Check your sexism if you still think women are squeamish around bugs.
Three women at Cambridge start-up Six Foods aren’t just handling insects, they’re eating them. Laura D’Asaro, Rose Wang, and Meryl Natow hope to create buzz in the food industry by building a business around consuming insects.
Getting people to eat bugs seems like a daunting task but armed with more puns than Groucho Marx and bottomless frenzied enthusiasm for their future products, Six Foods exudes optimism.
“We know that perceptions can change,” D’Asaro said. “Lobsters used to be fed to prisoners and people used to think eating raw fish was disgusting but now both of those things are delicacies.”
Delicacies aren’t necessarily the immediate goal.
Still honing in on their product, Six Foods is looking mainly to snack foods as a starting point.
“Meal worms taste very nutty and are great for snack foods,” D’Asaro said.
“Snack foods are less scary,” added Wang.
The group is well aware of the hurdles to overcome, most of all getting people to eat bugs.
So far the reception has been warm.
D’Asaro lives at one of the local Crash Pads — a short term housing company for the startup community — where she regularly brings insect dishes to weekly group meals with positive reception.
Wang and D’Asaro recounted a recent pitch event at which they accidently placed a tray of mealworm tacos in a community fridge only to find a handful remaining when it was their turn to present.
Hornworm salsa, mealworm tacos, cricket gingerbread, and cricket fried rice are among the dishes they prepare. But cooking with insects can be a challenge.
“For me it’s been really very challenging because they don’t react the way that things that are comparable — like shrimp or lobster — would,” said Geoff Lukas, Chef de Cuisine at Sofra Bakery and Cafe.
Lukas plays a mentorship role for Six Foods helping them with recipes and business ideas. He connected with the group through a food science lecture series at Harvard where the three women attended college.
“Their enthusiasm is infectious they kind of sucked me right in,” he said.
While taste is most important to Six Foods a tailwind of environmental benefits associated with consuming insects is at their back.
The arguments for eating bugs are hard to combat especially in a climate where farm-to-table and sustainability are catch phrases used almost ubiquitously to promote food goods.
”For the same amount of feed you give a cow you get 12 times the meat from insects,” D’Asaro said.
”Even if we can reduce the demand [of all other meats] by one percent that would be a huge impact,” Wang said.
D’Asaro and company rattled off a number of other stats promoting the sustainable viability of farming insects for consumption. Among others are the amount of water insects use (1000 times less than beef), eligibility for urban farming given the minimal space requirement, job creation, and variety with more than a thousand unique edible insects.
Competition in the area is minimal with most companies trying to disguise insects in a protein bar or looking for shock value in novelty candies.
“Their perspective was more of a gastronomical one where you’re trying to make a delicious insect based food,” said Lukas.
While uncompromisingly savvy and very serious about their venture, the women of Six Foods have fun.
“You can’t be too serious about this. I mean, we’re eating insects,” Wang said.
“Rose and I were a caterpillar and butterfly for halloween,” D’Asaro added.