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钱伯斯力挺!这家公司立志要让蟋蟀成为主流食品

Beth Kowitt 2017年11月14日

全球80%的国家共计20亿人都食用昆虫,但在美国进展还很缓慢。

JOE WEAVER—COURTESY OF ASPIRE FOOD GROUP

曾长期任思科公司首席执行官的约翰·钱伯斯喜欢自称看重增长和颠覆。按他的话说:“我能把握住市场转折。”而这位科技老将最近发现一个新拐点,就是昆虫。

在旧金山一家米其林三星餐厅Saison吃晚餐期间,钱伯斯解释了为何投资昆虫。目前他正与该餐厅合作推广昆虫食材,比如原料为蟋蟀酱搭配私家鱼子酱的肉汤,将蟋蟀和活明虾一起烤制,烤面包和蟋蟀酱配海胆。这些昆虫都由一家位于得克萨斯州奥斯汀的初创公司Aspire提供。钱伯斯是该公司的投资人和顾问。

其实除了美国,世界上很多地方都已将昆虫作为食物。全球80%的国家共计20亿人都食用昆虫,但在美国进展还很缓慢。这也是Aspire决定与Saison合作的关键原因。既然美国最有声望的一家餐厅能用蟋蟀做菜,展示昆虫同样可以成为出色的食材,美国消费者对昆虫的反应就可能从厌恶变为有好感。“真正尝试了(蟋蟀)之后,人们的看法就可能改变。”钱伯斯这样解释。

Aspire三年前成立,以自动化养殖蟋蟀并让其融入美国主流餐食为目标。蟋蟀是最高效也最可持续提供蛋白质的来源之一。每饲养1磅(约0.45公斤)蟋蟀需要喂养1.5磅(约0.68公斤)饲料,即农业上饲料转化率为1:1.5,而养牛的转化率约为20:1。

目前人类可食用的昆虫约有1000种。为了判断适合养殖哪些种类,Aspire考察了将近六十种昆虫,了解养殖的难易程度、口味,以及会不会传染疾病。最终该公司选定了通常被称为家蟋蟀的品种,采用了精准养殖方式,找出饲养蟋蟀的理想温度,饲料选择以及何时喂食,最终将蟋蟀的生长速度提高一倍。

“要养出最合适的蟋蟀,我们就得先好好了解。”Aspire的首席执行官兼联合创始人穆罕默德·阿舒尔这样解释。

Aspire刚开始把蟋蟀当成原料磨成粉,但很快注意到客户在公司官网上购买整只蟋蟀,于是决定直接售卖。阿舒尔说:“(我们以为)美国普通消费者接受不了直接食用蟋蟀。我们错了。”

钱伯斯在推销时也碰到了类似的情况。他说:“从国防部到华尔街精英组织,我拜访时都故意带上了蟋蟀,要试试多少人敢下口品尝。”

钱伯斯说,所有人都很缓慢地抬起手,但最终有95%的人愿意尝尝,品尝之后90%的人都说好吃。

阿舒尔和钱伯斯认为,蟋蟀可以走龙虾路线,龙虾曾经被视为很低级的蛋白质来源,后来才成为大众眼中的美食。“蟋蟀就是未来的龙虾。”钱伯斯说。

现在,连Saison也开始用Aspire的蟋蟀做菜了。Aspire通常会把蟋蟀冷冻到昏迷,然后再处理。但Saison的大厨约书亚·斯基内斯要用活的蟋蟀。他还要求用特殊饲料喂养蟋蟀,比如柠檬草或者松仁,好让蟋蟀也浸染上香味。

“吃起来有一种美味坚果的味道,”斯基内斯称,“绝没有怪味。就是特别特别香。” (财富中文网)

译者:Pessy

审稿:夏林

John Chambers, former longtime CEO of Cisco, likes to call himself a growth and disruption guy. “I get market inflections,” he says. The latest inflection the tech veteran has his eye on? Insects.

Chambers explained his bet on bugs over dinner at the Michelin-three-star restaurant Saison in San Francisco, making his way through private batch caviar with broth made from cricket sauce; live spot prawns grilled with sweet cricket glaze; and sea urchin in a sauce of grilled bread and, yes, crickets. The insects are sourced from Aspire, an Austin-based startup that Chambers invests in and advises.

Much of the rest of the world has caught on to the benefits of eating insects—2 billion people in 80% of the world’s countries already consume them. But they’ve been slow to make their way into the U.S. diet. That’s a key reason that Aspire decided to partner with Saison. Serving crickets at one of the country’s most revered restaurants could shift the U.S. consumers’ response from yuck to yum by showcasing how insects can shine as an ingredient. “You see what [crickets are] capable of and that changes image of how people view this,” Chambers explains.

Aspire launched three years ago intending to automate the farming of crickets—one of the most efficient and sustainable sources of protein—and nudge them into the mainstream of U.S. diets. Crickets require 1.5 pounds of feed for every 1 pound of cricket produced—or what the agriculture industry calls the feed conversion rate. For the edible parts of a cow, that ratio is about 20 to 1.

There are about 1,000 different species of edible insects, so Aspire considered nearly three dozen different criteria—how easy they are to farm, taste, whether they transmit disease to humans—in order to decide which to work with. The company eventually landed on Achetadomesticus, which is commonly called the house cricket. Aspire then applied the principals of precision farming—discovering the ideal temperature, what kind of food should be delivered and when—to double the growth rate of the crickets.

“To farm the best cricket on earth, we have to understand the cricket on its own terms,” explains Aspire CEO and cofounder Mohammed Ashour.

Aspire started as an ingredient play, milling the bugs into powder. But it soon noticed customers buying them whole off its site and decided to run with it. “[We thought] the average American consumer was not ready to come face- to-face with crickets,” Ashour says. “We had it wrong.”

Chambers encountered a similar response in his everyday business dealings. “I deliberately take crickets with me when I call on everyone from the Defense Department to the very high-end Wall Street groups and test how many want to try them,” he says.

Everyone very slowly raises their hand, he says, but in the end 95% of people want to try and nine out of 10 like them when they do.

Ashour and Chambers think that crickets can follow a similar path to acceptance as the lobster, which was once viewed as a lowly source of protein before it was considered a delicacy. “This is the lobster of the future,” says Chambers.

Now, even Saison is serving Aspire’s crickets. While Aspire normally slaughters its crickets by freezing them, which puts them into a coma-like state, Saison chef Joshua Skenes has them delivered live for freshness. He also requests that his crickets are finished with a specific feed—such as lemon grass or pine nuts—since they take on that flavor.

“They just a have a pleasant nutty taste,” says Skenes. “There’s nothing shocking about the flavor. They’re just delicious.”

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