Edible Bugs

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 6.00.55 PMBy Alvin Starkman, M.A., J.D.

Prepared chapulines, or grasshoppers, are one of the most popular snack foods in the state of Oaxaca. Although they are available year round they are best eaten, during the summer and autumn months when crops and grasses are tall as a result of the rains, thus providing ample nourishment for the insect.

Chapulines are frequently consumed on the street, purchased from market vendors or from saleswomen who ply their product on the sidewalks and main tourist corridors in downtown Oaxaca. However they are also a popular menu items in both middle-of-the-road and high end restaurants, not only in Oaxaca but also in other parts of Mexico.

In Oaxacan restaurants, chapulines are usually served as part of a mixed appetizer plate along with two locally produced cheeses; string cheese(quesillo), and fresh cheese (queso fresco), Oaxacan sausage (chorizo), spiced peanuts, and crackling pork (chicharrón). At fiestas, from the most humble rural function to the most lavish haute event, a mixed botana plate which includes chapulines is commonplace, often expected, and always enjoyed. The high protein high jumper has also become popular as an ingredient in more upscale Oaxacan recipes, used to prepare dips and stuffings.

Grasshoppers are harvested in the fields of Oaxaca either early morning or late afternoon. While more sophisticated operations call for the use of large nets, small-scale family collecting is usually accomplished by swooping a wicker or synthetic basket over the fields of green. Early in the season they are gathered from areas where herbs, grasses and fast growing low crops are encountered; then later on once the little critters have grown larger they are collected when found feeding off of staples such as corn and squash. Commercial production often uses alfalfa as a feed for growing chapulines, the flavor can vary depending on the diet.

In commercial operations there is less likelihood that insects other than grasshoppers, and unwanted grasses and small leaves will find their way into the nets. The same holds true of small scale production later in the season when the insects are larger and harvested from amongst vegetable crops. It’s the early season harvesting of smaller chapulines by local families which results in the occasional trapping of other small creatures such as larvae, locusts and other unwanted guests, as well as thistle, weeds and leaves. When this does occur more attention is required in order to prepare chapulines for consumption.

The recipe is best supplemented by viewing the photo gallery at this link on the Casa Machaya Oaxaca facebook profile entitled Chapulines in Oaxaca, Mexico: Harvesting, Recipe and Indulging: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1015032999

Chapulines

  • 1 pound of live chapulines, any size –
  • Several garlic cloves, ground in processor or a molcajete, with a couple of tbsp of course salt
  • Juice from a few good sized limes
  • A half bunch of (preferably) fresh epazote

Preparation:

  • Bring water to a boil, then add chapulines and return to a boil
  • Simmer a few minutes, at least until the chapulines are red
  • Drain chapulines without adding additional water to the sieve
  • Lay out on a large platter and removed any grasses and foreign insects
  • Place drained chapulines in non-stick saucepan over medium heat, stirring for a minute or two
  • Add garlic mixture and lime juice, returning to a low simmer
  • Add epazote leaves and thin stems
  • Continue over low heat until epazote is no longer green
  • Drain and place in bowl
  • Serve alone, with tortillas, or use as an ingredient in other recipes

NOTES: Since I have never tried this recipe with any insect other than Oaxacan chapulines, I’m uncertain as to whether small Canadian or American grasshoppers will turn red or have as agreeable a flavor. Regarding the latter, as suggested above it all depends on the chapulín’s diet, climatic conditions and other environmental factors. If anyone does try it using northern critters, please let me know the result. Some have expressed concern that chapulines might contain lead. The insects themselves do not. On the other hand, if they are prepared using clay or metal cooking utensils which do contain lead (i.e. most of the green glazed pottery which is produced in the village of Atzompa, just outside of Oaxaca), then certainly there would be lead traces. Nevertheless, in my lay opinion this should not prevent us from snacking on chapulines once in a while.

Alvin Starkman and his wife Arlene operate Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast (www.oaxacadream.com). Alvin often takes visitors to Oaxaca on excursions into the central valleys, even on chapulín harvests with his Zapotec friends.

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