Buggy Snack Boxes

When I talk to adults, teens, and older children about entomophagy, they often seem to see the benefits (nutritional, sustainability, etc) but hit a wall made of insecurities about insects. People think they’re scary, gross, weird – and this somehow translates into expectations for scary, gross, weird flavours. However, I’ve also noticed that when people are nervous about trying an entomophagous snack, they’re more willing to try smoothies or muffins made with insect flour because the insects are invisible.

One of the activities we did within other recent outreach events was to have people (typically kids) write down what they expected the entomophagous treats to taste like, and then what they actually tasted like. Their expectations were along the lines of “gross”, “vomit”, or just “bad”, regardless of what kind of snack they were going to try. However, they consistently wrote that they ended up tasting like “muffins”, and “sweet” when the flour was mixed in with other things, or “salty” and “crunchy” when they had seasoned snacks.

By mixing ground insects in with other recipes, we can sidestep people’s skin-crawling reaction of seeing little legs going into their mouths, but still have to contend with the idea of “it will taste bad”.

To celebrate my supervisor’s retirement I put together an entomophagous snack box activity. Because, what better way to celebrate a career in science than with more science?! The idea is to have a completely self-contained science experiment that you can give away as a delicious, fun gift. The activity implicitly teaches a little bit about entomophagy and the scientific method. Most importantly, it will also combat the “it will taste bad!” reflex for entomophagous snacks!

Hypothesis: The recipient can identify cookies baked with cricket flour.
Alternate Hypothesis: They can’t identify cookies baked with cricket flour.

I mixed peanut butter chocolate chip cookie dough, but split the batch into two before adding the last 20% of the flour. To one half I added regular flour, and the other half got cricket flour.

The cricket flour is the dark flour.

Split the dough, add regular flour to one and cricket flour to the other.

Cricket flour is darker than regular flour; the dough was obviously different. With a bit of colour theory help, food colouring made the doughs nearly indistinguishable.

Adding food colouring to make the doughs almost indistinguishable.

Adding food colouring to make the doughs almost indistinguishable.

Once the dough was ready I randomly assigned a combination of 3 colours to every cookie and pressed 3 smarties into the tops so that every cookie had a unique ID. I didn’t use orange smarties because orange flavour is added to the chocolate. Which cookie (cricket or flour) ended up with each colour was recorded.

Time for delicious but unique IDs!

Time for delicious but unique IDs!

Then I baked them and packaged them up into a tin containing half of each variety. A list of all the colours was included so that the recipient could record their guess (cricket or flour?).

Unbaked (left) and baked (right) cookies with IDs.

Unbaked (left) and baked (right) cookies with IDs.

If you’re giving this as a gift and want it to be completely self-contained, also include an envelope with the answers so that they can score themselves at the end, but don’t accidentally look at it. Also make sure they know they shouldn’t score themselves until they have finished; absolutely not after every cookie, otherwise their results could influence their behaviour on the next cookie.

Their results will fall into a 2×2 grid:

Stats Stats Stats

Contingency Table for your Chi-Squared test.

Depending on how many cookies your recipient ate, they will wither do a Fisher’s Exact Test (low sample size) or a Chi Squared (larger sample size). You can do the tests online with Graph Pad.

Tada!

I haven’t gotten any formal results back on this activity, but I can say that informally, people seem to be able to identify a difference pretty consistently – but they can’t always tell which is which. I.e. people will consistently say “cricket” when it’s actually flour! And vise versa.

Regardless of whether your recipient can tell if it’s cricket flour or not, you just got them to eat 1/2 a box of cookies baked with cricket flour. Entomophagy outreach success!

If you decide to give this activity a try, please let me know! I’d love to hear about how you and your recipients perform.

3 thoughts on “Buggy Snack Boxes

  1. I suppose I could sell them on a small scale. I wonder if I’d have to deal with any legal red tape for selling edibles… They’d also be more expensive than your average box of cookies because the cricket flour isn’t cheap, and colour coding is pretty time consuming. It’s definitely something to consider though! Thanks!

  2. Pingback: Event Version of the Buggy Snack Box | A Biologist Walks Into A Bar…

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