Friday, March 23, 2018

Maguey Worm (Caterpillar) Tacos

Mezcal is a distilled Mexican alcoholic drink made from the agave plant, often referred to as a maguey. 
These agave or maguey plants are on the grounds of the Dolores Olmedo Musuem in Xochimilco, an area in Mexico City.
The agave must grow for 7 to 15 years, then the pina, or heart in the center, is cut out and cooked for three days in a pit oven over hot rocks. 
The pinos from this agave plant has been cut out. We saw this at an area near Teotihuacan where they were trying to sell as mezcal. 
This gives it a distinctive smoky flavor. The pinas are then crushed and mashed and left to ferment in a barrel with added water. The liquid is then collected and distilled in a clay or copper pot. Where I have heard of mezcal is from the worm that is put in the bottles of some brands, added during the bottling process. The worm is claimed variously to add flavor, to prove that the mezcal is fit to drink, or as a marketing ploy (probably by those brands that do not put worms in their bottles). 
These mezcal bottles have the maguey worms in the bottom. 
I don't drink mezcal, but the reason I bring it up is we had an opportunity to eat the kind of worms that are put in the mezcal bottles. 

As I understand it, there are two types of worms put into mezcal, and both feed on the maguey plant from which mezcal is made. White maguey worms, known as meocuiles, are caterpillers of a butterfly called the "tequila giant skipper." The butterfly deposits its eggs on the leaves of the agave and the hatched larvae eat the flesh of the agave stem and roots. 

Red maguey worms, known as chinicuiles, are larvae of the moth Hypopta agavis. They infest the core and roots of the agave in a glutenous mass. 

The caterpillars can measure up to 2.6 inches in length and are eaten in Mexican cuisine. They are sometimes eaten alive and raw, or deep-fried or braised, then seasoned with salt, lime and a spicy sauce and put on a tortilla. 

While in Mexico City we ate at El Hidalguense, a restaurant specializing in lamb barbacoa. They had maguey worms on the menu and we had to try them. The white maguey worms, identified on the menu as "gusanos de maguey," were the most challenging to eat mentally. They were piled on to two blackish green tortillas. It was hard to look at them and not think of a large plump caterpillar crawling along a branch. They were roasted and dried out, so much of the plumpness was gone, and the salt and lime flavor dominated. We had three kinds of salsa to add to the tacos, a spicy green chile salsa, a spicy red adobo salsa made from jalapenos and a spicy orange/yellow salsa made from habanero peppers. I used the habanero salsa and also added a little avocado slice. It was fun to try, but not something I would rush out to try again. 
White maguey worms on tacos.
The red maguey worms were identified on the menu as "chinicuiles," and also came placed on two dark corn tortillas. These caterpillars are much smaller, looking more like meal worms, and are very red. For some reason these were not as mentally challenging for me to eat, perhaps because I have tasted worms that looked similar before and were very crunchy. These worms were not as crunchy and also not as flavorful as the white maguey worms, the lime taste did not stand out like it did with the white maguey worms. 
Red maguey worms on tacos.
The three types of salsa. 
These two additions to our meal were very fun and made it memorable. I'll be blogging more on this meal later. 


  1. I was a little surprised that this seemed to be a normal menu item in a very nice restaurant, not some kind of street food. Again, it shows that one man's trash is another man's treasure, right?

    1. Well Americans eat roadkill, possums, raccoons, coyote etc.
      Watch "how to eat roadkill" on YouTube and all the other one's I've mentioned.

    2. Don't make fun of those who eat possums, they are actually quite tasty and I have known poor families who have cooked them for both Thanksgiving and Christmas.

  2. This is such a wonderful description - I would love to use one of your photos on our site, with attribution to you of course! Please let me know :)