Chapulines or grasshoppers are a local delicacy, produced and consumed in households and are a cheap source of protein. In season, chapulines are an important part of the local diet. Chapulines are even important in business, big and small, as they are sold in local markets and exported to the US. In this section the chapulin will be discussed more in depth in relation to ecology, preparation, consumption, recipes, and economics.
Julieta Ramos-Elorduy (2004) notes that Oaxacans (typically from ethnic minorities like the Zapotec) consume 85 different insects including 15 varieties of grasshoppers (Orthoptera). They mainly consume nymphs and adults of three species:
- Sphenarium histrio
- Spherarium spp.
- Sphenarium purpurascens
Chapulines consumed are harvested from milpa, maiz, and alfalfa fields. The chapulines harvested are considered to be semi-domesticated according to Enrique Martínez, an ecologist at the Instituto Tecnológico de Oaxaca, because they live on (and are typically harvested from) milpa fields. The harvest occurs during the late summer and autumn (August through December).
Chapulines are harvested in the following manner:
- The harvesting occurs early in the morning when the ground is cool and the chapulines are dormant.
- The chapulines are caught with nets in the fields (typically work done by men and younger boys).
- The harvesters work for a couple of hours and put chapulines into a bag or box.
- When it is cooler they will clean the catch (eliminate unwanted bugs, etc.)
- The chapulines will be left in a cool dark place for 2-3 days so they can clean themselves.
Chapulin as Food
After the chapulines are harvested they are prepared. The way chapulines are prepared are as follows:
- After the chapulines are clean, they are sorted by life stage, nymph or adult, and by size.
- Typically, chapulin harvested from milpa are uniform.
- Now, bring water to a boil (with garlic and herbs).
- Then add the chapulin (quickly!)
- Remove the chapulin to a comal for toasting.
- Add one of two flavors:
- Limón y sal de gusano (worm salt)
- Roasted with garlic
- Limón y sal de gusano (worm salt)
- Eat them hot with a fresh tortilla.
Since the chapulin is collected and prepared in the household, there is little or no cost. Usually eaten as tacos with salsa, the wealthier families will make fancier dishes like crema de chapulines. The Oaxacan diet is typically built around tortillas, caldos (chicken or meat stews), and vegetables.
The typical rural family spending is 100-200 pesos a day on food. Rural family spending is less during the late summer months, and more during fall and late winter.
The chapulin when broken down provides the following nutrition (Ramos-Elorduy, Julieta, and José Manuel Pino Moreno, 2004 Persistencia de Consumo de Insectos. In Biodiversidad de Oaxaca. A.J. García-Mendoza, D.J. Ordóñez, and M. Briones-Salas, eds. Pp. 565-584. México: Instituto de Biología, Universidad Nacional
Autónoma de México, Fondo Oaxaqueño para la Conservación de la Naturaleza and World Wildlife Fund.):
- 56-77% protein
- 4-11% fat
- 2-5% minerals
- 9-12% carbohydrate
Economics, Socioconomics, and Economic Anthropology
Chapulines and petty producers
- Women sell chapulines by the bagful throughout Oaxaca’s markets and this is a market that is decades old.
- Many women produce small amounts of chapulines to supplement household incomes through their sales.
- For many, this is seasonal work and parallels the sale of Tortillas.
- Chapulines do not cost much and can net a good deal of money, 20 pesos for a handful (or about 100 pesos for a kilo).
Chapulines and the market
- Vendors are able to make a very nice living from the sale of chapulines (selling by the kilo = 90-100 pesos). A vendor can earn $100 US in a day.
- Many vendors buy chapulines from producers in Puebla for resale.
- People argue that chapulines from Puebla are not good. They say that they are contaminated and should not be eaten.
Marketing Chapulines: local and international
- The high end market is also changing as chapulines are exported to the US, packaged and sold to restaurants where they are marketed as ethnic or traditional foods.
- Exports are critical for Oaxacans in the US and are a good source of income for the exporters.
- Chapulines are exported along with quesillo, tlayudas (a Oaxacan tortilla), moles, and occasionally tasajo (thin beefsteak).
There are many issues and questions to keep in mind when discussing the chapulin. Some issues to consider:
- Lead contamination and other contaminants . . .
- Federal law defining chapulines as a plague, not a food . . .
- Percentage of diet represented by chapulines . . .
- Production effort versus nutritional value . . .