By Robert Alexander Original Print Publication: September, 2008
If you’ve seen my TV show on Unicable, “GEM– Gringo En Mexico,” you know that I climb uprocks, rappel back down them, and ride cablesover wide canyons. But I also dosomething a little more wild thanthat: I eat insects for a living!
Now, don’t turn the page! Almost80 percent of the world’spopulation is entomophagous.That’s the adjective. An entomophage(the noun) is an organismthat feeds on insects.The UN Food and AgricultureOrganization (FAO) estimatesthat about 1,400 species of insectsand worms are eaten in almostninety countries in Africa, LatinAmerica, and Asia. Insects are also a good sourceof proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Did you knowthat one hundred grams of beef contains 54 to 57percent protein, while one hundred grams of cricketscontains between 62 and 75 percent protein?
A couple of months ago, I filmed an episodeof GEM at the Pre-Hispanic Gastronomic Fairat Santiago de Anaya, Hidalgo, where I ate fourkinds of insects. There were stewed stinkbugs,fried crickets, maguey “worms” (gusanos, actuallya type of caterpillar) and ant “eggs” (escamoles).
Let’s talk about gusanos and escamoles;they’re my favorites. If you’ve spent any time inMexico, you’ve probably seen the maguey cactus:it’s practically the national plant. You can harvestthe maguey “worms” from the beginning ofthe rainy season in the spring until late autumn.Their taste is a mixture of bacon and peanutbutter—how’s that for a combo!
The preparation of these delicious “worms”is fast and simple. Give them a good wash anddry. Then, fry them in hot oil, add salt, supplywarm tortillas, salsa, and get out of the way!Your Mexican friends will make them disappearwhile you’re politely getting in line for a turn.
Escamoles are the larvae of ants of the Liometopumgenus, and are gathered from betweenthe underground roots of various Mexican cacti.These “eggs” are about the size of beans and arereferred to locally as caviar. They are rich in fatsand taste something like nutty cottage cheese.
I prepare these “eggs” by, again, washingand drying them thoroughly, and then sautéingminced onion in butter and throwing in all I canafford just before service: escamoles cost aboutthe same as Beluga. Offering them to your guestsin a clay casserole with warm tortillas and salsawill make them appear all themore tempting.
I think most of us have beenexposed to chocolate covered antsat sometime during our childhood,but have you ever eaten ascorpion? It’s easy to do. Cut offthe stinger and deadly poisongland at the end of the tail, dipthe bug in your favorite spicedegg wash, and fry until crispy.You should end up with somethinglike a battered shrimp.
Now, don’t throw down InsideMéxico and your morning coffee and starteating bugs from the kitchen floor! Urban insectscan be contaminated with animal waste,parasites, and insecticides. However, with over1,400 insect species eaten by humans (entomophages)worldwide, the insect world offers commercialand nutritional advantages to the first,second, and third world.
Most edible insects are, in fact, harvestedfrom forests and agricultural fields. They accountfor the greatest biodiversity in the animalkingdom and are the least studied of all fauna.You can find maguey “worms” and ant “eggs”at markets in rural areas. You might also findthem prepared at upper end Mexican restaurantsin your neighborhood.
Tune in to GEM on Unicable, Sundays at 12:30pm or visit http://unicable.tv/gem/ for more information