Photo Credits: Andrew Williamson Photography

Written by Vibhu Gairola

The CEO of Gryllies is hard at work on recipes that integrate cricket flour into conventional dishes like patties and pasta sauces, but if anyone’s asking, Gryllies isn’t just some trendster novel food brand—it was never about the crickets to begin with.

“The mission has always been to make people think about what they’re eating and why they’re eating it before it’s even on their plates,” Jiang explains. Gryllies was conceived last year in Queens’ University’s QCSI program, where its premise of using insect protein as a sustainable and healthful alternative to traditional protein sources like beef or chicken cinched the top prize. Since then, Jiang and her core team of five have been managing a 30-strong team of advisors to tackle anything from recipes, suppliers, social media outreach and product development and make Gryllies a bona fide local player. Starting January 2017, recent converts and the newly curious alike will be able to order cricket-infused pasta sauce or even plain cricket flour off of the Gryllies website.

Ostensibly, the key to Jiang’s success has been that Gryllies has never confused itself with the culture change it is trying to bring about. Jiang says that Gryllies is “purely consumer-focused,” meaning that her team tries to “empower the customer to eat healthier” rather than just selling batches of the protein in powder form. Pure cricket flour is an option to pulse into patty mixes, pizza sauce, lasagnas and the odd stir fry, but the heart of the enterprise is in the recipe list growing Jiang and her in-house chef’s watchful eyes.

Trying to normalise an alternate, “future-friendly” protein source for the masses is no easy feat, and Jiang says consumer responses have been divided into roughly three camps so far. Some people only see cricket flour as a novelty food; some stay “as far away as possible once they find out what it is,” and a third category of folks is always surprisingly enthusiastic, claiming that they had been looking for something of this nature of late. The last group in particular is expected to grow the most.

Jiang says that her research has shown that “we’re going to see 40 per cent compounded annual growth over the next six years in North America for insect protein.”

Inert public opinions can take time to change, but in Toronto, where foodie culture is paramount and collaboration so easy to come by, Jiang is rarely discouraged.

“If your 1970s- or 1960s- self was trying to start something today, they would literally try to punch you in the face,” she jokes. “We have so many different resources at our fingertips these days that not having one thing is no excuse for not doing what you want to do.”

The key is to play the long game, not look for an overnight success: to those weirded out by the concept of insect protein, she quips, “People thought sushi was disgusting until the California roll came out. We just have to find the right vessel, be it rice, protein bars or pasta sauces.”

For now, Gryllies is throwing its weight behind the humble pasta sauce. Cricket flour itself has a faint nuttiness when tasted on its own, but when included in traditional recipes, Jiang says the flavour is unlike anything she’s tried to date. “In our formulations, it definitely elevates the sauce,” she says. “It’s an amazing flavour that’s new, so you don’t know where it’s coming from.”