Dror Tamir, Co-Founder and CEO of Hargol FoodTech, describes the benefits and advantages of farming grasshoppers. Hargol FoodTech manufactures edible grasshopper protein and promotes the commercial growth of these insects as an alternative, healthier, and sustainable protein.
Agriculture, industry, and nutrition run through my veins. I was born on a kibbutz (an Israeli settlement) of which my grandfather was the chairman. He established two major food companies: Galam which is the biggest corn processor in Israel, and Ambar which is now the largest and leading producer of livestock foodstuffs in Israel. He was the first CEO of the former and was on the management team of the latter.
My grandmother was the cook on the kibbutz and she takes the credit for my success. In the 1950s, food insecurity was rife in Israel when locusts and grasshoppers would swarm in from Africa and consume our crops. The workers would rush out into the fields to try and save the crops, and simultaneously Yemenite Jews would come with empty bags to fill for their own consumption.
It was at this time I learned that grasshoppers were a significant food source worldwide and that they are the only kosher insects out there.
I am an accountant by trade, but for the last fifteen years, I have been working in food and nutrition as an entrepreneur. About seven years ago I learned of the protein challenge that we are all aware of today. I knew that grasshoppers were the solution!
Grasshoppers are the most widely eaten insects in the world. About one billion people, mostly in Asia, Africa, Central America, and the Middle East, consume grasshoppers as part of their diet. However, supply is based on collection in the wild, which is limited to 4-6 weeks a year. In most of these countries, grasshoppers are considered to be a delicacy or are part of traditional medicine. Demand is high and therefore prices are, too. In Saudi Arabia for example, prices can reach as high as $300/kg.
The nutritional content of grasshoppers is unique. As a whole, with no body parts removed, they contain 72% protein with all the essential amino acids. This is what the industry calls concentrate protein. They also contain omegas-3,6, and 9, as well as iron, zinc, calcium, folic acid, and numerous other vitamins. In terms of health benefits, we also know from research that grasshoppers promote growth in children, improve metabolism, and reduce body fat.
Grasshoppers are an excellent ingredient for a wide range of industries that use protein, either in powder or meat form. They can be used in food products, beverages, nutritional supplements, and much more. Grasshoppers can even resolve a large number of challenges that are faced by those very industries today.
For example, whey protein is the leading product in fitness today. However, research has shown that grasshoppers provide a much better essential amino-acids distribution. In addition to this, whey protein leaves a much higher carbon footprint, being a by-product of the dairy industry.
Let's compare grasshoppers to beef. To produce the same amount of biomass, pound per pound, grasshoppers emit 99% fewer greenhouse gases, they require 1,000 times less water and 1,500 times less arable land. The biomass provides eight times more protein than beef.
We have breeding facilities, similar to poultry. We move the eggs into incubators where we accelerate the incubation period to two weeks. Then comes the fattening facility where we grow the grasshoppers from hatching to harvest, which is about a 30-day cycle. Production efficiency is about 250% better than that of chickens.
Grasshoppers eat fresh wheatgrass. It’s an excellent food source but very expensive. We have started to develop dry feed, similar to the poultry and cattle industries. Costs have been reduced dramatically and seven generations of our grasshoppers have been fed this diet.
We all know that livestock and poultry undergo incredible stress and suffering at the end of their life cycle, which also affects the quality of the finished product. Grasshoppers are insects, therefore cold-blooded creatures. We follow the recommendations of the EU for minimum harm done to animals. We drop the temperatures, they fall asleep, and only at this time do we collect them and freeze them. There’s no stress involved for the animal.
For the most part, we work with food manufacturers, so most of our produce is either in powdered or meat form. For both of these, the entire insect is used. However, we do have clients who buy whole grasshoppers.
You might be surprised to find it’s already out there. Whole Foods markets, Carrefour, and other similar stores already supply products with insect protein. It’s slowly making its way into mainstream retail chains.
We do have competitors but we are the first to reach commercial-scale production. We have at least a five-year advantage over them. Many companies switched to crickets because they are an easier insect to farm but they are inferior in almost every aspect. We appreciate the competition but we believe we have a superior product.
I believe they are a delicacy in many African countries. As a whole insect for the western world, I think it may be difficult to “swallow” and they are very fatty. Grasshoppers are pretty neutral in taste and flavor.
In general, humans need to be more aware of the impact our food industry is having on our planet, both in terms of health and sustainability. We need to look to the future and help save our planet for generations to come.
The exciting part is the research Hargol FoodTech is doing in terms of nutrition and production. By making grasshopper production the most efficient protein source out there, we can replace any protein source in the western diet and help feed the world. We can also help provide Africa and Asia with the technology to produce protein-rich foods at a much lower cost.