CRICKETS for dinner? Perhaps your first reaction is ‘yuk!’ but two Wiltshire entrepreneurs believe insects could be the protein food of the future.

BiJimini is a new business with an innovative approach to farming. The livestock they breed and manage – all 10,000 of them – can be contained within a small room. Once mature, the crickets are turned into a high-protein flour which can be used for baking, just like an ordinary plain flour.

Luke Craven and Adam Gray set up the cricket farm last year and the fledgling business has already scooped an award – the Grand Idea prize, presented by Cirencester’s Royal Agricultural University and bringing with it a cool £7,500 prize to invest in the enterprise.

It was a lecture at the university that first made Luke, 21, think about the possibility of dining on insects.

“It was my first lecture, and it was about population growth and possible food shortages, and people’s need for protein,” he said. “Raising insects takes eight weeks, rather than the three years it takes to raise a cow.”

Insect protein is reckoned to be good for humans and good for the environment, because insects provide protein but emit fewer greenhouse gases, need less space and eat less feed than chickens, sheep or cows.

According to a 2013 report by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation, the world is likely to be populated by more than 9 billion people by 2050 – compared to 7.6 billion now – and to feed everyone, food production will need to double. The report identifies insect-based food as an important prospect, as they have a high food conversion rate, needing six times less feed than cattle and twice less then pigs or chickens to produce the same amount of protein.

One helping of a BiJimini recipe power pancake containing their Power Flour will give you 26g of protein in a serving – the same as a chicken breast and half the recommended daily allowance of protein for an adult male.

Crickets have a low carbon footprint, and gram for gram, provide more than twice the protein of beef, containing all nine essential amino acids, and more than three times as much iron. And while it takes 2000 gallons of water to create 500 grams of beef, it takes only one gallon to create 500 grams of cricket protein.

Currently all crickets for human consumption are imported – but BiJimini is offering a homegrown alternative – fed on organic foods, farmed without the use of pesticides and raised on a farm near Malmesbury so generating few food miles too. Are crickets beginning to sound any more appetising yet?

The two men behind BiJimini met when Luke was helping Adam, who tells us he’s in his early forties, renovate Adam’s home in Malmesbury. Adam runs a company supplying athletics equipment, called Proathletics, and after taking a gap three years, Adam was a student at the Royal Agricultural University, studying for a BSc in international business, food and agri-business. They became friends and talked about what Luke was learning in his lectures about food supply.

“We were driving back from Swindon through Wootton Bassett, and we were following a van with live food for reptiles – and we started talking about it,” Adam said. “I was interested in trying something else and this was the catalyst.

“We just get on, and bounce ideas off each other quite a lot and have a bit of fun.”

But this idea was serious. They did plenty of research, taking trips to the Netherlands to find out more about raising crickets, where cricket farms are already up and running, and set up the business in February 2017, raising the insects in a barn near Crudwell.

“The crickets have eight stages of development, and are kept in different containers for each stage. They need more room for the last stage. The containers are plywood, lined with reflective metal, and they have a ventilation system,” Adam explained.

The process is not straightforward, and environmental factors have to be carefully controlled.

“We had a bad experience twice – when we lost a considerable amount of crickets – in the cold snap. The young ones are very susceptible,” he said.

A species called the banded cricket, originally from Asia, is used for the purpose. The crickets eat a variety of plant food, such as carrot, dandelions and organic maize meal. Once they have reached maturity, the crickets are put into a fridge, which sends them into a dormant state, then they are twice milled, into a fine flour.

The cricket powder is blended with regular organic flour to create BiJimini’s Power Flour, which you can then use just as you could use any flour for cooking and baking. Bread, pancakes, biscuits, pastry – all with a hit of insect protein, B vitamins, zinc, calcium and iron.

“It has a slightly nutty flavour,” Adam said. “We’ve used it in cupcakes, chocolate chip biscuits, crepes, walnut cake – it can be used for anything, as a straight swap for flour.”

Adam and Luke have taken their new food to the Badminton horse trials, festivals and farmers markets and report that the response has been mixed, with many people curious to know about the cricket flour, and to taste some baked goodies made from it.

The project is still in its early days, and the two agricultural entrepreneurs hope to create a gluten-free cricket flour, and a pure cricket protein powder for the sports market.

Luke shared some cricket facts: apparently the collective noun for crickets is an orchestra, and in Chinese mythology they are considered to be lucky. Doubtless these agricultural innovators are hoping the crickets prove lucky for them.

A packet of Power Flour retails for £5.95 and you can buy it from Wild Foods in Malmesbury, Stroud Farmers Market and online from Bon appetit!