What is Worm Salt?
Agave worm salt, or “Sal de Gusano” as it’s known in Mexico, is a unique condiment that has been a part of Mexican cuisine for hundreds of years. It’s also a traditional accompaniment to mezcal. The salt is a blend of ground agave worms, sea salt, and chili peppers. The agave worm, also known as the “hipopta agavis”, is a type of caterpillar that lives on the agave plant.
Where is Sal de Gusano from?
Worm salt is a traditional Oaxacan spice that originates from Mexico, particularly the southern region of Oaxaca. In this region, the history of sal de gusano dates back hundreds of years and is being used for both cooking and beverages. Nowadays, it can be found in bars and restaurants all over Mexico and even the US.
A Short History of Worm Salt
The history of worm salt is intertwined with the history of mezcal and the agave plant. The consumption of insects, mezcal, and worm salt dates back to before the arrival of Europeans in Mexico. The tradition of drinking mezcal accompanied by worm salt and often with fruits like orange slices has been a part of Southern Mexico’s cuisine for hundreds of years.
Farmers in Oaxaca realized that the red worms living on the leaves of their agave plants were slowly killing the plants, so they started removing them by hand. As insects have long been a staple in Aztec and Mayan cuisine, it made sense to repurpose the worms into something useful and flavorful.
How is it made?
To make sal de gusano, farmers remove the worms from the agave and leave them to dry in the sun or toast them in a hot oven. Then, they’re mixed together with chiles and sea salt, ground up, and placed in the sun again to dry for two or three weeks. The result is a red spicy salt that can be used to accent everything from cocktails to ceviche.
What does Sal de Gusano it taste like?
Gusano worm salt has a unique flavor profile that combines the saltiness of sea salt, the heat of chile peppers, and the earthy, umami flavor of the dried agave worms. The taste can range from mildly spicy to very hot, depending on the type of chiles used in the mix. The saltiness paired with chilis and dry worms creates a craveable umami flavor.
Agave worm salt in Mexican cuisine
Beyond mezcal, sal de gusano plays a versatile role in Mexican cuisine. It’s used as a seasoning in a variety of Mexican dishes, adding a unique depth of flavor with its earthy, spicy, and salty notes. It’s often sprinkled on fresh fruit, like mangoes and oranges, to enhance their sweetness with a contrasting savory kick. It’s also used as a garnish on signature Mexican dishes like tacos, guacamole, grilled meats, and even chocolate.
Some chefs use it to season ceviche, where the salt’s umami flavor complements the fresh seafood beautifully. It’s also a popular addition to the rim of cocktail glasses, not just for mezcal, but also for Bloody Marys and Margaritas, adding a unique twist to these classic drinks.
Worm salt & mezcal – how do you use it?
Sal de gusano is traditionally served alongside mezcal, just like you drink tequila with lime and salt. The salt is often sprinkled on a slice of orange, which is eaten after a sip of mezcal. The flavors of the salt and the citrus fruit help to balance out the smoky flavor of the mezcal and enhance its earthy notes. Some people also like to rim their mezcal glass with the salt, similar to the way a margarita glass is rimmed with salt.
Varieties of worm salt
Recipes for sal de gusano can vary greatly, with different regions and communities in Mexico having their own traditional methods of preparation. Some recipes may include additional ingredients like dried hibiscus leaves or citrus zest. The wide range of flavors in the worm salt opens the palate and balances out the smoky flavor of mezcal and the citric punch of the orange juice. Both the mezcal and the worm salt are made from ingredients of the agave plant and so they just go great together.
Where to buy it
While sal de gusano has traditionally been a product that you would have to travel to Mexico to find, it has become increasingly available online and in specialty food stores and in online stores. Some brands that produce worm salt include Bitterman Salt Co., Compania de Sales, Don Bugito, Gran Mitla, Merci Mercado, and Sal de Aquí.