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Mexico's edible insects and a bit of history too

Off the frying pan and into the mouth

Oaxaca, edible grasshoppers locustsWithin the varied and complex Mexican cuisine, by definition, a mix of cultures, the use of edible insects is a trip back to the Mexican indigenous gastronomic origin.

Basically, insects are still consumed in the same way as they were before the European invasion, and the regions where they are more oftenly eaten today is mainly in the states of Hidalgo, Chiapas, Oaxaca, Guerrero, Puebla and Yucatan.

After cleaning and cooking them, insects are usually eaten either toasted or as ingredients in a taco. Grasshoppers continue to be eaten this way today, especially in Oaxaca. Some insects can be ground if they have a stronger flavor and are therefore mixed with herbs and spices so they can be used a source of varied and original flavors.

Escamoles MexicoOther insects are eaten alive, jumiles a variety if oak tree insects and the delicious honey ants or necuazcatl (by its Aztec name), that miraculously carry a small drop of honey within their bodies. Larvae of dragonflies, wasps, and water bugs, also known ahuauhtli, like that of the black ants, called azcatlmolli or escamoles are also eaten.

Different types of worms are also part of the local diet. The most highly prized was and continues to be, the Maguey white worm, called meocuilin, which is the larva of a nocturnal butterfly that grows in the Maguey leaves. This is much tastier and more expensive than a second worm, also very popular, that lives in the heart of the same plant, colored red and with a less delicate flavor, called chinicuil.

Maguey White WormsIt's been a long time since Maguey white worms have conquered the tables and kitchens of the most expensive gourmet restaurants in Mexico and other parts of the world. The popular tradition has become a fashion. Even in countries where edible insects once were viewed with horror, have luxury restaurants specializing in edible insects and other food Mexican cuisine delicacies have appeared, including the famous The Insect Club in Washington DC., which opened its doors in 1994.

Edible insects are therefore an excellent gastronomic option, and just a few decades ago what would have been a crazy rarity are now a visionary reality. Today there are a number of successful Mexican companies, some led by indigenous groups from the States of Puebla and Oaxaca, that produce, package and export grasshoppers, ant eggs, and Maguey worms.

To many, more than a profitable culinary exoticism, consuming insects is a promising culinary option. For those who need food from fat free proteins, or are suffering from heart disease or high cholesterol, insects may become their nutritional future.

From Taco to Taco

Jumiles Mexico Edible InsectsAlthough it is now possible to purchase dehydrated locusts in the supermarket, the truth is that nothing can compare with the experience of enjoying these edible insects or the exquisite dishes made with them in situ. Some are available 365 days a year in San Juan Market, in the heart of Mexico City, or in the markets in the city of Oaxaca.

And a wide variety of insects can be tasted every April at the Mezquital Valley Gastronomic Fair, held in Santiago de Anaya, Hidalgo: A surprise party for the tongue where you can just as easily eat tepezcuintle (Spotted Paca) in tamales or escamoles or ant eggs in mixiote or in maguey leaves, wood worms with nopales (prickly pear leaves), or garlic grasshoppers.

Don't forget about the delicate and crawly jumiles with salt and lime, a culinary tradition of Taxco, Guerrero. There, on the Monday after the Day of the Dead, you can enjoy and celebrate the day of the Holy Jumil. Families visit Huixteco Hill to gather, show their respect, and eat jumiles, which they consider to be the reincarnation of their ancestors. That is why it is common to hear among the inhabitants of the region the question: Are you carrying family? When they want to know if someone has jumiles.

Ahuautle Mexico Eatable InsectsAnother delicacy is ahuautle, the small eggs of an aquatic fly that is common in Lake Texcoco, neighboring Mexico City, and has been called the Mexican caviar. Made in patties with green sauce, it is the most popular delicacy in Tzapotitlan, State of Mexico.

And what about the regional markets in Oaxaca, where it is common to find baskets full of grasshoppers. Large and small, crispy and with lime and salt, ready to be eaten as an appetizer with a shot of mezcal?

From taco to taco, with their delicate or strong taste, crunchy or slimy, alone or as an ingredient in a stew, edible insects in Mexico, for many are the best and tastiest feature of Mexican national cuisine.

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