Eating insects: A Prehispanic tradition

Insects have been essential for traditional Mexican nutrition
Photo: Featured photography
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There are around 2.000 species of edible insects in the world and, according to the National Autonomous University of Mexico, more than 500 insects have been identified in the central, southern and southeastern states of the country.

Eating escamoles (ant eggs), chapulines (grasshoppers), beetles, agave worms, and snails, among many others, has been a tradition kept alive since the Pre-Hispanic era.

In the Florentine Codex by Fray Bernardino de Sahagun, written in the 16th century, entomophagy or insect ingestion was recorded, for Xiutecuhtli, the god of fire, was offered with tamales huauhquiltamalli with acociles, small freshwater crayfish. Natives ate winged ants with chiltecpitl and meocuilti chitecpin mollo which means agave worms with chiltecpinmolli. Other Mesoamerican cultures included insects in their diet, but it was a practice rejected by the conquerors: in the convents of the 18th century, the consumption of jumiles (small stink bugs) was applied as punishment to the nuns. The religious influence caused the loss of this gastronomic tradition in some places, although in the majority of towns it was conserved and enriched.

Taste and nutrition

Roasted, in mole, tamales, buttered, in sauce, with salt and lemon, or alive, insects bring a variety of flavors to the dishes, from cinnamon to chicharrón. Don Ignacio Hernández, a Tlaxcala farmer and insect collector, explained that each one has its season: "escamoles are harvested in March and April, the chicatana ant only on June 24, the agave white worm in May and June, and the chinicuil or mezcal worm in September and October."

Prices vary depending on the season, but especially on the difficulty of their collection. For example, chicatana ants, which are from Guerrero and Oaxaca, get out only one day of the year. Those in charge of collecting them have to wait until they leave their nest to catch them during their flight. Agave worms grow on the leaves and roots of the plant when it has reached maturity, so they take years to develop. They are found in the states of Hidalgo, Tlaxcala, State of Mexico, and Oaxaca.

Apart from being delicious, insects are highly nutritious, as they exceed the amount of protein contained in beef and chicken. It is said that insects are the food of the future, not only because of their nutritional value, but because they have been revalued in the gastronomic field and, in this sense, our country leads the way.


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