Escamoles: Eggs of the "Farty Ant"
You thought it couldn’t get any worse than stink bug salsa. Well. You probably hadn’t imagine eating ant eggs, much less those of a farty ant. (I myself have a lot of questions suddenly about ant farts: Do they? With right tech equipment could one hear it? Does it leave an odor, and does each ant have its own odor like human farts? But I digress).
Escamoles are the larvae and pupae of an ant species, commonly known as the velvety tree ant in English, that builds its nest beneath agave and tree species, mainly in Hidalgo and Tlaxcala. The nickname, la hormiga pedorra (the “farty ant”), is given in some areas due to the foul smell of their nests. They’re also considered “Mexican caviar” due to their high cost and difficulty in harvesting. They’re a seasonal delicacy (February through May), and require correct collection technique in order to harvest them sustainably.
The escamolero digs a hole two–three meters deep beneath the plant to find the eggs. He does this with great caution so as not to damage the ant population—especially the queen. It’s particularly challenging as the population attacks and bites the escamolero in defense. After collecting up to 70% of the eggs the hole is carefully filled back in and the population left to continue reproducing. Some years ago up to eight kilos could be collected from each nest. Unfortunately, poor collecting practices and overexploitation has caused the number to decrease significantly.
Watch the video at the end of this blog to see how they’re harvested.
Native Mexicans were eating escamoles for centuries before the Spanish arrived as a highly prized protein source (said to be four times more than red meat). These days they can be found in season at trendy restaurants in Mexico City.
I tried my first in the restaurant Azul, located beneath the hotel we were staying in. They were phenomenal. They’re typically prepared simply, with epazote, onions, and chiles, to preserve their rich, nutty flavor, and served with handmade tortillas. I would have loved to have savored them slowly, but the squirmy, fussy toddler on my lap forced me to devour them with gusto.
Granja Teotlacualli is a farm based in Hidalgo that works to preserve the regional food traditions by practicing and teaching sustainble harvesting of edible insects. They also offer lodging, food and activities, so get in touch if you’re looking for an alternative adventure not far from Mexico City.
One of our goals at El Refugio is to serve protein in a greater diversity of forms. As we’re in Baja, we’re limited on availability, but little by little we’re connecting with producers and harvesters with the hope that one day, we can bring these native culinary traditions to you!