In 1623, William Shakespeare penned the famous line, “to be or not to be”, for the First Folio of Hamlet. Who knew such a simple phrase would be carried on throughout history and applied to such strange things as worms in tequila? To eat, or not to eat, the worm in the tequila bottle; that is the question.
Having read my share of Shakespeare in high school, and not understood a lick of it, I’m more preferable to the worm. But I’m sure there are plenty of lovers of the old Bard who would rather spend the long hours of the night reading soliloquies and wondering what Juliet’s real problem was. Perhaps she was imperiled because tequila was not around in 17th century Verona.
The Truth about the Tequila Worm
Before answering whether or not the worm should be added to the daily diet, we need to clear up an age-old myth. The myth in question has nothing to do with whether or not American Idol is rigged. It comes by way of the tequila bottle itself. Truth be known, real tequila comes in a worm-less bottle.
The worm is reserved for a drink known as Mezcal, which, according to some, is tequila’s big brother. But the two spirits are entirely different. Tequila is distilled from any number of natural Mexican plants and can bear the name as long as the finished product consists of at least 51% agave. Mezcal must be 100% agave.
Some argue that Mezcal is a form of tequila; others argue in the opposite direction. But let’s be honest, it doesn’t matter. They’re both alcoholic beverages brought to us by the fine people of Mexico.
Origins of the Worm
It’s difficult to say where the practice of the worm in Mezcal got started. The most noble explanation is that the worm, which had previously been pickled, was put inside the bottle as a demonstration of how pure the Mezcal was. Its purity and high alcohol content preserved the worm rather than allowing it to decompose. Formaldehyde does the same thing, if you’re interested.
The more plausible explanation, and the one I believe, is that a group of Mexican liquor producers wanted to take advantage of gullible gringos in the North who already believed in the legendary power of the gusano worm as an aphrodisiac. By putting the worm in their bottles of Mezcal, they were able to sell more product to American drinkers who couldn’t tell the difference between genuine Mezcal and tequila if their lives depended on it.
The earliest record of the worm appearing in American liquor bottles dates back to the 1940s or 1950s. Believe it or not, Americans still believe the legend of the gusano worm. In some circles the legend has taken on a life of its own, to the point where some people believe consuming the worm increases your state of drunkenness and/or makes you hallucinate.
Perhaps that was Juliet’s problem. Perhaps Romeo had slipped her a bit of worm-laden grog that sent them both over the edge in a Timothy Learyesque trip, which led to their untimely demise.
Tastes like Chicken
In some circles, eating the worm at the bottom of a Mezcal bottle is a rite of passage. If that’s something you’re inclined to do, you have several options. You can swallow it whole, chew on it like a very earthy gummy bear, or really enjoy the favor by letting it slowly disintegrate in your mouth as though it were a piece of fine chocolate.
If you’re choosing Door Number Three, be sure to keep your mouth closed until said worm has been completely broken down into its molecular components and traveled the distance down your throat to your gullet. The rest of us really don’t want to know.
Should hallucinations follow your consumption of the mighty gusano, it might be fun to see. Just warn the rest of the group before you imbibe so they can be prepared for the adventure. No need for your friends and co-workers to believe you’re a swarthy beatnik with no self-control.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, no one knows if the worm taste like chicken. Should you decide to consume it, do us a favor: chew it the first time and report to us what it tastes like. Not that we care; none of us are about to follow in your footsteps.
Try the Scorpion
According to Caballeros Inc., a Mexican producer of Mezcal and other assorted alcoholic concoctions, “worms are for wimps.” Their founder decided to dispense with the worm and replace it with a genuine scorpion. Yes, my friends, you did read correctly.
When you purchase a bottle of their Scorpion Mezcal, you get a real, pickled, predatory arthropod right in your very own bottle. Don’t worry–the stinger and the poison have been removed for your dining pleasure. Caballeros says Scorpion Mezcal is even FDA approved.
It’s been said that in the event of nuclear proliferation only the cockroaches will survive. If that ever happens we’ll have to start putting them in bottles of Jack Daniels and exporting them to Mexico.