HomeIdeaAhuahutle, the 'Mexican caviar' from insects of the Aztec tradition

Ahuahutle, the 'Mexican caviar' from insects of the Aztec tradition

Ahuahutle, the 'Mexican caviar' obtained from insects, is a traditional Aztec food that is in danger of disappearing. To protect this and other pre-industrial and pre-Hispanic foods, al FAO World Food Forum - 15-16.10.22 - various indigenous groups have spoken out on the importance of creating platforms that make people understand the traditional diet and food systems of indigenous groups around the world.

Ahuahutle, the 'Mexican caviar' dear to the natives

The natives they declare themselves protectors of the earth's resources. They took the ingredients from their environment to create their traditional food systems, always with respect and gratitude towards nature and with recycling practices that today we call the circular economy.

So much to know on sustainable food traditions needs to be preserved and passed on to young people. Instead, it risks becoming extinct, as is happening in the Central Valley of Mexico, with the cultivation of the eggs of an aquatic bug (1), called 'ahuahutle'in the ancient Aztec language Nahuatl, that is to say 'water amaranth' (amaranth is a plant native to Mexico similar to quinoa which is a fundamental part of traditional gastronomy).

An Aztec legacy

The few people who try to keep this culinary tradition alive, raise 'Mexican caviar' in the few remaining basins of Lake Texcoco, where 500 years ago was Tenochtitlàn, one of the most prosperous cities in Mesoamerica, and where the Aztecs, a people with a large entomological tradition (2).

In the rainy season, between June and September, the farmers put bunches of grass in the water where the water bug lays its eggs.

After 12-14 days, begins the collection. With the help of salvaged tools - pieces of wood, nets, tires, etc. - the farmers take the grass out of the water and put it to dry in the sun for 4-7 days. After drying, they remove the eggs. With rudimentary techniques they obtain a food that once served as an important ingredient to feed an entire city.

A tradition overwhelmed by 'progress'

Before 1492 on the American continent there were no large farmed mammals and one of the main sources of protein was insects. Over time traditional diets have been lost or changed as a result of the interaction between different cultures.

Today the pre-Hispanic culinary tradition is at risk of extinction. The change is the logical consequence of the history of conquest lived in America. On the other hand, it is unacceptable if global food systems based on ultra-processed foods, responsible for public health problems (30), unsustainable diets (3) and food waste, are replacing food systems based on traditional local ingredients.

One of the main reasons why the traditional diet of many peoples in the world is being lost is that the consumption of these foods is discouraged, presented as the food of the poor, the ignorant, and the consumption of ultra-processed foods is encouraged.

Insects, sustainable development e novel foods

The sustainable development goals (Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs) in food systems can be achieved while respecting the food cultures and traditions of the populations. Which, in Mexico, are also rooted in the consumption of several hundred species of insects, as we have seen. (1) And it is useful to integrate these traditions with modern food science and technology, to ensure safety and increase where possible the shelf life products.

Placing the 'Mexican caviar' on the European market in any case postulates its authorization as'novel foods', albeit through the simplified procedure provided for by reg. EU 2015/2283 for traditional foods from third countries. Our FARE team is available to assist operators who intend to tackle this path.

Isis Consuelo Sanlucar Chirinos and Dario Dongo


(1) Dario Dongo. Entomophagy tradition in Mexico, 530 species of insects at the table. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 5.8.22

(2) Fabiola Sanchez. In Mexico locals try to save traditional Mexican caviar. The Washington Post. 10.10.22

(3) Dario Dongo, Andrea Adelmo Della Penna. Ultraprocessed foods, the worst evil. Appeal of scientists in the British Medical Journal. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 16.8.21

(4) Dario Dongo. Ultraprocessed foods. Carbon footprint and water footprint. The study in Brazil. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade). 27.02.2022

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Graduated in food engineering at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, she is attending the master's degree in 'Food Safety Lawyer and Consultant' at Alma Mater, University of Bologna.

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.

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