By Julia Diakow
Insects may be one of the hottest new trends in cooking and cocktails, although in Mexico, they are hardly considered a culinary revolution. Pass through any Mercado in Oaxaca and you will be greeted by heaping baskets of glowing red dried grasshoppers. Even in the cosmopolitan neighborhoods in Mexico City, these tasty, crunchy critters make the perfect accompaniment to creamy guacamole or simply piled high for delicious texture on any number of dishes. Find yourself in any Mezcaleria and you will be hard pressed to find any mezcal not served with a slice of orange sprinkled with Sal de Gusano (worm salt).
The gusano or worm, which you will sometimes find at the bottom of tacky bottles of mezcal, is actually moth larva. These larvae live in the agave plants harvested to make Tequila and Mezcal. Indeed, one may even be moved to wax poetic about eating an insect that feasts off the agave plant that your shot of Tobala came from. These insects are toasted and ground up with sea salt and various dried chile peppers, to culminate in a pairing perfected by nature. Did we mention that the Aztecs believed that eating these critters could promote strength, virility and hold curative powers.
Today, Sal de Gusano is almost as sought after as the bitters craze. Many brands are choosing to craft unique recipes using different varieties of gusano, chile peppers and types of salt. The market is opening up and we are seeing a good number of bars outside of Mexico serving these salts alongside orange slices and Mezcal. Unlike its back country cousin, lime and salt, this grown up version is not meant to mask the taste of cheap tequila but instead to add gentle spice and a delicious umami dimension.
Los Siete Misterios, known for their incredible line up of Mezcals has recently joined the salt craze, crafting both a Sal de Gusano and Sal de Chapulín. The former made with roasted maguey worm, sea salt and Guajillo, Ancho and Árbol peppers, full of tangy citrus and well balanced heat. The Chapulín salt includes grasshopper, sea salt and a smokey blend of Guajillo, Morita and Pasilla, giving it a fiery kick and subtle sweetness. These can be currently found at The Modern Bartender in Chinatown and Legacy Liquor Store at Olympic Village.
Much like expertly pairing food and wine, Sal de Gusano and orange bring out more pronounced notes in the Mezcal; tart citrus, dark mesquite and subtle sweetness. Not to mention that a Sal de Chapulín (grasshopper) rimmed beer glass makes for the perfect Michelada.