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Your future meal might be grasshoppers

Episode Summary

Eating grasshoppers is suddenly a trend. In Mexico, it's a tradition that dates back centuries. We go visit grasshopper hunters who make a living off of it

Episode Notes

Grasshopper hunting has been going on in Mexico for thousands of years, but lately eating them has gained wider acceptance. Consumption of the jumpy little protein-packed insects is booming, and more and more restaurants are putting them on the menu ... and not just in Mexico.

Today, chapulines, the world of harvesting and eating grasshoppers in Mexico. Read the full transcript here.

Host: Gustavo Arellano

Guests: L.A. Times Latin America correspondent Leila Miller

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Episode Transcription

This is an unedited transcript. We apologize for the mistakes. A corrected transcript is coming soon.


Gustavo: In Mexico's Valley, a group of grasshopper hunters is walking through an open field with big two handled nets in hand.

Leila: Me puedes explicar un poco, o sea, cuál es la técnica?

Felipe: Pues mira este.

Gustavo: What you're hearing is a sound of a crunchy, salty snack.

Felipe: Agarré de un lado. Okey, solamente como como dos,

Felipe: sí, quería, sí, atrás,

Felipe: cómo dos veces cada lado.

Gustavo: Grasshopper Hunting has been going on in Mexico for thousands of years, but only recently has eating them gained widespread acceptance today.

Gustavo: Consumption of the jumpy little protein-packed insects is booming, and more and more restaurants are putting them on the menu... and not just in Mexico.

Gustavo: I'm Gustavo Arellano. You're listening to The Times Essential News from the LA Times. It's Wednesday November 23rd 2022

Gustavo: Today, chapulines, the world of harvesting and eating grasshoppers in Mexico.

Gustavo: Leila Miller is a foreign correspondent for the Los Angeles Times based in Mexico City. Leila, welcome to times

Leila: Thanks so much, Gustavo.

Gustavo: so grasshopper hunting. Where'd you go? What'd you see? How was the sound?

Leila: So I went to Mexico's Puebla Tlaxcala Valley, which is about two hours away by car from Mexico city. And the idea was to follow grasshopper hunters as they were going out at night a couple hours before sunrise, because that's when the grasshoppers are less jumpy.

Felipe: Los chicos chis ab Ricardo también.

Felipe: Ahí está . Ricardo, ven por acá. Ricardo tiene más de 10, mi amigo

Leila: I met a group of hunters right outside a gas station before they were ready to go.

Leila: 10 chapulines? no, mucho más que eso!

Felipe: Oliver y este

Leila: su nombre. Cómo es marino? Okey. Y Ricardo. Y también Daniel también era ya incorporando los niños y están de vacaciones.

Gustavo: If I know my poblanos, they were probably making jokes and getting all ready to have fun.

Leila: Yeah, They were, smoking some cigarettes.

Felipe: Todo, estamos juntos y ya este cada quién se va por diferentes lados.

Leila: There was just a lot of energy in the air, even though they do this every night.

Leila: They're friends, they're family. It's exhilarating.

Gustavo: So how does the process go? Because I don't know, grasshoppers jump a lot and they're tiny. Are they the grasshopper hunters on their hands and knees? Are they chasing them down like Bugs Bunny or something like how does it happen?

Leila: They're moving pretty fast. They're wearing headlamps and just speed through these fields. because they wanna catch as many grasshoppers as possible,

Leila: And they're swinging these large green rectangular nets from side to side, and it's all, very quiet at night, except for this whooshing sound and the crunch of the leaves.

Leila: And the nets get pretty heavy with pounds of grasshoppers. So every, maybe 20 minutes, they'll transfer some of the grasshoppers that are in the net to backpacks, small backpacks that they're wearing.

Gustavo: There's really that many grasshoppers that they catch to where a net gets heavy?

Leila: There are, yeah. And you can tell if you're in an area with grasshoppers because the leaves on the plants will have some holes in them because the grasshoppers were munching on them.

Gustavo: Wow, that's really cool.

Leila: One of the guys that we were following was Felipe Garcia. He's from the area and he will pay grasshopper hunters for their grasshoppers so that he can then sell them.

