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Tuesday, February 22nd 2022

What Are Escamoles?

Written by

Rafael Bracho

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Introduction

What Are Escamoles

A Mexican delicacy, escamoles have a long tradition of consumption in Mexico. Some expats may not find the idea of eating escamoles palatable, but a few adventurous eaters might discover they really love this dish.

Escamoles are known by many names, though “Mexican caviar”, “insect caviar” are the most common. I’ve even heard them called “land caviar”. They are most often served in tacos.

The term escamoles comes from the Nahuatl language. It’s a compound of “azcatl”, meaning “ant”, and “molli” meaning “concoction” or “mix”. They are sometimes called “azcamolli” (the original Nahuatl name), chiquereyes, maicitos, or huigues.

What Are Escamoles

What Are Escamoles

Escamoles are ant pupae and larvae. Larvae is the first stage of an insect’s life cycle after it hatches from the egg. Pupae are the following stage—still young—before the ant reaches full maturity. Occasionally, the eggs themselves are served as escamoles as well.

History of Escamoles

What Are Escamoles

Escamoles have been eaten in Mexico since before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. They originated in the area of Tenochtitlan, now known as Mexico City. They were an important part of the Aztec diet for their high nutritional value.

They were first documented by Bernardino de Sahagún—a Franciscan friar who studied the Aztec culture for over 50 years, beginning in 1529. His accounts of the indigenous peoples that lived in Mexico after the conquest have been invaluable to historians.

Harvesting Escamoles

What Are Escamoles

Escamoles are a seasonal delicacy. They are harvested in late winter / early spring, when the ants are just hatching after their breeding season. Ants build their nests a few yards underground—often at the base of maguey plants, or in the nopal fields at the foot of puril trees.

The ant colonies are notoriously aggressive, and they readily defend their nests. Harvesters of escamoles have to follow the line of ants to their homes, which can be an arduous task. Therefore, the rarity and difficulty in harvesting escamoles makes this Mexican dish very expensive—one of the main reasons why escamoles are often compared to caviar.

How Are Escamoles Prepared?

What Are Escamoles

When the escamoles are collected, the white eggs and larvae are washed with clean water several times. Repeatedly bathing the escamoles removes any trace of dirt and grime. However, this process is a delicate one, where the harvester must take care not to break the fragile coating of the ant larvae.

Then escamoles are most often cooked in butter, which accentuates the rich flavor of the dish. They can also be prepared in sauces or even served as breakfast with eggs. Their texture is sometimes compared to cottage cheese.

Are Escamoles Nutritious?

What Are Escamoles

Escamoles are very nutritious. They are roughly 50% protein. This is extraordinarily high when compared to about 25% protein in beef. Escamoles are also rich in minerals, vitamins, and healthy fats.

How Much Do Escamoles Cost?

What Are Escamoles

Escamoles are expensive. Though you can probably find them cheaper in the rural areas where they are harvested, one usually finds them on menus in Mexican fine-dining restaurants—and even then they’re rare. They are often served as appetizers.

Escamoles can cost anywhere from $300 MXN - $500 MXN ($15 USD - $25 USD). However, the price likely decreases if you’re in a small hole-in-the-wall restaurant.

Should I Try Escamoles?

What Are Escamoles

If you’re not a picky eater, you should try escamoles. Partaking in Mexican culture is one of the great benefits of living abroad. Their flavor is mild and inoffensive—not a strong flavor that takes getting used to.

It’s the idea of eating insect larvae that takes getting used to. Many expats living in Mexico find the idea of consuming ant eggs revolting, but the dish itself is tasty—if subtle. If you’re expecting a shockingly new experience, you might find that escamoles aren’t worth their high price.

Conclusion

What Are Escamoles

In short, escamoles are more a novelty than a culinary staple in Mexican cuisine. It’s fun to be able to say that you tried them, but it’s not the type of dish that people tend to crave. Overall, we recommend keeping an open mind, but if eating insects isn’t your cup of tea, then you’re not missing anything to write home about.

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