The ingredients for a protein bar can include the following: peanuts, fruit, soy and now — bugs.
Aaron Dossey, founder and sole employee of Athens-based All Things Bugs, is seeking to change the protein game with his patent-pending process that turns insects into a healthy powder ingredient.
Bugs are a good source of protein, higher than other animal products, and are more sustainable than larger animals. So, the idea of eating bugs, although foreign to Americans, could soon catch on, and Dossey wants to lead the way.
"This is a healthy product, starts as a clean product and it's sustainable,” he said.
Dossey said his product came about from a passion for entomology, the study of insects, a fascination that he has held since he was a boy.
"I would say I’ve always been kind of the kid of the outfield in tee ball looking at flowers and bees and stuff," Dossey said. "I always learned about plants and things and it particularly really caught on in high school when I had to do insect collection for honors zoology and biology."
Dossey continued his education in biochemistry at Oklahoma State University and received his PhD in biochemistry and molecular biology from the University of Florida. After what seemed like an eternity of postdoctoral research that was leading to nothing, he found an opportunity to enter the protein field with his obsession of bugs that remained present throughout his college years.
“In 2011 this Gates Foundation grant was announced to do something to improve nutrition in children and so I applied for it…and got it, but since I wasn’t a professor at a university, I wasn’t eligible…my only other option was to get a faculty position or start a company, so I started my company," Dossey said.
Athens gave him a basis to meet new people with similar interests.
"What actually brought me to Athens was a collaboration with Marianne Shockley, who I met through this kind of field," Dossey said. "She is an entomology professor [at UGA], and she’s very interested in the insect as a human food source."
Dossey made the decision to move near the University, where Shockley worked, to be near the facilities he needed.
In addition to Athens' promise of a facility, Georgia's good agriculture and warm climate are perfect for keeping cold blooded insects in prime condition. Another plus of All Things Bugs’ location is Georgia's extended history of cricket farming.
What Dossey is doing with his company is turning the creatures he is obsessed with into a particle-sized dust. Though not to be eaten in the state in which it is sold, the powder is to be used as an ingredient in any kind of bar or baked good.
"My product right now is a powder, high quality powder, made from crickets," Dossey said. "It was clear to me that there was nobody doing just ingredients in this and instead of trying to jump in and formulate a product, I decided it was strategically better for me to focus on the ingredient and then potentially sell to some of the other companies."
Though other companies are attempting to use insects as a human food source with old processes, what separates All Things Bugs from its competitors is the process Dossey has developed to turn bugs into powder. Though the system itself cannot be revealed, Dossey said his method is more efficient from a cost, energy and time perspective.
"The old way that everybody but me that I know of is doing is you roast the insects, cook them in an oven until they’re dry enough, and then you grind them into a powder," Dossey said. "Mine is a much more efficient process. And I use less heat so you’re degrading the nutrients less, because heat kills nutrients."
So what's the benefit of using insects as an energy source, as opposed to more conventional protein sources?
"Insects are higher in protein than beef, meat and pretty much any other animal product. They’re sometimes two or three times higher in protein content," Dossey said. "There’s no reason why insects shouldn’t [soon] be very, very much cheaper than milk and beef and stuff just because they’re so much more efficient: energy, land use, water use, every aspect."
Though Dossey cites plenty of nutritional benefits, taste is also an understandable and vital consideration for companies using the powder. And, Dossey's process produces a product with a minute taste and smell.
"I would say the taste is negligible. It's not going to add anything and it's not going to take away from [the end product]. Most of your other ingredients will consume the flavor profile of whatever you’re making," Dossey said. " But the powder itself, the aroma is the main thing that I pick up and I would describe it as kind of a malt, kind of a grain-like [scent]."
Even with these benefits, the typical American’s view of insects is one of disgust. However, insects, especially crickets, are incredibly clean and safe from a pathogen perspective. Because of the combination of these benefits, Dossey is confident his product will catch on.
"We’ve done some testing on raw insects, looked for salmonella…listeria and some other typical foodborne pathogens. We’ve never found salmonella, even a trace of salmonella, or listeria. If you look at an insect farm…they’re very clean. If you’re raising crickets, they crawl up so they’re not touching their feces, and its dry so it wouldn’t stick to them." Dossey said.
Interest in the insect powder has already started to grow, despite the company still being young. Though he was unable to give specific names of his buyers, Dossey has already sold his product to "two protein bar companies, two baked good companies and a university so far, a total of almost 600 pounds of sale." And that was only the first production.
"I’m working with them to plan the next production, which hopefully will be much larger, at least 1,000 pounds for the next batch," Dossey said.