Escamol – The Insect Caviar of Mexico

Escamol is an ancient dish made from edible larvae and pupae of two species of ants and is known for its nutty, buttery taste. It has been consumed in Mexico since the Aztec times.

Escamol, commonly known as “Mexican caviar,” because of its resemblance to fish eggs, is made from larvae and pupae of ants of Liometopum apiculatum and L. occidentale, two species native to some semi-arid areas of Mexico and the southern United States. Its origins can be traced back hundreds of years to the Aztecs when the consumption of insects as food was widespread. Escamol was considered a delicacy by the Aztecs, who exchanged it with nomadic tribes such as the Otomis because it was difficult to obtain. The price in Mexican restaurants suggests that Escamol has retained its status as a delicacy in modern times.

Photo: CVmontuy / Wikimedia Commons

This insect caviar is harvested from ant nests, which are usually found in rocks or underground, just a few meters from a food source consisting of various types of cacti and trees such as pepper trees, oaks or agaves. Escamol can only be found for 10 to 12 weeks between February and April. While the weather greatly affects the availability of this delicacy, ants usually lay eggs three to five times per season.

After a nest is found, Escamol foragers look for the trabecula (the structure in which mature ants lay and care for the eggs), and only up to 70% of the Escamol is harvested. Unfortunately, not all collectors know how to properly harvest the eggs, which has led to the destruction of entire ant colonies or the relocation of their nests to inaccessible areas.

The insect caviar is washed and usually prepared according to a traditional recipe with green chilli, finely chopped onions and epazote leaves. They are lightly cooked for about 5 minutes or until they turn white or ivory in color and served in tacos or corn tortillas. They supposedly have a buttery and slightly nutty taste and texture similar to cottage cheese.

According to the Slow Food Foundation, Escamol ranges from $ 35 to $ 100 in Mexican markets, but an Escamol dish in a top-notch restaurant can be even more expensive.

You can find other unusual types of caviar in snail caviar and expensive citrus caviar.

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