs and receiving that bag of fried bugs, my brain re-imagined the little creatures as a Predator-like monster, large and grotesque and alien.

Instead, my food is tiny and it's staring at me. The dozens of little eyes looking up at me definitely do something to put me off, but the missing legs somehow make it easier to imagine popping an insect into your mouth as a snack.

This is good news for BugSnack, the flagship product of Saigon-based Bug Corporation. Since 2012, the company has dedicated its efforts to the research, development, production and distribution of various edible insects. Selling packets of fried whole crickets with BBQ seasoning is but their first foray into winning over the Vietnamese market on insect-based delights.

It’s a bit too early to know whether the snacks will be a success, but Bug Corp.'s founder and CEO, who goes by Chuong De, is optimistic. Though Vietnamese diners in some parts of the country have already built bugs into their diet, his firm is the first in Vietnam to produce edible insects for human consumption; now all the company has to do is sell the general public on the benefits of eating bugs.

Of which, by the way, there are plenty. While they’re not the best-looking creatures, edible insects like crickets, beetles and honey bees are incredibly high in protein, iron and calcium, not to mention packed with vitamins and minerals. In fact, next time you’re in the market for a healthy meal, you’re better off chowing down on crickets than chicken or beef. There is even a theory that suggests vegans could harm fewer animals by opting for insects instead of plants.

Video via ATTN:.

Beyond the nutritional value of certain bugs, a study by researchers at the University of Oxford also pointed out the benefits creepy-crawlies could have on global food security, as the resources required to raise insects are far fewer than those needed to rear mammals like chickens, pigs and cows. In a country where meat consumption is rapidly increasing and food security is a major issue, bugs may not be a bad idea.

Vietnamese diners, too, are more open to a variety of proteins than citizens in other parts of the world. Where bug-based food businesses in the United States and Europe have had to put in considerable effort to sell their potential customers on the notion of eating crickets, many Vietnamese diners are already accustomed to insects as protein.

In the case of Bug Corp.’s cricket snacks, which have only been on the market for about a month, Chuong De says most of his customers are Vietnamese, and their feedback on the bugs has been positive. Better still, many have purchased the product on more than one occasion, he tells Saigoneer, a good sign that bugs are not just Vietnam's latest food fad. In fact, when it comes to bringing crickets into the local cuisine, Chuong De is on the right track: BugSnack's website markets its product as a nhậu snack, pairing it with a glass of beer in its advertising.

Yesterday afternoon, our very own BugSnack order arrived. As an office of millenials, we photographed our food pretty heavily before digging in. In the end, there was a lot of wind-up to the event and not nearly as much drama as we'd expected. The entire office witnessed my first bite into a farm-raised cricket doused in the accompanying BBQ seasoning. If eaten straight away, the little guys turn out to be slightly tasteless, but when I snacked on a few of the leftovers later on, the seasoning had really set in and the crickets were a crunchy, salty and appetizing treat.

My colleagues, on the other hand, were a bit more expressive. Reactions ranged from total disgust – one of my coworkers popped a bug in her mouth and promptly rushed to the trash can – to polite displeasure to enthusiastic support. While the snack itself is nothing ground-breaking in terms of flavor, the fact that crickets are a healthy, sustainable and relatively affordable (VND20,000/bag) snack means Bug Corp. is doing something right.

Video via YouTube user Schannel.

As the company continues to grow, Chuong De believes bugs will one day have a greater place in people's diets. Though it’s still a niche market, insects present a viable alternative to other sources of protein. Industry Today valued the global edible insects market at US$34 million in 2015, however this figure is expected to rise to as much as US$522 million by 2023. Last year, Asia-Pacific nations, including Thailand, China and Vietnam, were responsible for as much as US$12 million of the industry’s value. While this counts edible insects produced for both human consumption and animal feed, the drastic growth suggests that the edible insect market – unlike BugSnack’s crickets – has legs.