Leila: Ah, okay. Porque donde se van los otros, los campos no son hechos?  


Leila:Y no tienen peristas no hasta así nomás. Igual ahorita.

Leila: Felipe told me that very often grasshopper hunters will be hunting on private land. Sometimes they'll have permission from the owners, sometimes they won't.

Felipe: Aquí no se enojan porque es por la hierba corta. Pero en otros lado, sin son hectáreas de alfalfa, y como todo, pues uno se enoja,

Gustavo: What they're trying to harvest their own grasshoppers. Why would they get mad if someone catches grasshoppers?

Leila: Sometimes owners are happy to have some help getting rid of the insects, but others can get really mad if the hunters are stepping on their produce.

Felipe: pues llegamos nosotros con las redes y pus la aplastamos toda entonces.

Felipe: Nos asustan así con tiros al aire. Eso pasa mucho que la hacen tiros al aire.

Leila: He said that some people even fire warning shots into the air when they see the hunters.

Gustavo: But can grasshopper hunters really make a living this way?

Leila: Yeah they can. Many families in the towns in the Valley dedicate themselves to this work during grasshopper season. Spring to the early winter, and grasshoppers aren't so cheap in Mexico.  You can, pay $12 for about two pounds. So they do say that it is worth it.

Gustavo: You knwo to complete the life cycle of the culinary grasshopper, you ended up going to Mexico City and talking to people, tourists actually who are eating them.

Leila: What did you think of the hamburger with the chapulines

Tourist: Well I only had the cricket on its own and it was a little salty. A little bowl of crickets that were cooked, roasted a little,

Leila: Yeah, I wanted to talk to some people who had never tried grasshoppers before,

Leila: oK: and was that your first time eating an insect?

Tourist: I think so.

Leila: And also people who eat them, pretty regularly. I talked to one couple who said he and his wife always eat them with pasta. they love, pasta dishes and they think it adds some flavor. Yeah, it seemed to something people like to eat

Gustavo: More after the break.

Gustavo: So Leila, I've eaten Chapulines for a while cause I like Oaxacan food and that's a delicacy to them. And I try to describe the flavor to folks as, you know those small little dried shrimp, or actually I don't think most people know cause they think only Mexican uncles eat them nowadays.

Gustavo: But that's how it tastes to me. It's like crunchy, briny, salty, and good. But if you don't like crunchy, salty and briny, then you're not gonna like 'em. So I've always known it as a working class snack, but seeing them in higher end restaurants in recent years, even up here in the United States, that's a trip to me. So what's the history of Chapulines as food?

Leila: Chapulines have been eaten in Mexico, along with other insects like maguey worms and ant eggs for hundreds of years.

Leila: They were eaten by Mexico's indigenous people because they're a great source of protein. And about 10 or 15 years ago, more chefs in Mexico and Mexico City started to introduce them into their restaurants and it started happening as Mexican entomologists began publishing research about the environmental and health benefits of eating grasshoppers.

Gustavo: Is there like a grand champion for // trying to get more people to eat more chapulines, more grasshoppers?

Leila: There, Yeah, there certainly are some. I met this really interesting guy in Oaxaca. He calls himself an insect investigator.

Gustavo: I'm sure in Spanish it sounds better. Like el investigador…

Leila: Yeah, el Investigador de insectos, maybe.

Leila: And his job is basically to go around Oaxaca and find new insects to sell at the restaurant where he works.

Gustavo: And what does he say about demand for it?

Leila: His restaurant is really focused on people who want to try new insects and he agrees that there is increased demand for grasshoppers in particular.

Restaurateur: Productos que que representan a Oaxaca los chapulines . Entonces

Leila: part of what got him looking into all these different kinds of insects people could eat is that he went to this conference and met an entomologist

Restaurateur: fuimos a a la ciudad de México a una expo. En ese evento estuvo un biólogo e investigador de insectos.

and the entomologist started telling him.... More than a hundred different types of insects are eaten in Oaxaca 

Restaurateur:en el mundo se consumen 530 insectos en todo el mundo, sobre todo áfrica, china, Asia y Amé consumen 530

Leila: so that's what propelled this journey to look for new insects. And bring them to people's plates. One of his favorites is this large locust that he found that he says is absolutely delicious.

