Bugs. They’re not traditionally species that we eat in the UK. In other countries, bugs regularly appear in food as a good source of protein and surprisingly enough can be pretty tasty.
The Craft Gin Club is in Mexico this week so instead of gin we're sipping tequila and mezcal. After we've tasted our fair share we're writing articles about the Mexican Moonshine in our Trading Gin for Tequila series!
In Mexico, you can eat bugs like grasshoppers - known as chapulines - with a cold beer for an aperitif or you could sling a shot of mezcal and eat the worm, otherwise known as the gusano.
First, let’s clear one thing up. You won’t find worms in tequila bottles, only in mezcal. In fact, you won’t even find worms in mezcal as technically what is placed in the bottle is actually larva. And to go one step further from the worm, the larva is actually that of a weevil, a type of beetle.
Despite the fact that it’s not really a worm you’re seeing in the mezcal, what is it doing there in the first place? To begin, weevils and agave don’t mix. If they get their jaws into them, the beetles can ravage agave plants which is obviously detrimental to independent distillers who have to wait years for their maguey fields to mature.
Apart from that, no one is completely certain as to why the non-worms rest at the bottom of mezcal bottles. Some think they were initially added to give flavour to the spirit. Others think that the larvae’s presence show that the mezcal is ready for consumption. Still others just call it a marketing ploy, which certainly holds water considering all of the posters and tourist trap clothing you find with gusanos on them. We like to think it’s the distillers punishing the weevil: “You could kill our agave so instead we’ll kill you first… and then eat you!” If putting larvae in the mezcal bottles isn't enough, Mexican distillers take worm punishment further, crushing them up to make sal de gusano, a salt mixed with pulverized larvae, chili pepper and lime that accompanies mezcal.
If that’s the case, the punishment doesn’t stop with just one species. At the Museo del Tequila y el Mezcal, the Craft Gin Club tasted a mezcal seeped with scorpion!
As independent UK gin distillers search for innovative botanicals, could larvae and arachnids be next on the list?