Smoky, savoury salt from Oaxaca—the traditional accompaniment to mezcal
The prospect of eating creepy crawlies has been a hot topic of late, with insects and grubs served up on high-end restaurant menus or hailed as the solution to our overconsumption of meat and overpopulation crises—but the Mexicans were way ahead of the game.
“Mexican resourcefulness has meant that they have been eating larvae for centuries,” says Dodie Miller, owner of Cool Chile Co, purveyor of all things Mexican. “The ‘hypota agavis’ moth, to give it its technical name, frequently infests the agave (‘maguey’, colloquially), which is the succulent plant they make mezcal from—and tequila, which is made from the blue webber agave—and it can be very damaging.” The best way to tackle the problem? Eat the worms.
Considered a delicacy, these red larvae are eaten live, fried or braised, and are typically the ‘worm’ found in pickled form at the bottom of mezcal bottles (not, as is often believed, in tequila and not, contrary to popular teen boy myth, a hallucinogenic and, therefore, totally safe to eat).
Smoky and savoury
“For the agave worm salt [or sal de gusano], they are picked when mature, toasted dry, then ground, before being added to Oaxacan sea salt and ground Oaxacan chillies,” Dodie explains. “It tastes salty, mildly spicy, smoky and savoury—umami-ish, if you like.”
This traditional Mexican spice is, naturally, the go-to accompaniment for tequila or mezcal, used to line the rims of glasses or sprinkled on slices of orange, “to be sucked between sips of mezcal to complement the flavours and cleanse the palate.”
Its uses don’t stop at the alcoholic, though: “It can also enhance guacamole, ceviche, salsas, scrambled eggs, or you can try it on other fruits such as pineapple,” Dodie reels off. “You could even just sprinkle it on popcorn, or a plain tortilla”—as you would traditional table salt, “it can be added to just about anything you like.”