Restaurateur: Es una chinche y cuando produce sabor, sabía entre pues un sabor muy rico, estaría así como esto, como entre cilantro y menta...

Leila: He found another bug that he said tastes like cilantro and mint.

Gustavo: Oh damn.

Leila: Yeah. I think there's a lot of excitement about trying new bugs. It's not for everyone but there seems to be a market for it.

Gustavo: And the industry itself, is it still like family- run? Is it bigger companies who are now growing these chapulines like in factories? Like how is it playing out so far?

Leila: So from what I could tell the chapulines or grasshoppers are caught by families. And then these families will sometimes sell them to a few companies that then turn the grasshoppers into products like grasshopper salt or dried grasshoppers, and those are then sold to restaurants or just anyone.

Leila: No one I talked to said that it would be accurate to say there's a grasshopper industry because that I think implies that there's huge companies doing this work and that there's regulation. But in Mexico, actually, there's no regulation around grasshoppers.

Leila: It's something that many people are trying to change.

Gustavo: The only reason I say that is because here in Southern California, you turn on the local news and you'll see Oh yeah, Grasshopper eating is totally cool now. And you'll see entrepreneurs trying to make grasshoppers and other edible insects the next big thing, so they’re breeding them in warehouses. And part of me thinks isn't it better to get 'em organic from nature?

Leila: Grasshoppers in Mexico are this area that many entrepreneurs are curious about and are trying to look for different ways to get into the market and maybe change the market.

Gustavo: What does it take to get a grasshopper from the field to a fancy restaurant // like in Mexico City or other places?

Leila: It takes a lot of physical work. After I followed the grasshopper hunters in the Puebla Tlaxcala Valley, I accompanied Felipe to his home where his family, his mom his siblings all spent the day working to prepare these grasshoppers.

Cruz: estes son sesenta kilos , así se prepara todo se limpia sí, ya no salen los 60. Sí, sí, ya salen 30.

Cruz: como ahorita está en bolsa con un arma? Ese o no más? Se llama su más grande? Sí, se hace sí, pa que se quede la yerba torada o y traía pu chapulín,

Leila: so they first sifted-- this preliminary sifting through of the grasshoppers where they, took out leaves and frogs and anything that wasn't grasshopper,

Cruz: y ahí se daba en tinas con harta agua.

Leila: and then they poured several pounds into a boiling. pot of water. They added salt, lemon juice.

Cruz: Okey, se escurra otra vez con estas voladeras. Okey que está escurrido ya se echa en la okey con su caldo de limón con caldo de okey y su sangre y. Sus cejas. Estar cocinando quemado 20 minutos se baja, se pone a enfriar y otra vez se sube

Leila: After about 10 minutes, the grasshoppers had turned from green to a reddish color. And after that let the grasshoppers dry in the sun. And then they spread them on a table and just spent hours picking through the grasshoppers by hand and taking out again, anything that,, wasn't grasshopper.

Gustavo: And then after that, what do they do?

Leila: The day that I was with them, the family was particularly hurried because that night at about 10:30 PM they were going to get on a bus with their grasshoppers and. Drive about five hours to to the state of Oaxaca, which is next to Puebla. They got on this bus with a bunch of other people who have also been catching and preparing grasshoppers to sell.

Gustavo: And where exactly that bus is going after the break.

Gustavo: So Leila the people you were hanging out with, they got on this bus full of grasshoppers, hundreds of pounds worth on the way to the city of Oaxaca. Where are they specifically going to?

Leila:  We were all going to the mercado central de Abastos which is near a large bus terminal in Oaxaca City and we get to this huge outdoor market at about five in the morning, and it's all dark. The vendors are just starting to get there. And the grasshopper sellers, they're called chapulineros or chapulineras in Spanish. They were covered in blankets cuz it was really cold. And they make their way deep into this market and they start setting up their bags of grasshoppers, of chapulines in a long line. When customers come in, they can just go from one vendor to another. 

