Liver, Lobster and Locusts: How Bizarre Foods Win Acceptance

Grilled lobster tailsWay back in 2008 I published an article titled Insects: Not Just for Breakfast Anymore, and periodically since then I’ve advocated for bugs as food. It makes sense on so many levels, so I was thrilled to become an investor in a company that was trying to raise awareness and bring (delicious, edible, you-wouldn’t-even-know-they’re) insects to the masses! Exo is pioneering the consumption of crickets as an alternative food source, and was recently named one of The Most Innovative Companies in the World in Food in 2015. The following article is another special guest post from Gabi Lewis, co-founder of Exo. We hope you enjoy it. And don’t miss the special discount offer at the bottom of the post. Now, enter Gabi…

Nutrition trends swing like pendulums. We’re beginning to understand how to optimally fuel our bodies, but it’s a rocky and roundabout road to get there. We observe this firsthand every day in the mainstream media; consider the messaging around fat: “all fat is good”, then “all fat is bad”, then “some fat is good”, and now “(almost) all fat is good”.

Tastes and food preferences vacillate, as well. Much like nutrition trends, these preferences reverse and re-reverse year after year, ebbing and flowing as we take cues from world-class chefs and influencers. At Exo, we’ve obviously thought about these movements a lot, since we’re essentially trying to bring back a food that humans have enjoyed for eons, but which has recently gone out of style: crickets. In fact, we’ve closely studied some of the foods that have undergone these wild transformations in perception, and successfully made the transition from weird to normal. Here are a few of our favorites:


lobsterWith its name originating from the old English word loppestre, a made-up word for a terrifying spider-locust hybrid, you’d be right in guessing that this symbol of extravagance wasn’t always aspirational. In fact, pre-1900, lobster was barely sold at cost. Native Americans used it as a fertilizer for corn (the original surf ‘n’ turf) and Puritans would apologize to their guests when serving it. Lobster’s abundance rendered it almost worthless—little more than prison slop. There’s even a rumor of a group of indentured servants in Massachusetts who sued their master for serving lobster too often. According to the lore, they won. In the past century, however, lobster has undergone one of history’s most remarkable rebrands. Once considered the “cockroach of the sea”, it’s now the epitome of decadence, topping off tasting menus around the world.

Organ Meats

While prized worldwide for their nutritional density and perceived healing properties (eat heart for a healthy cardiovascular system, brain for clear thinking, and so on), we in the West fell out of love with internal organs quite some time ago. We arrogantly redefined “meat” as the muscle tissue of just four animals and in a misguided move of snobbery, decided that everything else—the offal (literally, off-fall, or whatever fell off a butchered animal’s carcass)—was somehow not fit for consumption. It even became common to throw organ meats at convicted criminals to display your disapproval of their actions. A variety of factors reinforced the idea that organ meats were undesirable including the demonization of animal fat, the rise of industrialized agriculture and a desire to distance ourselves from the reality of consuming animals (it’s easier to eat a chicken breast than a chicken foot, and forget what’s actually going on). Thankfully, organ meats are having a resurgence in popularity and we’re learning (or more accurately, re-learning) how incredibly versatile and nutritious they can be. Trends like nose-to-tail dining are helping us to incorporate all parts of the animal into everyday cuisine. Fine-dining chefs are serving delicacies like fois gras and sweetbreads. Health-focused, primal and ancestral communities are understanding and trumpeting the nutritional value of offal. The popularity of organ meats is coming full circle.


KombuchaAs this literal colony of yeast and bacteria fights it out with coconut and kale for superfood of the year, you’d be forgiven for not remembering that just a few years ago most of us couldn’t stomach it (and many still can’t). Fermented foods are deeply interwoven in the historical fabric of almost every culture on earth—from Sauerkraut in Germany to Kimchi in Korea. And for good reason–recent studies are beginning to link fermented foods to a reduction in the risk of contracting a vast number of negative health conditions[i]. These are true functional foods. Nevertheless, our Western palates took some time to catch up. Although Kombucha sales in the US might reach half a billion dollars this year[ii], it was a virtually non-existent beverage category a mere decade ago.



