Last Friday night while having drinks and dinner with some neighbors, the topic of the worm in mezcal came up. Why is it there?
Mezcal or mescal is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from the maguey plant – a form of agave native to Mexico. The maguey plant grows in many places in Mexico although mescal now is made mainly in Oaxaca. Mescal is not as popular as tequila (which is made from the blue agave plant) because it has a rougher taste.
The maguey was one of the most sacred plants in pre-Hispanic Mexico, and had a privileged position in religious rituals, mythology and the economy. Cooking of the “piña” or heart of the maguey and fermenting its juice was practiced. The origin of this drink has a myth. It is said that a lightning bolt struck an agave plant, cooking and opening it, releasing its juice. For this reason, the liquid is called the “elixir of the gods.”
So why the worm? Certain mezcals, usually from the state of Oaxaca, are sold con gusano, a practice that began as a marketing gimmick in the 1940s. The worm is actually the larval form of the moth Hypopta agavis that lives on the agave plant and was put there as proof of alcohol content.
As for why it's "cool" to eat the worm, well, it used to be considered an aphrodisiac that blessed warriors with strength and virility.
No, I didn’t eat the worm!