We’ve all seen those funny little worms that float at the bottom of Mezcal bottles. While the worms are often used as a marketing tool for cheaper Mezcals, worm salt (or Sal de Gusano) is actually a real part of Mezcal culture.
Made from the larvae that inhabit the agave plant, worm salt is a spicy-salty condiment that comprises toasted and ground up “worms”, chiles and salt and is traditionally served with orange slices as an accompaniment to Mezcal.
So really, you’re ingesting little bits of the insect that eats the plant from which the spirit you are drinking is made. It’s really a whole circle of life thing … as long as you don’t think too hard about it. If you find the idea a bit squirmy (pun intended), then instead think about the efficiency. If left to their own devices, the ‘hypota agavis’ moth (to give it its technical name), can easily eat up the heart of the agave. So, by removing them, it leaves more agave to convert into tasty drinks.
Smoky And Savoury
Insects are a huge part of the native pre-Hispanic cuisine and are used in all sorts of cooking. Sal de Gusano may be the most visible internationally, but in Oaxaca you can easily buy fried crickets in the markets, as well.
While insects are a core part of many Mexican cuisines, Sal de Gusano is primarily an Oaxacan speciality. Oaxaca, which is located about 300 miles south of Mexico City, is Mexico’s capital of Mezcal culture.
And what does worm salt taste like? Well, flavours can vary with each producer, depending on which salt, peppers and larvae are used but think of it a bit like an umami salt explosion. umami salt explosion. The salty, mildly spicy, smoky and savoury taste is created by picking the worms (or lava) once they have matured, toasting them dry, grinding them up and added Oaxacan sea salt and ground Oaxacan chillies.
And while it will probably remain a confidential, cult ingredient, it’s worth remembering that it can also enhance food as much as Mexcal. Guacamole, ceviche, salsas, scrambled eggs, or even fruits such as pineapple can be made so much better with just a little sprinkle of worm salt.
Make It Yourself
You can find Worm Salt in speciality shops or online, but if that seems difficult, why not make it yourself.
With only three ingredients (1 x finely chopped mezcal worm, 1 tsp sea salt and 1 tsp of finely chopped dried Mexican chile), it seems pretty simple.
Weirdly, unless you’re in Mexico with access to Agave plants, the best source of larvae is from those Mezcal bottles themselves. Strain the worm out and dry it in the microwave (ensuring that you don’t heat them for too long, as they have a nasty habit of just exploding). Best to do it in 10-second intervals until it’s dry to the touch and firm.
Mind you, no matter how much cred you’re getting from making your own, you’ve still got to weigh up whether cutting and then grinding up worms is really worth it.