Edible insects like crickets are becoming more and more popular. Crickets are apparently very nutritious and high in protein. I personally have no desire to munch on some dehydrated grasshoppers or add some insect protein powder to my smoothie. But apparently lots of people do! Is this a good idea if you have allergies, or are you putting yourself at risk of having a reaction? It isn’t just food allergies you need to worry about when it comes to an edible cricket allergy.
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You may have seen or heard crickets in your garden. They are usually brown or black, have long bodies and large back legs. Crickets are related to grasshoppers, but they have longer antennae and are active at night instead of during the day. Male crickets make their characteristic “chirping” sound by rubbing their serrated wings together.
Do people really eat crickets?
Yes! Most types of grasshoppers and crickets are edible. In fact, deep fried crickets are a common snack in parts of southeast Asia.
Insects are often touted as a “future food”. They’re widely available, nutritious and full of protein. Crickets contain essential vitamins and minerals and omega-3 fatty acids. And apparently they taste pretty good! Crunchy with a bit of a nutty flavour. I haven’t been game to try them yet.
Cricket food products
Some people eat the whole bug, but apparently the legs can be annoying and get stuck in your teeth. I’ve been told that it is best to remove the head, entrails, wings and legs and then cook the bodies. Cooking reduces the risk of parasites or nematodes.
If whole bugs aren’t your thing, you can also buy cricket protein powder or cricket flour. The flour acts just like wheat flour, but with a “nutty” taste.
Just have a look at all the edible cricket products for sale on Amazon. You can buy:
- whole black cricket snacks – try these ecoEat Edible Big Black Crickets
- cricket powder to add to your smoothies (like Mighty Cricket protein powder which is made in the US).
You can even grab The Cricket Cookbook (available as a Kindle ebook – free if you have Kindle Unlimited) and learn how to create your own tasty protein filled treats. (I’m sorry that I can’t give you a personal review of this, but the online reviews are very positive!)
Who might have an edible cricket allergy?
Cricket protein is popular in the whole food and health food market (but of course not with vegans). This means that some of the products are also marketed as gluten, dairy and soy free, making them appealing to people with allergies too.
If you are tempted to try these insect based treats, it is good to know how they might interact with any allergies you may have (not just to food).
Insects have some characteristics in common with:
- crustacea (shellfish); and
- house dust mites.
Shellfish and insects are both arthropods, with exoskeletons and segmented bodies. Just think of the shell of a crab or a prawn and then think of an insect shell. And if you looked at one of those lovely magnified photos of a house dust mite, you’ll see that they have an exoskeleton too. The discarded exoskeletons and droppings are responsible for dust mite reactions in people with allergies. All of these creatures share common proteins, and are more closely related than you might think.
What do the experts say?
A 2019 study showed that patients with allergies to house dust mites, crustaceans (shell fish) and stable flies may have a cross-reaction to locust and house cricket proteins.1 However, this study also showed that food processing could reduce the risk of an allergic reaction, which is promising if you are tempted to try them.
Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia also wrote warning about edible cricket allergy in its December 2019 newsletter.2
If you have an allergy to shellfish or to house dust mites, you might also have an allergy to insects like crickets or products containing cricket protein.
Not everyone with shellfish or dust mite allergies will react to insects, but it is important to know that it is a risk. Some people have had severe reactions after eating crickets. As always, you should speak to your allergy specialist about your own circumstances.
Some companies are labelling cricket products with a crustacea (shellfish) allergen warning. But this isn’t compulsory (yet), and it doesn’t help the large number of people who suffer with house dust mite allergies. This may change as the the popularity of edible insects increases and the extent of edible cricket allergy becomes known.
If there are people in your household who do eat cricket protein and you are concerned about exposure, make sure to be careful about food allergy cross contact.
And if your child’s school uses edible crickets or insects as part of food technology or other subjects, make sure they are aware of the link too.
Allergies to other unusual foods
People around the world eat lots of different foods as a source of protein. Another less commonly eaten food with the potential to cause serious allergies is crocodile, which has similar proteins to fish and can cause reactions in people with fish allergy.
And as lupin (a type of legume) becomes a more common food ingredient around the world, there has also been a link between lupin allergy and peanut allergy.
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References and more information about edible cricket allergy
For more information about the link between shellfish/house dust mite and edible insect allergies, see:
- Ribeiro, J, Cunha L, Suusa-Pinto B, Fonseca J, “Allergic risks of consuming edible insects: A systematic review”; Molecular Nutrition Food Res. 2018 Jan;62(1).
- Allergen Bureau: Emerging food allergy: Edible insects, 24 July 2018
- 1Pali-Scholl I, Meinlschmidt P, Larenas-Linnemann D, Purschke B, Hofstetter G, rodriguez-Monroy F, Weinhorn L, Motes-Luksch N, Jenen-Jarolim E and Jager H, “Edible insects: Cross-recognition of IgE from crustacean- and house dust mite allergic patients, and reduction of allergenicity by food processing”; World Allergy Organizations Journal, Volume 12, Issue 1, 2019, 100006.
- 2Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia, Newsfacts December 2019
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