Several countries in the world have been characterized by the consumption of a great variety of insects, and Mexico is no exception, since the ecological and ethnic diversity it has, has encouraged their natural and sustainable consumption. They crawl, climb, hide, or sting. They have inhabited the Earth for more than 300 million years, a lot compared to humanity, just one million years. Throughout their evolution, insects have adapted to different habitats on Earth, showing a highly developed social organization.
True, Mexico is not the only country in which insects serve as food, but because of its great variety of edible bugs, Mexico occupies an important place in terms of this practice in the world, at a time when there is talk of entomophagy (consumption of insects) as an important food option in the present and future for the entire planet. Insects are animals belonging to the phylum Arthropoda, class Insecta. So far, in Mexico, we have registered 531 species of edible insects belonging to different groups: grasshoppers, dragonflies, flies, bugs, cicadas, beetles, butterflies, tricopters, flies, bees, ants, wasps, and termites, all of them a renewable natural resource that can even be bred in waste.
"The practice of eating insects in our country is very old, it was recorded in the Florentine Codex by Fray Bernardino de Sahagún in the 16th century. The Codex describes more than 96 species of insects that were part of the Mesoamerican diet," explains a statement from Los Danzantes restaurant, which for 22 years has been offering its diners a month of Bichos Season to bring them closer to this ancestral tradition.
"For example, with escamoles, people collect them, but they don't kill the nest. Well, that's the good collectors, the ones who are very committed. It is something that is inherited, from grandfather to father, from father to son, so the people who dedicate themselves to this (...) know that with the technique that they do the following year or two years later in the same nest they will find more eggs (...) it is a titanic task, the truth".
"I am very fond of the chinicuil, which is the little red worm, which lives in the lower part of the kiwifruit, mainly obtained from the pulquero kiwifruit because it is an extremely characteristic taste".
Mexico has a great variety of edible (insect) species, 549 of the existing 2000 are native and are found mainly in the central, southern, and southeastern states of the country. Among the best-known species are escamoles, maguey worms, chicatana ants, chapulines, jumiles, and chinicuiles, among others. From the classic grasshoppers that are consumed in the central and southern areas of the republic, the tantarrias in the desert area of Querétaro to the famous chinicuiles that are included in some mezcal bottles, are part of the classic gastronomic culture of our country. They have been part of traditional medicine for thousands of years.
For example, fly larvae were used to clean wounds and some bee products like propolis, jelly, and honey are used for their healing properties in respiratory diseases. The natural color of insects has been used by different cultures for centuries, the Mexica used the red color produced by the cochineal found in nopal, which is still used today as a natural food coloring, in cosmetics and dyes. Even today, the color of the classic strawberry yogurt uses carminic acid, a substance extracted from the ancient Mexican cochineal.
The grasshoppers, in pre-Hispanic Mexico, were pulverized and the result was used as a supplement to strengthen the blood. The diluted powder was drunk to treat kidney diseases. They are now known to be rich in vitamin A and B and contain 90% of the healthiest and most absorbable protein in the insect kingdom. In recent years interest in curious gastronomy has increased, so that, from about 20 years to date, the consumption of insects in the country has intensified.
"In this search for unusual ingredients we discover a great fascination for insects, and if we look back at the protein part, the healthy part, we realize that it is a very balanced food, very balanced. So it has increased (consumption) from 20 years ago, but perhaps it has decreased from 100 years ago," he explains. The prices of insects are still not accessible to the general public, acknowledges Chef Díaz, largely because the task of collecting insects is, in many cases, a complex one, which except in the case of snails, is done in wild spaces. Although he believes that greater consumption could lead to improved collection techniques and then this food could become popular.
However, he invites visitors to live the experience of tasting insects for the unique flavors and textures that can be found in them and that combine perfectly in recipes such as those offered at Los Danzantes in May and June: rice with bugs (wild and white rice, sautéed with tomatoes, snails, escamoles, chapulines, and maguey worms); mole of flowers (mole of begonia and vinegar leaf, with chapulines, snails, golumbos, maguey worms, and chicatana ants) and ice cream of cream and worm salt (artisan ice cream made with fresh cream, mezcal of worm salt and chiltepín chile), to name a few. A consumption that reconnects us with the most ancient customs and should make one feel proud of what the Mexican land has to offer.
Insects use much less water than traditional livestock. Flourworms, for example, are more resistant to drought than livestock. The protein content of edible insects ranges from 28 to 91%; most species have 55 to 65% of good quality protein, i.e. half to almost three-quarters of their body is made up of protein, the digestibility, i.e. use, of which ranges from 75 to 98%. Almost all of it is used; the quality of its proteins is only surpassed by those of the egg and milk.
All insects exceed the contribution of corn, wheat, and chicken. Half of them exceed beef; 65% exceed fish. In addition, some insects are rich in group B vitamins (which are absent in vegetables from the tropics), vitamin C and A. Others are rich in some minerals, such as flies (calcium), termites (phosphorus) and grasshoppers (iron), as mentioned by Dr. Julieta Ramos-Elorduy, a biologist and graduate professor at the Faculty of Sciences of the UNAM, in her book Are insects eaten?
Because they are the first in the food chain, they feed on plants and are among the cleanest animals in existence. Compared to red meat, insect breeding is much more ecological and economical. Insects require less land area to produce and produce less greenhouse gas emissions. To size, in 240 square meters of surface, the same amount of proteins is generated with grasshoppers as in 16 thousand cows. Insects also present a low risk of transmission of zoonotic diseases (diseases transmitted from animals to humans). In Mexico, a commonplace to taste these flavors is the famous San Juan market, in the Cuauhtémoc municipality of Mexico City.