Aphrodisiac Moth Larvae In Bottles Of Booze Key To Mezcal Industry
Aphrodisiac larvae found in bottles of Mexican mezcal to add flavor all come from the same species of moth.
Researchers seeking to discover which species of worm-looking larvae were most commonly found in bottles of mezcal – an alcoholic drink similar to tequila made from agave plants – tested the DNA of 18 larvae they found in bottles of the drink.
But the scientists unexpectedly found all the larvae hailed from the same species of moth which feed on agave plants – called comadia redtenbacheri.
Their presence as the official worm of mezcal cements the insects’ status as an essential part of the mezcal industry, which is worth an estimated $386.4m (1267.70 feets) (1267.70 feet s) (1267.70 feet) (£325m (1066.26 feets) (1066.26 feet s) (1066.26 feet)) and is predicted to more than triple in the next ten years.
Mezcal describes any kind of distilled alcoholic beverage made from any type of agave plant, whereas tequila is from one specific type of agave plant.
Typical mezcal drinks range in strength from 40 percent abv (alcohol by volume) to a lethal 55 percent.
Its name comes from the ancient Aztecian language Nahuatl, meaning ‘oven-cooked agave.’
One of the most globally famous mezcal drinks is tequila, made from the blue agave plant and typically drank with salt and lime or used to make Margarita cocktails.
More than 70 percent of the mezcal in the world is made in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, and many bottles contain insect larvae used to flavor the drink.
The same worms are also used in some Mexican foods and are considered to have health benefits and aphrodisiac properties.
It is tradition, for example, for the maid of honor at a Mexican bachelorette party to eat the worm in a symbolic gesture of the bride passing the torch to her closest loved one, much like throwing the bouquet at a British or American wedding.
But a group of scientists recently wondered what different species the larvae found in different bottles of mezcal belonged to.
So, in a study published in the journal PeerJ Life & Environment, a group of scientists set out to identify the different species of larvae found in bottles of the drink.
The researchers ran DNA tests on larvae found in 21 different, commercially-available bottles of mezcal purchased between 2018 and 2022, in order to determine their identity.
The study team found that all the larvae appeared superficially similar, though some were white and others were pinkish-red, but they were shocked by what the tests’ results showed.
Out of the 21 larvae tested, only 18 had DNA suitable for analysis and, out of these 18 – all the larvae belonged to the same species of moth.
Despite there being more than 60 species of larvae that are commonly consumed throughout Mexico, all 18 mezcal worms were found to be larvae of the comadia redtenbacheri moth.
Dr. Akito Kawahara, a curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History and lead author of the study, said: “We identified all 18 specimens that we sequenced as being C. redtenbacheri.
“Our result was somewhat unexpected because there are historically about 63 species of larvae or ‘worms’ that are consumed in Mexico, including the Tequila giant skipper which, given its name, implies that it is included in tequila and other mezcals.
“Our finding that all larvae are a single moth species affirms the importance of C. redtenbacheri for the mezcal industry.
“Larvae of C. redtenbacheri are one of the most popular edible insects in Mexico, and adding them to mezcal bottles brings about the unique color and flavor of the liquor.”
However, due to their popularity and medicinal qualities, Dr. Kawahara added the larvae of these moths are in greater demand than ever, which is applying pressure to their populations.
In order to halt the declining number of larvae – but not their inclusion in alcoholic drinks – researchers in Mexico have begun developing methods of cultivating these larvae in captivity.
Produced in association with SWNS Talker