By Kary Vannice
Mexico is renowned worldwide for its diverse and flavorful cuisine. However, there are some traditional foods in Mexico that you’re more likely to find on the end of a fly swatter or squished under a shoe in other countries. Insects and arachnids have long been a part of Mexican cuisine, adding unique textures and flavors to traditional dishes for those brave enough to try “entomophagy” – basically, eating bugs. And worms. And their babies.
Chapulines – Crunchy Grasshoppers: Perhaps the most famous insect in Mexican cuisine is the chapulín, a type of grasshopper. Native to the southern state of Oaxaca, chapulines are widely enjoyed for their crispy texture and savory taste. Often toasted or fried with garlic, lime, and salt, these delectable critters are commonly served as a snack or used as a flavorful garnish for dishes like tacos and quesadillas.
Escamoles – the Caviar of Ants: Considered a gourmet delight, escamoles are the edible larvae of the black ant species known as Liometopum apiculatum. Found primarily in the central region of Mexico, these ant eggs are often referred to as “insect caviar” due to their delicate flavor and creamy consistency. Typically sautéed with butter, garlic, and spices, escamoles are enjoyed in various dishes, including omelets, tacos, and even served on their own as a luxurious delicacy.
Ahuatle – More Mexican Caviar: In central Mexico, a few farmers still cultivate ahuautle, the egg of a rare flying bug (similar to a mosquito), to preserve a culinary tradition that dates back to the Aztec Empire. Said to have a “rich but delicate flavor,” ahuautle can be found on the menus of restaurants that strive to stay connected to their ancestors’ way of life. One chef serves a version of fried pancakes made with ahuautle, eggs, and breadcrumbs, accompanied by a green sauce comprised of tomatillo, nopales, and squash blossoms. Its name derives from the Náhuatl language, where “atl” means water and “huauhtli”, amaranth, so it translates as “water amaranth.”
Jumiles – Zesty Stink Bugs: Hailing from the southern state of Guerrero, jumiles are small, shiny beetles that possess a pungent aroma. Despite their unique scent, jumiles are highly esteemed for their tangy and slightly minty taste. They are often incorporated into salsas, moles, and other traditional sauces, adding a distinctive and bold flavor profile to the dishes.
Chinicuiles – Vibrant Maguey Worms: Known as the “red mezcal worm,” chinicuiles are bright red caterpillars (the larvae of the Comadia redtenbacheri moth) found on maguey plants, which are used to produce the renowned Mexican spirit, mezcal. These worms are harvested, washed, and traditionally pan-fried with garlic and spices; you can find them in glass bottles at a good mercado. They are sometimes consumed straight from the bottle alongside a shot of mezcal, providing an intriguing combination of flavors and textures.
Gusanos de Maguey – Spirited Treats: While not technically insects, the presence of mezcal worms, usually white, in the popular spirit’s bottles is worth mentioning. These larvae typically come from the Hypopta agavis moth, and their inclusion in mezcal bottles adds a touch of novelty. Although not traditionally consumed, some adventurous individuals choose to taste the worms, which have a smoky flavor and a slightly crunchy texture.
Chicatanas – Seasonal Flying Ants: When the rainy season arrives, so do the chicatanas – the large, winged ants that take flight in southern Mexico. These seasonal delicacies are collected, toasted, and ground into a paste or incorporated into sauces. With a distinctive flavor reminiscent of roasted peanuts, chicatanas lend a unique taste to dishes like tamales and moles.
Tarántulas – Arachnid Delicacies: Venturing into the realm of arachnids, certain regions in Mexico are known for their consumption of tarántulas, also called, like the stink bug, jumiles. Particularly popular in the state of Hidalgo, these giant spiders are cooked in various ways, including frying, grilling, or stewing. Despite their intimidating appearance, tarántulas are said to have a delicate, slightly nutty taste, making them a sought-after treat for the brave gastronomic explorer.
Scorpiones – Stingers on Sticks: Scorpions are typically deep-fried or grilled to ensure their venom is neutralized during the cooking process. The crispy, crunchy texture of the cooked scorpions provides an intriguing contrast to their delicate flavor. In certain regions, particularly in the state of Durango, scorpions are enjoyed as a snack, often dipped in chili powder or served with lime.
Mexico is famous for its culinary landscape, which thrives on diversity and incorporates unique ingredients that captivate the senses. From the crunch of chapulines to the creamy texture of escamoles and the bold flavors of jumiles, the country’s culinary traditions celebrate the richness of insects and arachnids. By embracing the gastronomic adventure of entomophagy, one can embark on a culinary journey through the fascinating realm of strange insects and arachnids, savoring the exotic flavors that have become an integral part of Mexican cuisine.