The future of protein supplementation: Tyrin Fernandes ‘20 and Fauna

“Do you want to try some pita?” Those were among the first words Tyrin said to me when I first met him in the LaunchPad last week. In his hands, he held a Tupperware container with two different varieties sliced into triangle-shaped pieces. One was a bread typical to something you might find at your local grocery store; white, fluffy, and wonderfully baked in Tyrin’s own apartment kitchen. But the other was unlike anything I’d seen before. It had the same fluffiness, texture, and consistency, but it was an interesting shade of greenish-gray and had a slightly nutty flavor. Both were delicious.

The catch? One of those pita breads was baked using dried cricket powder.

Ew! Dried up bugs? In my bread? No thank you!” That is what the average consumer might think when their imagination runs wild on the idea of putting crickets into their bread, but Tyrin is determined to normalize the consumption of insect-based food as a regular form of protein supplementation with his food venture, Fauna.

“It’s the idea of the crunchiness that might be putting people off,” he said. “Eating something like a cockroach seems disgusting because you think about it being squishy on the inside, but when you are eating insect protein that’s mixed into your normal food as powder, it’s easier to take baby steps. That is what I’m hoping for with Fauna. I do not want to turn anybody off right from the start.”

Tyrin graduated from Syracuse University in 2020 with his B.S. in computer science and has been working in the LaunchPad for the past three months, brainstorming different ideas. At the beginning of his entrepreneurial journey, he was more interested in the green technology industry; thinking of ways to use technology to improve the current state of our global climate crisis. But as time went on, he began to consider ways that we could reduce the current level of emissions rather than enabling them to stay at their current level. He had also been studying up on the long-term health benefits of vegetarian and vegan diets through books and documentaries for some time, and movies like Bladerunner 2049 portrayed the usage of insect farms as efficient method of meeting the protein needs of the population. That is where the seed for his venture was planted.

The funny thing is that Tyrin claims to be a picky eater, and you would hardly expect for someone like that to be experimenting with insect-based protein in the first place. “I don’t enjoy seafood or pork, and not for religious reasons,” he divulged. “I hardly eat beef either. It is bad for the environment, so I’ve been consciously choosing not to eat it. We are in a place where we need to slow down the global climate crisis. In a lot of ways, it is already past the point of no return. There is a lot of droughts happening, and coastal regions will be flooding in the next few years at this rate. Holding cattle as livestock contributes to that problem, but if the demand for beef is high then the farms will reason to keep supplying.”

Tyrin’s thinking is that by making the push to popularize insect protein in the market as a tasty alternative, it might create an extra incentive for the demand of beef to decrease. “Insect farms are probably going to be a thing of the future. Bugs seem to be abundant. They are even in places you do not want them to be,” he joked. “About 60-70% of their bodies are made of protein. That means for every ten grams of cricket powder, you are getting about seven grams of protein. Insects are also easy to farm and transport because of their size.”

Even so, the insect populations are decreasing as well. “Have you heard of the bug splatter test?” Tyrin asked. “It is when you drive on a highway, and you see the number of bugs that end up on your windshield. That bug splatter is becoming less and less because the ecosystems are being destroyed. I personally do not like insects that much, but it’s still important that we preserve them.” The hope is that insect farming and a higher demand for insect protein in the future could also help slow or reverse the decline in the population numbers.

Later in our conversation, I asked Tyrin why he chose to focus specifically on making a bread product using insect protein. “Protein bars are already popular,” he said. “And I thought about doing pancakes at first or even crepes as well, but the crepes especially are delicate to make. People have found ways to sell the powder on its own as a supplement too. The only issue there is that it is quite expensive, and the nutty flavor is also strong, so a lot of effort would go into diluting or substituting that.”

With bread however, this was not nearly as much of an issue for Tyrin. Throughout the month of August, he spent many hours learning and perfecting the recipe for his pita. He does not own a stand mixer currently, so he had to knead it the old-fashioned way. “I kept going until I was able to get something that was at least edible, and I thought hey, at least we’re getting somewhere with this,” he remarked.

The recipe for his bread has a minimal amount of insect powder. It is just enough to get that extra bit of protein in without ruining the structure of the bread, making the flavor too potent, or making the color too dark. Tyrin is wary that the darker green the bread gets, the less likely people may be to try it if they see it on a shelf. “If you make it tasty above all else, people will be willing to try it,” he said. “But if it is too dark, not so much. That is why I put the plain pita side by side. If I can show people that they are not too different from each other in a taste test, then maybe those people will go and tell their friends as well.”

Currently, Tyrin makes pita out of his apartment and sources his insect protein from Amazon. He will be looking for wholesalers in the future, as well as a test kitchen to experiment with different production methods. Right now, he needs to keep his oven on for at least an hour before he can even begin the baking process, which can be expensive for the power bill. Not to mention that he shares his apartment with another roommate, and contention for that space can lead to some friction when baking pita all the time.

Crickets have been in human diets for centuries, and they are consumed in most countries of the world, though most commonly in Southeast Asia and Mexico. I was curious if a diet including insects was a custom in Middle Eastern heritage as well, but Tyrin said that was not the case. He told me that he had not tried eating them until recently. However, most of his youth was spent in New York City where he did experience a melting pot of cultural cuisines. When I asked for his thoughts on the matter, he said this: “Traditions are supposed to evolve. There is this one place in Chelsea Market for example where they put Japanese food into taco shells, and it’s delicious. The whole point of the culinary world is fusion. You want to keep mixing food to try and find new things to enjoy.”

Right now, Tyrin is pushing to get the legal documentation and processing for Fauna completed by October and has plans to get his cricket pita on the shelves for customers to enjoy sometime in December.

Story by Jack Rose ’24, Global Media Fellow