At the Market: porque aqui hay muchas de Puebla que vienen a vender 

Leila: So they just set up and then They waited. They waited for the first people to come.

Gustavo: So are there any figures of how many chapulines are sold per year in Mexico?

Leila: It's really hard to know. I met a entomologist. Who told me that based on this study on research he did from 2010, there are about 200 tons of grasshoppers that are sold in the Puebla Tlaxcala Valley every year.

Leila: It's hard to know, but I spoke to a researcher who's done a lot of work on grasshoppers, and he told me that in the Puebla Tlaxcala Valley, which is really known for harvesting and hunting grasshoppers.

Leila: There's about 200 tons of grasshoppers that are harvested every year . But we really don't know for sure. We just have projections.

Leila: So I think the future of grasshoppers, or at least immediate, the immediate future of grasshoppers looks pretty bright in Mexico. More more chefs, more entrepreneurs, or finding creative ways to sell them to the public.

At the market: Ese son no, ese es un taco negro. Esos son ACO. Esos son de chilaquile

Leila: I visited a restaurant in Mexico City where they sold Grasshopper Pizza. At other restaurants, they sell grasshopper hamburgers where they throw in some hamburgers with the grasshopper meat. And many people who eat grasshoppers will also eat other kinds of insects. So one restaurant I visited in Mexico City’s Condesa neighborhood.

Restaurant: Esos son una chinches que salen del árbol de mezquite.

Family:  Guau. Esos eran unos escarabajos. 

Restaurant :Ajá de delicioso.

Leila: ...this family had just ordered all the insects on the menu....

Restaurant:  el de cocopache, 

Family: pero traía alguna fruta? 

Leila: the restaurant was having this insect special, and they ordered grasshoppers and stink bugs.

Restaurant: esta buenisimo esa…

Leila: El mismo también pidieron esto.

Restaurant: Ajá. Este el chapulín está eh? Picado lo hacen en una mezcla con el …

Leila: The only. Dish that they didn't order was an ant egg dish because they said they were just too expensive. Ant Eggs are known as caviar in Mexico

Gustavo: Escamoles?

Leila: Yes.

Family: Fíjate cuánto cuesta. Los estales por eso no los pedí. 


MXN $625. 


de uno se 100, o sea, 100 gramos escamo en MXN $5,

Gustavo: Yeah, no, Those are super good. But yeah, pricey

Family: capitalismo comparado con el taco, este negro que cuesta la tercera parte y además tiene por peli. 

Gustavo:Why are people ordering them though? Do they see it cuz it's trendy? Do they see it because it's good or is there other reasons?

Leila: A lot of people grew up just eating. Grasshoppers and and they like them. They like the taste. Some people, particularly tourists, have never tried them before and they're really curious. I think it's just a mix of reasons.

Gustavo: One of the things that I see about grasshopper consumption is this idea that it's more sustainable than like eating beef or eating other types of meat. So can this grasshopper eating have a significant impact on climate change?

Leila: I think the point that scientists stress is that eating meat is not great for the environment and for climate change because cows produce methane, which is a greenhouse gas, and grasshoppers just don't produce nearly as much as much pollution. So I think, scientists say that they are a good option if people can get the protein that they need from them.

Leila: I had to try a grasshopper for this story, and I never, I don't think I would've tried one otherwise, but it wasn't as it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.

Gustavo: They're better than that. Leila. Leila, thank you so much for this conversation.

Leila: Thanks, Gustavo

Gustavo: And that's it for this episode of The Times Essential News from the LA Times. Rowan Moore Gerety and Jazmin Aguilera were the jefes on this episode, and Mario Diaz mixed and mastered it.

Gustavo: Our show is produced by Shannon Lin, Denise Guerra, Kasia Broussalian, David Toledo and Ashlea Brown. Our editorial assistant is Madalyn Amato. Our engineers are Mario Diaz, Mark Nieto and Mike Heflin. Our editor is Kinsee Morlan. Our executive producers are Jazmín Aguilera, Shani Hilton and Heba Elorbany. And our theme music is by Andrew Eapen.

Gustavo: I'm Gustavo Arellano. We'll be back next week with all the news and desmadre. Gracias.

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