One of the pleasures of traveling in Mexico is exploring local foods, and Oaxaca City, located in southern Mexico, is a top culinary destination known for its sweet mole sauces, smoky mescals (a close cousin of tequila) and savory chapulines -- known to most of us as grasshoppers. Yep, grasshoppers.
Chock-full of protein, chapulines have been a menu staple in Oaxaca for at least five millennia. Conveniently, chapulines love hanging out among Mexico’s principal crops -- squash, corn, and beans -- and before Spanish colonizers introduced domesticated animals to Mexico in the 16th century, chapulines served as a primary source of protein for people in the region.
Of course, the question on most people’s minds is What do these grasshoppers taste like? On their own, chapulines are pretty bland. However, once they are toasted or fried and seasoned with garlic, salt, lemon, and a little chili, they take on a yeasty, salty tang and have a distinctive crunch.
Zagat writer Danya Henninger described her first few bites of a chapuline taco as “tasty and interesting -- think the crunch of fried chicken skin and the taste of mushrooms mixed with shrimp.” The bad news according to Henninger? “They get stuck in your teeth”
According to the Phoenix New Times, “Chapulines taste almost like salt and vinegar potato chips, but a bit wetter. There's a satisfying crunch from the exoskeleton throughout, with a bit of tangy softness at the abdomen.”
While taco filling is a popular use for chapulines, they are also commonly served on their own as a street food or as a bar snack to go with mescal or cerveza. You’ll also find chapulines atop tlayudas, a Oaxacan pizza-style dish. Smaller chapulines are generally considered culinarily superior and are less likely to present the formerly mentioned texture issues.
Chapulines are harvested during Oaxaca’s rainy season, which runs May through October, and a good place to find them fresh is at Oaxaca’s Benito Juarez market or the Mercado 20 de Noviembre market, where indigenous women sell them by the scoopful out of giant baskets.
Oaxacans are not the only ones who appreciate the economical and nutritious grasshopper. Chapulines are easy to find in around Mexico City. In the U.S., chapulines are on the menu at a number of Los Angeles restaurants, including the popular Oaxacan restaurant Guelaguetza. At Mariner’s baseball games in Seattle, the local Poquitos restaurant serves up chapulines as a ballpark snack option. Grasshoppers also show up as a snack and garnish in both Thailand and Uganda.
For anyone who is still not convinced that grasshoppers are worth a try, perhaps a little science will help. According to the Biology Institute of the National Autonomous University of Mexico chapulines are strongly recommended for their high A, B, and C vitamin content. They are also rich in fiber, magnesium, calcium, and zinc -- and don’t forget that highly digestible protein content. Chapulines are over 62 percent protein, out of which nearly 90 percent is digestible. And entomophagy -- the eating of insects -- is often touted as a sustainable solution to nutritiously feeding the planet in the face of our ever-expanding population.
In other words, a handful of chapulines is good for you and good for the planet, so embrace the crunch!
Fascinated by seemingly strange eats from around the world? Read about one traveler’s experience going mad for mopane worms: Zimbabwe’s most fascinating food experience.