Taste Test Friday

Taste Test Friday: Banza chickpea pasta with One Hop Kitchen Bolognese offers a twist on a classic

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Pasta, Flour

On the menu for this edition of Taste Test Friday is a blind sampling of a classic American-Italian meal: pasta with Bolognese sauce – but with a twist. 

The pasta isn’t the average semolina spaghetti most Americans eat. Rather, it is made from chickpeas by Banza​, a promising startup with an expanding distribution and growing portfolio of the legume-based pasta. 

And the Bolognese isn’t the typical beef variety. It is One Hop Kitchen’s Cricket and Mealworm Bolognese sauces​, which uses texturized insect protein created by C-Fu FOODS​, the founders of which also recently launched One Hop Kitchen as a way to help introduce edible insects to more Americans.  

The first bite of pasta

While Banza chickpea pasta may look like traditional pasta with its familiar shapes of penne, shells and elbow macaroni – the taste didn’t fool any of the testers.

Several commented on the denser texture and “bite”​ of the bean pasta, and almost everyone knew immediately that the flavor was “off”​ compared to the traditional pasta with which they are more familiar.

After sampling the noodles without any sauce, Jonathan Davis, a pescatarian who says he “dabbles in eating land animals,”​ said the pasta tasted like it had been cooked in a broth.

Andrea Barbery, who is mostly a vegetarian but eats “flesh occasionally,”​ and Andy Neustaetter, an omnivore who prefers organic meat, called out the chickpea flour after the first few bites. The husband and wife then admitted that they once made pasta from scratch at their home using chickpea flour, so they were familiar with the taste and concept.

Would they buy it?

On taste alone, Carolyn Phenicie, an omnivore and former vegetarian, said she would not buy chickpea pasta, which prompted several head nods around the dinner table.

Gretchen Nordstrom, a pescatarian, said she might buy it if the nutritional profile was healthier than a more traditional alternative – which works in Banza’s favor as the chickpea pasta has more protein and fiber and fewer carbs than traditional pasta.

The health benefits also won the pasta some points with Phenicie, who noted that as someone who grew up eating pasta from white flour she struggled with the transition to whole wheat pasta. However, she said, she recognizes it is the healthier option. With this in mind, she said, chickpea pasta might be similar and just require time to get used to it.

On to the sauce

The first few blinded bites of One Hop Kitchen’s Cricket and Mealworm Bolognese sauces went over well – winning compliments for its tomato-forward flavor and extra garlic.

Many testers, however, were turned off by how acidic the sauce was. For Neustaetter, the sauce was too tangy, which is likely due to it having a double dose of citric acid plus ascorbic acid and no added sugar.

The fact that the sauce was less sweet than typical jarred sauces was a selling point for Phenicie – but maybe the only one once she found out it included mealworms and crickets, which were “too far”​ for her.

The group also was thrown off by the sauces’ texture, which Barbery said was smoother than she expected from a Bolognese and which prompted her to guess that the sauce included soy or tofu.

Ultimately, without knowing the secret in the sauce (the insects), half the group who tried it said they would buy it. Neustaetter voted no because it was “too tangy,”​ and Phenicie said no because she prefers to make her own sauce.

Once it was revealed that the sauce contained texturized insect protein, some of the votes, as expected, shifted, so that in the end half of the group (but a different half) said they would buy the sauce – although purely for novelty.

The fact that the sauce had just as much protein as its beef equivalent and was produced in a more environmentally friendly way was not enough to sway Davis, who said he is more likely to reach for a plant-based option than an insect-packed one.

While divide on whether they would buy the sauce at least once, all agreed that it likely wouldn’t replace their current go-to options – a sign that the nascent edible insect category still has its work cut out for it.

Is America ready for bugs?

The group’s mixed reviews about eating crickets and mealworms for dinner likely is more accepting than the rest of mainstream America, the testers agreed.

Barbery noted that many Americans have such wide access to a variety of affordable proteins, including Earth-friendly plant-based choices, that she doubted environmental reasons or a desire for protein would spur trial of insects in America.

Phenicie agreed, pointing out that many Americans, including her family, won’t even eat more mainstream meat alternatives, such as tofu, so they certainly wouldn’t eat a cricket.

Overcoming hurdles

That said, the group did not completely write off the idea of Americans eating insects – eventually.

“If you can give it more people in sort of this format of a blind taste test and they are like, ‘Oh, yeah, this tastes fine,’ and then you tell them what it is,”​ they likely would be more willingly buy it than if they saw it on a shelf next to more familiar options, Phenicie said.

Additional formats beyond nutrition bars and pasta sauce, such as burgers, also would increase the odds of Americans eating more insects, added Davis. He explained that more choices would allow people to find a product with which they were familiar so that trying an unfamiliar ingredient would not be so daunting.

Likewise, offering insects on restaurant menus could generate more trial among Americans because there could be more choices combined with social buzz and the trust patrons place in restaurant chefs, Barbery said.

On that note, Phenicie said she wondered if giving insects to children in familiar formats through school lunches could help the next generation grow up thinking insects were a normal food option.

The type of insect also likely would make a difference in terms of acceptance, Neustaetter said. Most of the group agreed that crickets, which the co-founder of One Hop Kitchen called the “gateway bug,” ​are more approachable than mealworms.

Davis didn’t buy that though, quipping that no one wants to eat Jiminy Cricket.

After several hours, and several bottles of wine, the group was still discussing the pros and cons of edible insects, and some even finished their plates, which suggests there could be hope for the category, even if many Americans aren’t hopping to try them, yet. 

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