What looks like a delicious salad from pine nuts at first glance, is certainly no vegetarian’s dream. The light yellow, bean-like grains are so called Escamoles, a rather extraordinary specialty from Mexico. Escamoles are the eggs or larvae of giant black ants of the species “Liometopum”. Due to the intense emerging smell from their nests, harvesters often call them “farty ants”. Especially in and around Mexico City, Escamoles are a popular – yet expensive – ingredient.
Harvesting the caviar of the desert – an arduous endeavor
Escamoles are certainly a rather swanky dish that you won’t easily find on standard street food carts. The unusual delicacy is rather something you will get at fine dining restaurants – and its nickname suggests why. The popular ant eggs are sometimes referred to as “Mexican caviar” or “caviar of the desert”, not only for its slight resemblance to fish roe.
Harvesting of Escamoles takes place far away from the sea in the high plains of Central Mexico. There, the venomous insects lay their eggs deep down in the roots of agave or maguey plants. After an exhausting hike into the desert, the so-called Escamoleros have to find the nests to then hand-pick the delicate ant eggs. Each nest produces eggs only about four to five times a year. And all of these happen solely between February and April, making the harvesting season extremely short. The poor accessibility, the scarcity as well as the ant’s very hurtful bite makes harvesting a rather difficult and unpleasant task. All of these factors add to the exclusivity of this Mexican delicacy. One kilogram of Escamoles ranges between $35 and $100 – hence its aforementioned nickname.
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What do Escamoles taste like?
The larvae are said to have a consistency similar to cottage cheese and a nutty or buttery flavor. Since the taste is rather subtle and delicate, the exclusive ant eggs are usually not mixed with strongly flavored ingredients. The traditional recipe for Escamoles calls for a mix with a few green chilis, finely chopped onions and epazote leaves. The ingredients are cooked together for a few minutes until the kernels turn white and then commonly serve as a filling in tacos or omelets.
Ant eggs as food have a long history in Mexico. Already the Aztecs ate Escamoles which is also where the ant pupae got their name from. It is derived from the word “azcamolli” in the ancient Aztec language Nahuatl, with azcatl meaning “ant” and molli translating to “stew”. Centuries later, this traditional dish form the Pre-Hispanic era has found its way to the hip eateries of Mexico City.
We would love to share with you a recipe to make Escamoles at home. But unfortunately – or fortunately – you will have to go to Mexico yourself to get a taste of this exclusive delicacy. Taking the ant eggs across the border is prohibited and, thus, Escamoles are not available outside of Mexico.
You love discovering extraordinary delicacies like Escamoles? Then check out our collection of the most curious foods from around the world!
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