Israeli Company Hargol FoodTech Enters the Edible Grasshopper Industry
An email notice popped up in my inbox a few months back about an Israeli company that had just acquired $3 million in investment capital from two venture capital firms, one in Singapore, the other in the Netherlands. The company is Hargol FoodTech and it lays claim to having the world’s largest grasshopper farm. “Hargol” is the English spelling for the Hebrew word that means “grasshopper.”
Hargol wants to be the next big thing in the human food chain.
Are Grasshoppers the Next Hemp?
If grasshoppers take hold the way hemp has taken hold in the past six years, there will be regulations written (because everything needs regulations), markets organized, consumers charmed, farmers coaxed into a new venture and tons of stories to be told.
That’s what I do. I tell stories. Fact-based, of course.
So I was intrigued.
A Healthy Protein-Rich Option
While all the regs and other stuff are being worked out, I thought it could be a fun column topic. Plus, to go with a column, I had a picture of a cute grasshopper visiting my backyard this summer. I have a problem eating cute animals, but maybe if he were ground into a powder I could have him in a cupcake. It would be a healthy cupcake, since grasshoppers are 72% protein. They also contain all the essential amino acids humans need, and they have zero saturated fat.
Grasshoppers have been part of the human diet for eons. John the Baptist, for example, lived humbly in the wilderness, wearing a garment of camel hair, held in place by a leather belt, and famously subsisting on a very healthy diet of locusts — aka grasshoppers — and wild honey.
Today, some 2.5 billion people, mostly in Asia, Africa and Central America, eat grasshoppers the way Americans eat french fries and other things that are way less healthy than grasshoppers.
To gather facts about grasshoppers as human food, I emailed Dror Tamir, CEO and co-founder (about five years ago) of Hargol Food Tech. I figured I’d hear back in a week or so from a Hargol public relations person, but Tamir himself sent a friendly response the very next day. I had already learned several things on my own:
• Tamir prefers grasshoppers to crickets as human food because compared to crickets, grasshoppers have 15% more protein, a neutral taste and flavor, and are the only insect that meets both the Jewish kosher and Muslim halal diet restrictions.
• Hargol has reduced the time needed to raise a new generation of grasshoppers from 40 weeks to just two. But how?
“It was a combination of biology and luck,” Tamir said. “Grasshoppers usually incubate for 40 weeks, waiting for a set of signals (photoperiod, temperature and humidity) to tell them there’s food outside. If you provide the right conditions and the right timing, they’ll hatch earlier. So far, we have found the right conditions for four species.”
• Are grasshoppers in the future for American farmers? Maybe eventually. Here’s what Tamir said: “Grasshoppers are a healthier and more sustainable protein source than existing protein sources. With our indoors infrastructure you can farm grasshoppers year-round at a high and constant quality. We are seeking partners to join us in further developing the technology and later expanding to the USA.”
Right now, the easiest way to sample Hargol’s product is through their biblicalprotein.com website where you can buy — you guessed it — locusts and wild honey. A few companies are experimenting with Hargol’s grasshopper protein powder, but nothing’s on the market yet. PepsiCo is working on a Doritos product, Ikea’s famous Swedish meatballs may soon have grasshopper content.
The Seattle Mariners professional baseball team has sold and will again sell roasted grasshoppers to fans when fans are allowed back in the ballpark.
A few more facts from Dror Tamir: producing protein from grasshoppers is 20 times more efficient than producing it from cattle; farmed grasshoppers emit 98.2% fewer greenhouse gases than cattle; to equal the protein potential of a 1-acre grasshopper farm, a cattle farm would have to cover 1,500 acres and consume 1,000 times more water.
The company website is at hargol.com, and there’s a slew of Hargol videos on YouTube.
I haven’t really addressed the ick factor with eating grasshoppers. Everybody has their own level of ick tolerance. When I was a teenager hanging out at the Ephrata pool, I ate ants. Picked them out of the grass, popped them in my mouth, chewed and swallowed. Not because I didn’t get enough food at home, or because I liked the taste of ants, but because I wanted to impress my girlfriend, who eventually married me anyway. That was icky. The ants, not the marriage.
And I occasionally eat sardines, 10 or so baby fish crammed into a square can with mustard sauce. I eat heads, tails. eyes, scales, bones, stomach contents. Everything. Way ickier, in my opinion, than a roasted grasshopper.
So one of these days ... maybe. But if that guy in my photo above ever comes back this way, I think I’ll have to give him a pass.