Julia Plevin and Lucy Knops
School of Visual Arts
A very innovative project with a perfect link to cocktail heritage used to introduce the consumption of insects in an accessible way. The project has good in depth research and catchy design. It might have a positive spin off on actual insect-adaptation in the western world.
Critter Bitters are handcrafted cocktail bitters made with toasted crickets. There are four flavors in the product line: vanilla cricket, cacao cricket, toasted almond cricket, and for the most adventurous — pure cricket. Each flavor yields a unique, multifaceted taste profile and can be readily mixed into cocktails or consumed with soda water. The corresponding coasters serve to elevate bitters from a hidden cocktail ingredient to the piece de resistance.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
Critter Bitters was created in response to a project brief for the course, Design for Sustainability and Resilience, at the School of Visual Arts’ Products of Design MFA program. Citing the UN FAO 2013 Report titled “Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security” students were called to design around the area of entomophagy, the consumption of insects as food. As identified in the report, entomophagy is among the most promising and viable options for nourishing the fast expanding population of the Earth. The UN report inspired us to find a way to introduce insects to American culture.3. The Intent: What point of view did you bring to the project, and were there additional criteria that you added to the brief?
The UN FAO report cited a need to overcome “the disgust factor” in order for western society to willingly consume insects. With the insight that distillation, fermentation, and mixology are among the most creative industries and people are naturally more open-minded and experimental when they are drinking, it seemed most natural to normalize entomophagy through alcohol. We set out to find a way to not simply adopt practices of non-Western cultures where entomophagy is already practiced, but to find a way to integrate it into our existing cultural norms.4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
We started the process with ethnographic research in New York City. As insects are already accepted as food in much of the world, we sought to change the behavior of people in New York City. We looked to different audiences and realized that adventurous millenials were early adopters and so we designed for them. With the insight that people accept strange things in their cocktails and that the cocktail industry is extremely innovative, we looked to the alcohol industry as a way to change attitudes about insects.
Next, we looked to history to understand the context of insects in alcohol. We discovered a strong precedence: Campari with cochineal, tequila with worms, and vodka with scorpions. We also found that Cambridge Distillery made bespoke gin with ants for Nordic Food Lab’s Pestival.
From there, we sought out industry experts. We talked to Harman Johar from World Ento, David Haskel from Kings County Distillery, and Peter Simon from Industry City Distillery. We also looked to Amy Stewart, who wrote The Drunken Botanist, cocktail historian David Wondrich, and mixologist Tom Favral. Each of these people were instrumental resources who shared their time and knowledge.
During this research, we determined that it would not be extremely difficult to make a gin from crickets because they don’t have enough sugar, but bitters would be possible. We created a series of tinctures with each of the following: roasted crickets, toasted almonds, toasted coconut, sarsaparilla, gentian root, vanilla and cacao. We tested the tinctures weekly until they had absorbed enough flavor.
Once the tinctures were ready, we experimented with different combinations of bitter flavors. After settling on a suite of four bitters, we branded the bitters as a gourmet, aspirational product and held an experiential design tasting. After tasting the bitters, the tasters were more interested in trying other forms of insects. A final prototype is ready for manufacturing and distribution.
Bitters won’t save the world, but eating insects could. Critter Bitters are a metaphor for the current conversations surrounding entomophagy. The bitters are meant to start the conversation about eating insects and open people up to new ideas. After a couple of Critter Bitter infused drinks, people may be more openminded and willing to try cricket tacos or other insect-based foods.6. How is your project positioned on a cultural level? Or, are there elements that show a blending of cultures or is it monocultural?
Critter Bitters are a gourmet, sustainable food product. It appeals to food and drink aficionados who are always interested in discovering new flavor profiles. Sustainably-minded people who are aware of entomophagy will also appreciate that Critter Bitters bridge the gap between entomophagy and mainstream popular culture.7. Does your project have nutritional elements? If so, are these elements available and affordable on a global or local level?
In the form of cocktail bitters, much of the nutritional value of the crickets in Critter Bitters is lost. However, Critter Bitters serve as an educational tool to inform people about the global, affordable, sustainable practice of eating insects. Crickets have great nutritional value. They are an excellent protein source, and are calorie and lipid rich.