The legendary worm in tequila is all but a myth! If you have never heard of tequila worms, they actually do exist. Technically, the worm you see often referred to as agave worms, tequila worms, maguey worms, or mezcal worms are all the same things. These worms in the bottle are the larva of a moth that lives on the agave plant. Believed to be present only in higher-proof tequila, some even say that consuming the worm results in drunkenness or hallucinations.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no worm in tequila. Instead, these “worms” or gusano can be found in mezcal, tequila’s smokier cousin. Tequila and mezcal are both agave spirits, but that is where their similarities end.
The worm is a moth larvae known as gusano de maguey (worm of agave) as it feeds off the agave plant. There are two types of moth larva that can be used: the first from a beetle with red coloring known as Scyphophorus acupunctatus and the second from a Cossidae moth known as Comadia redtenbacheri.
The tequila worm began appearing around the 1940s or 50s when a Mexican mezcal producer found a larva in a batch of mezcal. Stories claimed that he thought that the gusano helped to improve the taste of mezcal and subsequently started to put a larva in each bottle.
Another story states that the worm was used by brewers to tell the bottles of tequila and mezcal apart. Back in the days, the bottles containing tequila and mezcal would be difficult to tell apart without sampling it. Therefore, the addition of the larvae in mezcal helped tremendously. Others believe that the addition of the larvae was purely a marketing angle aimed at the American market as tequila was flooding the
United States and the addition of the worm allowed for mezcal to differentiate itself. Others believe that the addition of the larvae was purely a marketing angle aimed at the American market as tequila was flooding the United States and the addition of the worm allowed for mezcal to differentiate itself. There are also others who believe that the addition of the larvae brings luck to the person who finds it in their glass.
While the larva does not add anything to your mezcal, it seems that it works as an effective marketing ploy as it somehow convinces people to buy it. In fact, this ploy was so effective that agave farmers had a blowout with the Mexican government in 2005. The authorities attempted to prohibit the addition of larvae in mezcal bottles as they wanted to increase consumer confidence in both mezcal and tequila. The farmers won the fight by proving that the larvae can be added without compromising the flavor of mezcal.
Today, some believe that the addition of larvae proves that the spirit has a high enough ABV (Alcohol by Volume) to pickle it while others think that eating the worm takes you on a psychedelic adventure. Unfortunately, the only adventure you get will be from consuming large amounts of mezcal, and not from the larva in it. Nowadays, there are no tequila bottles containing a worm as the Mexican Standards Authority prohibits it. If you find a worm in a bottle that you think is tequila or beer, chances are it is usually a bottle of lower end mezcal.
For those adventurous or curious enough to try the worms, feel free to taste it. Some who have eaten a mezcal worm has described it to taste like chicken while others say it does not taste very nice. While it may not taste great coming out from the bottle of mezcal, the gusano de maguey are often incorporated into delicious dishes that make a great snack while drinking mezcal.
If you would like to enjoy the mezcal worm in a more traditional way, try sipping some mezcal with some orange slices and sal de gusano. Many drinkers top their orange slices with the worm salt and pair it with some mezcal served in a copita.
Spicy and salty, sal de gusano or worm salt is made from larvae that inhabit the agave plant. Think of an umami salt explosion where you experience the combination of savory, smoky, spicy, and salty. Traditionally served with orange slices alongside mezcal, this Oaxacan specialty can vary in flavor depending on varieties of gusano, chile pepper, salt, etcetera.
Unlike the combination of salt and lime in tequila, worm salt helps to complement the agave spirit, adding dimensions and depth to the already complex flavors of mezcal. Besides eating it while sipping mezcal, you can also use worm salt to add umami to ceviche, cocktails, salsas, or any food you desire.
Edible bugs have been part of Mexico’s diet throughout history. A crucial protein source during the pre-Columbian times, some experts estimate that there are up to 500 bug species used as a food source in Mexico. Today, there are several species that are still consumed today besides the already famous gusanos de maguey.
The name gusano rojo translates to red worm. Also known as the chili worm or chichitlico-cuilin in Nahuatl due to its red color, this insect lives in the agave’s pina and can only be found around May to October, during the region’s rainy season. This insect can be salted, fried, eaten in tacos, used in sauces, or mixed with salt and served with mezcal.
Chapulines or grasshopper-like insects are prized for their protein and flavor. Their sizes vary from as small as a grain of rice to as large as a cricket. Relatively inexpensive, they are easily accessible and can be boiled, fried, or toasted to be eaten as a snack, added to tacos, or eaten as a side while sipping on mezcal. Chapulines can easily be found served in bars or cantinas.
Escamoles or ant eggs appear to look like risotto. The larvae of this species can only be found in underground nests. It is considered a true delicacy as it is difficult to harvest and is only available a short season during the year. Often known as Mexican Caviar, it is a common part of the ancient Mexican diet. Escamoles can be fried, wrapped in tortillas, mixed with eggs, added into stews, or eaten as a snack while sipping on mezcal.
Gusano rojo is a mezcal produced by Nacional Vinicola. This company was the first bottle of spirits to include the worm in the bottle. Subsequently, Andres Paniagua and Jacobo Lozano Paez added the worm in a different mezcal. Dos Gusanos.
Some of the other brands of mezcal that include worms in the bottle are El Recuerdo, Patrón, Beneva, Agave de Cortes, El Senorio Reposado, Monte Alban Mezcal Con Gusano, and Wahaka Reposado Con Gusano.