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MEXICO Farmers make a profit on edible pests



Published: Fri, June 17, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Bugs are a regular part of the diet in many Mexican towns.

MEXICO CITY (AP) -- Like many people in his town in the southern Mexico highlands, Gerardo Carrillo looks forward to harvest time in August. That's when he can pick greenish caterpillars off the trees and boil them with a little lime.

"They're good," says the 53-year-old gardener. "They taste a little like grasshoppers."

As Mexico's centuries-old tradition of eating bugs becomes more lucrative -- maguey worms and ant eggs are showing up as exotic fare at expensive restaurants -- researchers are trying to convince poor villages to cash in on these pests as a means of income.

With a protein content as much as twice that of beef, bugs could also become a welcome diet supplement among the estimated 20 million extremely poor Mexicans who live on incomes of $1 per day or less.

In many towns, especially in southern Mexico, bugs are a regular part of the diet. In Carrillo's home of Zapotitlan de Salinas, 130 miles southeast of Mexico City, residents fry the green caterpillars called "cuchama." They sell some, though they're available only a couple of months a year and don't provide much income.

Acquired tastes

While the spicy, leggy bodies of locusts; the crusty, french-fried caterpillars; or bursting, buttery ant eggs may be an acquired taste, insect cuisine is winning converts in a variety of ways.

Consider locusts, covered in chocolate or sweet sauce, and worms, in Jell-O or clear, hard candy. Invented by biologist Juan Garcia Oviedo, they have been a big hit in test groups over the last decade.

"The kids love them," Garcia Oviedo said of the clear candy with the bug inside. "They tend to eat the candy to get at the bug to see if it's real. Once they find out it's real, they keep on eating anyway."

Seventeen-year-old student Ariel Elurdoy, waiting for a 65-cent taco at a Mexico City street stand, said he would happily try bug food. He, like many Mexicans, has eaten grasshoppers and would be willing to try the rest of the insect and worm kingdom.

"People should be open to trying these things," Elurdoy said. "They're good."




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