Until recently, the idea of raw fish was disgusting to almost everyone outside of Japan. Few Americans had ever tasted it and the idea of something so raw, slimy, foreign and particularly fishy was not appealing. Everything changed in the late 1960s, however, when a chef in Los Angeles, catering to mostly Japanese expats, couldn’t find the fatty tuna he was looking for and had to innovate. Forced to replicate the texture with a local equivalent of some kind, he chose California avocado (also soft, raw and fatty).  He wrapped everything in seaweed and turned it inside out, creating the California Roll and reimagining sushi for Western palates. Fast-forward a few decades and you can find a sushi bar in practically every airport in the country.

Our goal at Exo is to make crickets a mainstream protein source. The only thing standing in our way is cultural perception, and we take tremendous comfort in knowing that there’s a long list of foods that have undergone the exact same transition from obscurity to ubiquity that we’re trying to bring about with insects.

Eating crickets, and insects more generally, simply makes sense. They are nutritional powerhouses, packed with complete protein, healthy fats, iron and calcium; and they’re more efficient to raise than conventional protein sources. The case studies we’ve explored illustrate a profound flexibility in our tastes and preferences, and suggest that framing and perception is everything. If the “cockroach of the sea” can top off a tasting menu with a dousing of garlic butter, and raw fish can penetrate America with some avocado mixed in, imagine what can become of crickets with a little chocolate.


Check out Exo’s range of nutrient-dense snack bars made with cricket protein (no legs, we promise), developed by an award-winning Three-Star-Michelin chef. Formulated to be the perfect introductory vehicle to insects—the California Roll of bug cuisine—these bars combine cricket protein with nut butters, dried fruits, and a touch of honey. Use code MDA15 for 15% off your first order here.



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40 thoughts on “Liver, Lobster and Locusts: How Bizarre Foods Win Acceptance”

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    1. You can buy 100% Cricket Flour and make your own bars with less carbs and whatever ingredients fit your macronutrient needs. I do protein balls made of cricket flour, almond butter, coconut milk, raw coconut, stevia, cacao nibs, etc. And trust me, I looked into making my own cricket flour…it’s cheaper to buy the flour than order the crickets, freeze them (to kill them), and Vitamix them up into flour.

  1. And little chocolate minis with cricket protein inside? Cricklets…

  2. I wish they were lower in carbs as well (and maybe a bit higher in proteins to compensate?)

    And also that you were in France, too!

    1. We’re with you, Remy. Stay tuned for a lower carb / higher proteib bar, coming soon. In the meantime, if you’re interested in trying this first product line, our Cocoa Nut bar has 13g sugar / 7g fiber, and we ship to France via our website!

  3. Exo-lent article. Why throw away the legs though? Rack of Cricket Leg anyone!

  4. I think it’s important to note that eating insects may not be appropriate for people sensitized or allergic to shellfish, dust mites, cockroaches, etc. Many insects and critters with exoskeletons have a similar allergenic protein.

    1. Worth noting. I shall proceed with caution, should I try them. I have tested as mildly allergic to cockroaches (creepy things that they are – the bigger ones are fairly high on my phobia list) and moderately allergic to dust mites. (Dust mites are so tiny, they don’t rate as a phobia, but are dreadfully creepy enlarged.) Shellfish doesn’t bother me; I am rather fond of shrimp.

  5. I am sitting at my desk eating a Cocoa Nut Exo Bar right this very minute, in fact. Of the three flavors I’ve tried, it’s by far my favorite — not just because of the chocolate (mmmm, chocolate) but because of the texture. The two fruit flavors are sort of uniformly chewy and sticky, whereas the Cocoa Nut has some crunch to it from the cocoa nibs.

    1. Years ago, one of my friends went to Mexico and brought back chili flavored cricket legs. They weren’t too bad.

    2. Lobsters are just big bug that live in the water. So are shrimp.

  6. Love lobster and sushi is okay (barely), but I’ll take a pass on the bugs. I guess I’m just not a very adventurous eater.

  7. I admire what EXO is doing, but I think it is important to remember that there is actually not that much cricket in these bars. The cricket flour is 5th on the nutrition label and, as best I can tell, contributes less than half the protein to the 10g in the bar making up no more than 5-10% of the total weight. This protein contribution is about the same as a tablespoon of nutritional yeast, but the yeast is very efficiently produced and is a whole protein with the bonus of some added fiber.

    Buying pure cricket flour costs about $50/pound when I last checked, whereas nutritional yeast with the same density of protein is about $10-15/pound.

