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Mexico's edible insects and a bit of history too

Edible Insects in Mexico

Cochineal Dye and InsectAmong the people who have considered insects an important part of their daily life and diet, Mexico has a dominant position. According to researcher Julieta Ramos-Elorduy, of the 3,169 edible insect species that are recorded worldwide, 457 (almost 15%) are eaten in Mexico.

Many centuries before the arrival of the Spaniards into the territory of today's Mexico, insects have been used for different purposes by the various cultures that lived in the area. Particularly noteworthy is the use of Cochenille as a dye and silk worms in the Central Valleys of Oaxaca.

Insects have also engaged a relevant place in the magical beliefs of the indigenous population. Thanks to the observation the habits of a humble ant, Quetzalcoatl, the main God in the Mesoamerican pantheon, taught the people how to store their corn, the main food of that civilization.

Papilus daunus XochiquetzalIf a symbol were to be chosen, that integrated all the faiths of Ancient Mexico, it would undoubtedly be a specific insect: a butterfly. For the people of Teotihuacan, for example, the Papilio daunus butterfly, which they called Xochiquetzal, was considered to be the very soul. For the Aztecs, butterflies represented the quest of human beings to god-like immortality, a beautiful symbol of the metamorphosis of the body and spirit.

All Mesoamerican groups and civilizations have recognized the sacred qualities of the insects. The chapulines or grasshoppers, which are related with the delicious shrimp and highly regarded marine lobsters were called "divine flowers of God" by the Mayans. The Lacandon people in Chiapas rainforest call the cocoons of the stem-boring beetles "small virgins". The Huichol or Wixarika people, who live in mountainous areas of the States of Nayarit, Colima and Jalisco, certain species of wasps carry the dead souls to the world beyond.

Aztecs, insatiable Insect Consumers

Aztecs loved to eat bugsThe proud and refined Aztecs easily forgot their Chichimec past, nomadic, barbaric and brutal, and the hardships they suffered during 300 years of pilgrimage from Aztlán, their place of origin, to Mexico-Tenochtitlan, their promised land, where they settled for good. Famous for their survival skills (insect-men in many a way), before they became an empire they were oppressed and denied, their tribes had to live in the Anahuac valley's most inhospitable places, such as snake-infested Coatepec, or Chapultepec, a hill overrun by a plague of grasshopper or chapulínes (the name derived from it). In both cases the solution to this reptile and insect invasion came from their not very picky sense of taste, transforming the insects into an edible ingredient in their increasingly varied and sophisticated food diet.

Insects a cure for many diseases

For generations, insects are used in Mexican traditional medicine to treat a variety of diseases. The Firefly and other insects that shine during the night are used to cure liver diseases, the jaws of carrier ants have been used by the Mayans as a cure for wounds, thanks to the antibiotic substances they contain; the black cricket from Veracruz, used to combat vitamin deficiency, honey ants to relieve fever, jumiles as an anesthetic and analgesic. Bees are also favorites, both for their venom, used to cure arthritis and rheumatism, and diverse features of the honey they produce, used to heal wounds and cure throat related diseases, eyes, lungs and digestive system too.

Part 3 - Edible Insects - Off the frying pan and into your mouth

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