Zompopos de Mayo: Insect (and Food!?) of Latin America
Have you heard of zompopos de mayo? Zompopos are giant-winged Guatemalan leaf-cutter ants. They emerge from the ground in May.
In the Mayan language, “zonm” means ant and “popo” means big. These big ants grow up to 2 centimeters long. Their giant colonies extend up to 200 square meters and host millions of ants.
And if you think ants aren’t edible, you’re seriously mistaken! In Guatemala and El Salvador, many locals love to eat them.
Let’s meet the zompopos de mayo and learn fascinating facts about why people eat them, where they live, and how popular they are. Keep reading to find out all about these fascinating ants!
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The History of Edible Insects
The human diet has long included edible insects. Today, an estimated 2 billion people eat them regularly!
In many tropical countries, insects are delicacies. But in many cultures the barrier to eating insects is consumer disgust. This is when we can see what a big impact our cultures have on us. Maybe if we’d eaten edible insects at a young age, we’d feel differently.
Benefits of Edible Insects
According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), insects are high in protein, fat, and minerals. People eat some insects whole and others in the form of a powder or paste alongside other foods.
The FAO believes that farming insects for human consumption is relevant in 2021, given the high index of hunger around the world.
That’s why it’s common to find these edible insects in different countries throughout Latin America. Many people try them because they’re curious to eat insects, but others do it out of necessity and hunger.
So, the next time you’re in Guatemala, Mexico, or El Salvador, try these edible insects!
If you’re wondering how to prepare them or how people prepare them, they’re usually cooked with butter, salt, and lime. Put them in a tortilla and enjoy your zompopos de mayo taco. Add guacamole, tomatoes, peppers, and onions as you like.
People also enjoy them in El Salvador. In Mexico, the insects they eat are chapulines.
In 2021, people continue to eat zompopos de mayo. At el mercado (the market) in Guatemala, visitors can buy zompopos as a unique and crunchy snack.
Interesting Facts about Zompopos
People love to eat these little insects. Those who have tried them say they are delicious and buttery. Others say they taste like chicharrones (pork rinds).
Zompopo ants are used in fights.
The zompopos that locals eat are the females, called queens. Guatemalan kids collect and take these zompopo queens to school to fight with other zompopo ants. This is purely for entertainment. Apparently, zompopo queens are ferocious because they’re in search of new dwellings to build their own colonies.
Zompopos de Mayo are queens.
Zompopo queens are “Mayan caviar” because the edible parts that are removed from the zompopos are loaded with eggs. The zompopo queen ant’s eggs are the equivalent of the roe of fish. You won’t just be eating the zompopo queen but her eggs as well; that’s why they have so much protein.
Zompopo ants are disappearing.
Sadly, zompopo queens are disappearing and have become nonexistent in many parts of Guatemala where they were once abundant. This could be due to excessive human consumption or climate change.
Without zompopo queens, fewer colonies are built. If the zompopos de mayo disappear, it could be an ecological catastrophe.
Zompopos aren’t only found in May.
Even though you see zompopos flying around in May and people do harvest them in May, they are underground throughout the rest of the year. Queen zompopos just come out in May to colonize.
Zompopo queens are zompopos de mayo, while male zompopo ants are zompopos comunes (ordinary zompopo ants).
The zompopos de mayo come out of the ground to find new fertile territories for new colonies. The zompopo queens are the only ones with wings. They fly as far as needed to continue to procreate.
Leaf cutter ants’ busy season is in May, and that’s why they’re called zompopos de Mayo. In Guatemala, zompopos emerge during the rainy season in May and early June.
Zompopos de Mayo: An Exotic Delicacy
Zompopos de mayo is a traditional Guatemalan dish of leaf-cutter ants. They’re the only insects that people consume in Guatemala. Once they’re prepared, they look a lot like whole beans.
Zompopos de mayo typically swarm for a few days in mid-May, at the start of the annual rainy season. The rest of the year they hide, so people take advantage and harvest and roast the ants on a comal (skillet) in May.
The zompopos de Mayo are a unique aspect of Guatemalan cuisine. Many consider them to be an exotic delicacy. People in Guatemala even call them Guatemalan caviar and chefs prepare them in May. Some add chile cobanero to give it an extra spice.
The real reason why people started to eat them in Guatemala was out of necessity. There was a shortage of food in some villages, and that’s where the idea came from. The zompopos de Mayo contain about 60% protein and 10% carbohydrates, which makes them a nutritious alternative to meat. They’re also easier and faster to prepare than red meat.
Learn Spanish with Food
Are you ready to step out of your comfort zone and try zompopos de Mayo when you’re in Guatemala? Using food to learn Spanish is an excellent way to make the process fun! Traveling expands your experience and introduces you to new ideas and activities.
Whether you plan to travel or not, learning Spanish is a brilliant idea. In the United States alone, approximately 53 million people speak Spanish. (Did you know that the U.S. is the second-largest Spanish speaking country in the world?)
By learning Spanish, you will have the capability to find better jobs and travel to incredible Spanish-speaking countries. Sign up for a free trial class with one of our friendly, certified teachers from Guatemala today. Let Homeschool Spanish Academy help you reach your Spanish-speaking goals!
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