Insects are a much touted solution to food shortages in a warmer, more crowded world. Although eating bugs is common and even a delicacy in many parts of the world, for many people in North America and Europe the concept is a bit too strange.
Designers Lucy Knops and Julia Plevin thought a little “liquid courage” might help people take the plunge into eating insects. From personal experience, I must say I haven’t minded a stiff drink to go along with even the most gourmet of bug dishes.
So the pair created Critter Bitters, a line of cocktail bitters made with toasted crickets. The duo met at The School of Visual Arts in New York City, where they both earned MFAs in Products of Design.
Knops and Plevin acknowledge that cocktails might not save the world, but they have found that people who might otherwise be reluctant to eat bugs seem excited to try drinks made with crickets. They initially created several flavors, including vanilla and cacao, but are now focused on promoting a simple cricket flavor. “You get this kind of essence of cricket, which as a rich nutty flavor,” Plevin told TreeHugger. “For people who know crickets, that makes sense because they do have a nutty flavor.” Spices and roots are used to complete the taste.
Started as a class project, Critter Bitters have received a very positive response and much press. The product won a Core77 Food Design award and got a grant from Awesome Without Boarders, along with plenty of orders. However, right now Critter Bitters are being distilled in mason jars in Knops’ apartment—making it tough to keep up with demand.
“We started getting orders from around the world,” said Plevin.
So naturally, the Critter Bitters team is looking to Kickstarter to help them scale up. The crickets are sourced from a farm in Austin called Aspire, but if the crowdfunding campaign is successful, they’ll be able to move to a commercial kitchen and buy other ingredients in bulk—and make sure everything is made in accordance to government regulations. Plevin say they’re working with a San Francisco distillery to help up production, with the added sustainability benefits of sharing a space and equipment.
“We’re also interested in the natural medical properties of bitters,” said Plevin. Some of the oldest bitters recipes were actually made as medicines, and although Critter Bitters don’t have the protein benefit of crickets, Plevin and Knops want to have their mix evaluated for other vitamins and minerals.
After the Kickstarter campaign phase is over, they also hope to use sales of the product to raise money for organizations that fight hunger.
“The mission of eating insects is to combat world hunger,” said Plevin. “Our vision is that when you buy a bottle of bitters, you’ll give a meal to someone hungry.” They actually have a non-profit lined up, but Kickstarter doesn’t allow them to raise funds for charity.
Right now, Critter Bitters are only available by Kickstarter pre-order, and will come with cocktail recipes. Knops got plenty of experience mixing drinks from working as a bartender, and uses the bitters for a new take on the Old Fashioned. When I asked Plevin for her favorite Critter Bitter cocktail she had a surprising answer.
“To be honest, I’ve started added Critter Bitters to my morning coffee,” she said. “It’s a little spicy kick.”