Mexico’s Incredible Foods : Dive into the 5 best Edible Insects
We all know chips & guacomole and tacos as the typical and famous dishes of Mexico, which one can enjoy with a mango juice and a sombrero for shade. But Mexico’s culinary tradition contains many other riches : huitlacoche, chocolate-based sauces called « mole », sliced cactus known as « nopal », and INSECTS !!
Yes, eating insects in Mexico is part of the customs and traditions, and dozens of different species are consumed depending on the region !
During our travels through Mexico, we were able to try a lot of them, and we learnt all the secrets of the local gastronomy around Edible Insects. Today, we share this precious information with you – enjoy the read !
In the Oaxaca region, an entire economy exists around grasshoppers, called chapulines. During the rainy season, these insects are collected in vast quantities from the countryside and sold not only to the Oaxacan population (for around 25 $/kg), but also exported around the world to the US and Europe, where they are sold for almost 20x as much.
Chapulines are either sold in small sizes of around 3mm to 8mm, at the early stages of their development, or in large sizes, approximately 1-2 cm. In Mexico, the local population prefers the smaller sizes, as they say you can’t see the shape of the grasshopper, which makes them go down a little easier. Finally they’re not so different than us 😉
Why do people eat chapulines? The first reason is of course their high protein content, which reaches up to 60%. The second reason, however, is also for the flavor. The majority of chapulines on sale are already flavored with lime, garlic and pepper and the Mexican people love these flavor profiles. On our end, we much preferred the non-seasoned chapulines, but they are more difficult to find ! You can find more detail on the nutritional content of chapulines, and our views on their taste and texture here.
Our friend Alejandro therefore compliments his chips or tortillas and guacamole with chapulines before going to the gym, while his mother gives chapulines to his little sister as a snack to aid in healthy development.
Gusanos de maguey
“Gusanos de maguey” are butterfly caterpillars from two different species. The larger, white caterpillars of the Aegiale hesperiaris species are called gusanos blancos, and are between 2 and 4cm long. The smaller, red caterpillars of the Comadia redtenbacheri species are called Chinicuil, or gusanos rojos, and measure 1-2cm long. Between us, both types resemble larvae or worms much more than they do caterpillars.
Both species feed on agave plants, called maguey, from which agave nectar is produced, and the two famous spirits of Mexico : Tequila and Mezcal. While the gusanos blancos feed off of the leaves of the agave plant, gusanos rojos feed on the roots. The collection or farming of the gusanos take place during the rainy season, between September and November.
How to eat gusanos de maguey ?
The gusanos blancos are typically cooked on a pan or fried, while the gusanos rojos are typically found at the bottom of bottles of Mezcal, or powdered and mixed into salt or chillies. Traditionally, Mexicans then use this mix of salt, chilli and guasanos rojos in taking tequila shots, licking the salt mix from the back of their hands, drinking a shot and then biting into a piece of orange or pineapple. The different flavors mix beautifully! Today, a company called Gran Mitla makes and sells « gusanos salt » around the world.
Whole gusanos de maguey are sold for around 50 euros/kg. Gusanos salt is sold for 10 euros/kg in Oaxaca, but is found for around 100-200 euros/kg on Amazon in the UK and the US.
Gusanos de maguey can either be fried, in which case their texture is first crispy, then soft when bitten down on, or freshly cooked in sauce, in which case they are softer and easier to chew on.
Gusanos blancos taste a little like shellfish, while gusanos rojos have their own flavor, which is very difficult to describe, but has hints of nuttiness.
Escamoles, the caviar of Mexico
Escamoles are the larve and pupae of ants that live in high altitude in the Hidalgo region in Mexico. You can find all info on escamoles, specifically it’s nutritional content, taste and texture and recipes to cook them on our wikibug !
In reality, there is only one think to remember about escamoles : they’re good, but they’re expensive! Escamoles cost 50 euros/kg in Mexico, and can surpass 1000 euros/kg abroad. Makes sense then that they are nicknamed the « caviar of Mexico ». The difficult task of collecting escamoles does justify the price however, as the ants bite intruders, and sorting through escamoles takes a lot of time and attention so as not to break they’re outer layers. On top of that, they must then be cleaned 5 times in freshwater!
However, once the taste hits your tongue, the delicious cheese-like flavor makes you quickly forget the expensive bill!
Jumiles, the edible stinkbugs
Not to worry, while the name doesn’t inspire, these are not the larger stink bugs to which we are accustomed, but rather smaller insects that are less than 1cm in diameter, and that are very much appreciated in Mexico ! The two species most widely consumed in the country are Atizies taxcoensis et Edessa mexicana.
Jumiles feed on oak tree leaves, and the farming of these insects occurs between November and February, during the dry season, in the Guerrero region.
From a nutritional standpoint, jumiles are often used for traditional medicine as they are rich in vitamins and have a high iodine content.
How are jumiles cooked ? Most of the time, they are cooked into a sauce with tomatoes, chillies and onions, and served in tortillas. Did you know though that jumiles are very resistant to high temperatures, and are therefore generally speaking still alive at time of consumption ? But that doesn’t get told much. In any case, nothing like a good bite down to make sure they’re done – method guaranteed !;)
Jumiles cost 20 euros/kg in Mexico, and can cost up to 100 euro/kg abroad.
Jumiles have a soft texture yet are a little hard to chew, but once they are softened up soaking in water, they will melt in your mouth.
Jumiles have a slightly bitter taste, but nothing so strong that it’ll put you off. However, live Jumiles have a very strong smell, which can be compared to rancid cinnamon, which isn’t very pleasant!
Hormigas chicatanas are ants of the Atta mexicana or Atta cephalotes species. They have been consumed in Mexico for centuries ! Once a year, these ants fly from their colonies to reproduce and found a new colony. It is during this flight that Mexicans will collect them, in June generally around the time of the first rains, in the states of Veracruz, Guerrero, Oaxaca and Chiapas. To catch them, they use the same method as that used to collect flying termites in Africa.
How do we eat them?
These ants have a tiny head, and a large behind, that measures between 1 and 1.5 centimeters. It’s only the latter part of their bodies that is eaten, either grilled as is or cooked with lemon. Takes some preparation… having to remove the head, the wings and the legs before enjoying them.
Hormigas chicatanas cost around 35 €/kg in Mexico, and 300 €/kg around the world.
The ants are generally softened by soaking them in boiling water before cooking them in a pan, after which they have a much easier-to-chew texture. However, they can be very crispy when consumed fried at the market !
The flavor of hormigas chicatanas is hard to describe, but it is a very strong one ! In restaurants, the ants are always cooked with lemon, which gives them an acidic twist which is very enjoyable. Personally, we much preferred Colombia’s hormigas culonas, which are larger but also tastier! We specially liked the ants sauce 😉
The Bug Trotters