Worm Salt (Sal De Gusano): Everything You Need to Know
by Greg Rutkowski
Using Agave Worms For A Culinary Experience
True mezcal enthusiasts know that the worm you sometimes see at the bottom of a bottle of mezcal is typically just a marketing gimmick to draw attention to cheaper brands. However, that doesn’t mean that bugs can’t enhance your mezcal drinking experience. In fact, it is a great accompaniment!
These toasted and ground morsels have played a role in traditional Mexican culture since pre Hispanic times. Even today, they play a now in major culinary meccas like Mexico City.
What Is The Agave Worm?
In short it is edible larvae that is native to Mexico.
The traditional name for the agave worm is Chinicuil and can also be called gusano de maguey.
They are usually red or white in color and can measure up to about 2.5" or larger.
A 100 gram serving is said to be 650 calories and can be prepared in a variety of ways for consumption.
History Of Eating The Agave Worm
In the beginning it was considered a delicacy consumed only by Aztec emperors. The larvae was said to have curative properties that also gave you strength and virility.
However, when the Spaniards arrived, they adopted much of the native cuisine, but agave worm consumption was not one of them. Its use in cuisine eventually faded away with the exception of some natives that passed down the tradition.
Today chefs in Mexico and all over the world have been striving to revive using this tasty ingredient highlighting it in traditional native dishes.
Harvesting For Preparation
When the agave worm is born, it feeds on the agave leaves and boroughs to the agave hearts until adulthood where they can be harvested for consumption. It is important to note that they appear in the agave on a seasonal basis (August to September).
How To Make Worm Salt (Sal De Gusano)?
One of the most popular preparations is Sal De Gusano (worm salt). This involves drying the agave worm and toasting it in a "comal". After it is toasted, it is then mixed with Oaxacan sea salt and dried Oaxacan chile peppers.
The result is Sal De Gusano which gives you all of the umami that you could ask for. It is used as a salty-smoky seasoning that is earthy, spicy, and can really bring on the flavors with whatever you use it on.
A Meal of Necessity
Here’s a bit of trivia that might be of interest to a mezcal fan.
Although eating certain insects has never been as strange in Mexico as people from other parts of the world might consider it, some believe people started eating the moth larvae in agave plants for a very particular reason.
These larvae are pests. If left alone, they’ll grow and eat away at the agave plant. Thus, when Aztecs first started harvesting the agave, they needed a way to dispose of the larvae. Eating them simply turned out to be the most convenient option. The Aztecs apparently loved the taste of the larvae, and the tradition of consuming them was born.
How to Use Sal De Gusano
Mezcal purists usually don’t rim their mezcal glasses with sal de gusano. Most traditional mezcal glasses are t0o small for this to be the ideal option but you can certainly do this for a tasty mezcal margarita!
One of the most common ways to serve this type of sal de gusano is on top of orange slices. Others may prefer to top apple or pineapple slices with worm salt.
Regardless, enjoying worm salt this way between sips of mezcal complements the flavor of the beverage without masking it. That said, because there are many different recipes for worm salt, no two taste precisely alike. You may want to try a few different brands and recipes to find one that perfectly matches your tastes.
Keep in mind that you can also use worm salt even when you’re not drinking mezcal. It tends to have an umami quality that’s ideal for salsas, soups, ceviche, and numerous other dishes. If you enjoy cooking, you’ll almost certainly have fun experimenting with worm salt in the kitchen.
Worm Salt: A Mezcal Tradition
While the worm at the bottom of the bottle may not actually be an authentic part of mezcal culture, worm salt for mezcal certainly is. Any mezcal fan owes it to themselves to try it. Just be warned, once you do, you might never want to drink mezcal without worm salt again.
Other Culinary Applications
The insect itself is said to be delicious deep fried or braised with some salt, lime, and salsa.
Try using the sal de gusano mixture the next time you make mixiotes, tamales, and salsas. It also makes a great addition to any type of grilled vegetable.
Our Favorite Sal De Gusano Brand
Gran Mitla is one of the premier brands in this category. Their worms salt is made from a family recipe that spans for three generations. They are based out of Mitla which is southeast of Oaxaca, Mexico. Mitla is also known as a major Zapotec archeological site.
Gran Mitla also has a variety of of different salts, You can check out their Grasshopper Salt, Habanero Salt, and Hibiscus Salt. A variety pack of all four salts is also available here.