Eating Ants in Peru: Hormigas Culonas

Forget peanuts, popcorn and pretzel sticks… ants are the food of the future. Well, maybe. But probably not. Either way, eating ants is quite a treat in some parts of the world, Peru included, so it’s tough to turn down a plate of hormigas culonas.

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Hormigas Culonas, Big-Ass Ants

The scientific name for this particular species of large leafcutter ant is Atta laevigata, but they are known by a variety of names across the Americas. In Colombia, you’ll be snacking on hormigas culonas, literally “big-bottomed ants,” while in Central America you’re more likely to hear them called zompopos de mayo, and bachacos in Venezuela. There seem to be a few different names in Peru, including mamacos, siqui sapa and domblos.

Whatever the name, these big-bottomed ants remain as much of a delicacy as they were in pre-Columbian times. The ants can only be harvested at certain times of the year, making them a scarce and relatively expensive commodity. In San Martin, mamacos appear in the markets during October and November, but only after short periods of rain.

You can buy a large spoonful of approximately 20 toasted ants for S/.1, while a kilo will set you back a hefty S/.50 (US$18).

The Sensation of Eating Ants

Firstly, these big-bottomed ants are quite large, so ignoring the little details is slightly tricky. If you’re squeamish, you might want to shut your eyes before digging in.

A not-too-unpleasant crunchiness accompanies the first bite, followed by a familiar taste — familiar, that is, if you’ve tried pork rinds (pork scratchings in the UK). To be exact, the taste is similar to pork rinds, but with a woody, earthy flavor somewhere in the mix.

While that doesn’t sound too bad, the aftertaste is not particularly pleasant. The earthy, soil-like flavor lingers in the mouth, combined with a slight oiliness. Now is a good time to have a sip of your favorite Peruvian beer.

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Eating Ants: Legless, Headless or As They Come?

Overall, the ant-eating experience isn’t too bad, but I’ll only make a habit of it if I find myself lost and starving in the middle of the Amazon. After eating about 10 of the poor little things, I had certainly had my fill (and that aftertaste was hard to shift).

There’s still one thing I’m not too sure about: the best way to eat them. When I first came across toasted ants in Brazil, only the body section was on sale — no legs and no heads. In contrast, these Peruvian ants looked like they could stroll off the plate. After eating two or three ants, I decided to remove the legs — picking ants legs from your teeth is just weird. I doubt if that affects the flavor, but legless ants seem so much more palatable…

Photos © Tony Dunnell.

  3 comments for “Eating Ants in Peru: Hormigas Culonas

  1. Herb
    September 17, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    Tony,
    Maybe the local Chocolate Industry would consider using them in their candy as elsewhere in the world!
    A big-ass chocolate ant would go down much better I think.
    H

  2. September 17, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    Big-ass chocolate ants would probably go down quite well. I might even be able to force down one of those jungle grubs (suri) if it was covered in chocolate. Lots of chocolate…

    Cheers!

    • Herb
      September 19, 2011 at 4:50 am

      Suri encased in a dark chocolate shell! …..Still, I do not know if it would go down. Even with a lot of Peruvian “Cognac”
      H

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