    1. Hmmm. I wonder if locust flour exists and what the nutritional profile is…

  8. The only Exo bar I have tried is the chocolate one. I thought it was good however I would rather have nuts than the nibs. The nibs make me think I’m chomping on crickets.

  9. Eating bugs just makes sense to me. I am certain that my paleolithic ancestors spent a lot of time eating bugs between larger feasts of meat and vegetation. You can’t always find game or edible plants, but you can find bugs just about anywhere.

  10. I loved the cacao-nut bars. Bought a box, and quickly ate them all. Can’t wait for the lower carb version to come out. I’m experimenting with longer-term ketosis and have to stick with less than 20g per day for a while.
    I’m just weird enough that I’d probably eat crickets straight up if I had a bag of them.

  11. these better be grass-fed, pastured crickets!

    i have this weird vision of releasing dozens of people with nets into open fields to “harvest” the crickets.

  12. I am glad to see that I am not the only one who has issues with the carb count in these delicious cricket bars! I mentioned thisin an email to the EXO folks and the response was that they were low in sugar so that was ok. I think that they are great tasting, but I joked to my wife that with more carbs than protein, they shouldn’t be called a “protein” bar, more like a carb bar! I do appreciate the product and if and when I decide to become a sugar burner again, I will definitely stock these bars in my pantry, but for now they will be just another processed bar with too many carbs. I would buy the cricket flour though!

  13. What a cool product! If the sugar content were lower I would be absolutely sold.

  14. Shame about the infomercial for todays post.
    And fois gras is made by force feeding animals, so is very cruel.

    1. Boo hoo. No it ain’t. They’re “force fed” for a few seconds a day, and it doesn’t cause them pain or discomfort (geese don’t have a gag reflex).

  15. And the bars are full of fructose….apricots, strawberries, raisin juice, honey……so inflammatory.

    1. You can buy straight up cricket flour and make your own bars on the dehydrator with any ingredients you’d like 🙂

      1. Well, yes. You can also start your own protein bar company and tweak the recipe so you have just the right macro nutrients you want… but that’s not the point is it 😛

        I agree with many folks here who looked at the actual nutritional values… way too many carbs per bar, more than protein. I would buy it but I don’t want to just for the novelty of it… it has to be better than other options out there.

        1. Making things that meet your macro needs is EXACTly the point. 😛
          If you see a product and believe in the “star” ingredient but don’t like the way it’s made (i.e. other ingredients) you are free to make your own.

      2. The person you replied to critiqued the EXO bars, your reply was to make your own. I was merely pointing out the fallacy of that argument. You cannot always have the time/means to make your own. It doesn’t always work that way. It would be nice if I had a machine to make the perfect bar with the right macro nutrients, but we’re not there yet! It’s perfectly fine to demand a better product, without being told to “make your own if you don’t like it.”

        I personally stay away from these snack type items. Cost too much for too little… if I want to eat, I eat. Snacks don’t do much for me. I do my daily IF for 20+ hours with just some coffee.

  16. I understand about the carbs. I think i would try it as long as I am not overdoing the rest of my day.

    I am still working my way into primal, but it sounds like Mark is hoping for this to be a gateway to more adventure into the bug life, rather than the end result. Just like California Rolls (and spider rolls, for that matter) are a gateway sushi, it is good to get the palate accustomed to the flavor before going for the real thing.

  17. I really don’t like lobster. I think maybe I need to try it fresh of the boat to make absolutely sure, but I’ve had it at some really good restaurants and I just… don’t like it.

    Anyway. I lived the Exo bars I got but the shipping to Canada became prohibitive. Also, I just don’t eat that many protein bars. Will they ever be making cricket flour or something I can use for baking?

  18. Why can’t Americans just appreciate the ingredients wholesomeness instead everything they don’t dare has to be some packaged and processed then preservatives loaded.

    I was over in China and stir fried grasshoppers with some spicy garlic sauce taste great.

    How are Americans getting healthier when the sushi preferred by Americans these days is loaded with mayo sauce, sugar, and a tiny thin piece of low quality fish.

    The American way these days is to take new healthy ingredients and convert it to an unhealthy dish so it becomes palatable again.

    Americans will still die of diabetes, heart failures, obesity rates are still going up even with healthy ethnic ingredients.

    1. Did the grasshoppers have their legs removed? On my list of things to try this summer is grasshoppers caught from the hayfield by my house. Stirfrying in a spicy garlic sauce sounds deelish…