5 Things You Should Know About The Iconic Mezcal Worm

Rodrigo Tejeda/Flickr

Whether you’re just old enough to drink or have been at it for years, chances are you’ve heard of the worm that lives at the bottom of mezcal bottles. These days, most premium mezcal doesn’t contain a worm, but the invertebrate remains something of a cultural icon. There are lots of conflicting reports on the actual purpose of the worm. Will you get high if you eat the gusano? Why are some red and some white? And is it even a worm? Let’s take a quick look at some of these questions.

Contrary to popular belief, the worm is not actually a worm.

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Depending on the color of the critter lounging at the bottom of some mezcal bottles, the gusano is an edible caterpillar from either a moth or a butterfly. The red worm comes from larva from the Comadia redtenbacheri or Hypopta agavis moth. And the gusano blanco, the white caterpillar, transforms into the Aegiale hesperiaris butterfly — a.k.a the tequila giant skipper.

If you find yourself with snout weevil in your bottle of mezcal, you know you have a cheap product on your hands.

These worms were part of daily life for Aztecs and famers in Mexico.

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William Neuheisel/FLICKR

According to Latin American Insects and Entomology, Aztecs collecting sap from the agave were aware of the red and white varieties of the worms. They called the red variety chilocuiles and the white variety meocuili. Later, farmers and other natives began cultivating the worms for food, and even pickled a few to put in mezcal to give it a “special flavor.”

Including the worm in a mezcal bottle isn’t part of an ancient tradition.

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The practice of bottling mezcal with a worm began in 1950, when art school student-turned-mezcal maker Jacobo Lozano Paez saw a potential marketing gimmick. While the worm plays an important role in the production and flavor of mezcal, Paez likely included worms in the bottling process as a way to distinguish his brand of mezcal from others available at the time.

Other than a simple marketing technique, some people believe the worm is a way to indicate whether or not a bottle of mezcal has a high enough alcohol content. If the worm rots, then there’s not enough alcohol. If the worm stays preserved, then the mezcal is probably quality stuff.

No, eating the mezcal worm won’t do all those things they say it will.

While Paez’s inclusion of the maguey worm might have seemed like an odd marketing choice, it’s hard to deny the near-legendary status the worm has acquired over the years. Depending on who you ask, the worm has the powers of an aphrodisiac, can make you hallucinate, or will make you look hella dope in front of your friends. That last one might be true, but eating the worm won’t really accomplish anything other than making you a little drunker thanks to the alcohol it has absorbed.

In 2005, Agave farmers had to fight the Mexican government to keep the worm in mezcal.

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Over a decade ago, Mexico’s government decided it wanted to increase domestic and foreign consumer confidence in the quality of mezcal coming out of their country. In order to attain certification from the government, distillers couldn’t use the maguey worm in future mezcal production. At that time, Graciela Angeles, part owner of Mezcal Real Minero, told the San Diego Tribune, “If there is no worm, there will be no sales.” Thankfully farmers proved that the worm didn’t diminish the quality of mezcal, and so they won the right to keep their worms in mezcal. So eat it with pride!

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I Seem To Be The Only One Offended By This Mexican Theme Park In South Carolina


I Seem To Be The Only One Offended By This Mexican Theme Park In South Carolina

Instagram/ @puertoricanflagsup @jennyhodgie
CREDIT: Instagram/ @puertoricanflagsup @jennyhodgie

When you think of the term “south of the border,” you probably think of states in Mexico — you know, places that are actually south of the border. Not many people think of a Mexican theme park in South Carolina, but that is exactly what I came across on a recent road trip. This bizarre concept is a fullblown theme park with restaurants, shops, rides and a mascot named Pedro.

The idea for this huge tourist attraction came to the mind of its founder, Alan Schafer, in 1949.

This theme park technically is south of the border because it’s in South Carolina just south of the North Carolina border. However, what first began as a beer depot, according to its bio on their website, slowly grew to include a restaurant, a drive-in, a motel, multiple shops, a miniature golf course, a campsite, and so on.

It might have been a funny or cool concept 60 years ago, but in today’s political era, it doesn’t feel like a Mexican homage at all.

So why a Mexican theme? Schafer, while doing business in Mexico in the ’40s, recruited two Mexican men to help him start a theme park.

Araceli Cruz
CREDIT: Araceli Cruz

According to the site, Schafer helped two Mexican men get to the U.S. and hired them as bellhops at Schafer’s motel. Instead of calling them by their individual names, Pedro and Pancho, people just combined these names to simply Pedro. (Because why not, right? ?) So “Pedro” became like the mascot and can be seen throughout the grounds.

Most of the 175 billboards for this park can be seen up and down Interstate 95. Each one tells you how far you are from “The South of the Border.”

As the Instagram above says, the billboards are completely corny and dated and literally everywhere. According to the site, there are 175 billboards between the Virginia/North Carolina state lines. That’s a small number compared to the original 250 billboards that existed.

This place is hardly a tribute to our culture, but more like a weird fantasy of what some people think Mexico is like.

Instagram/@ itismeganjones @littleanchorboutique
CREDIT: Instagram/@
itismeganjones @littleanchorboutique

Yes, I was curious to stop and take a look but mostly because I – a Mexican-American – couldn’t believe a Mexican-themed tourist attraction existed in South Carolina.

I felt extremely uncomfortable being there mainly because I was the only real Mexican there. The whole place felt like a big fat joke, as if Mexicans are something to gawk at and laugh about.

Araceli Cruz
CREDIT: Araceli Cruz

I initially thought we could stop and have a margarita, but one look around and I honestly wanted to get out of this insane Chuck E. Cheese-like place.

I seem to be alone in thinking this place is borderline racist because other people are having a great time.

Yes, dinosaurs are also celebrities here right alongside Pedro. Why? Who knows?! Maybe because Mexicans and dinosaurs have something in common? Are we both extinct?!

And as you can see from these Instagrams, most people who love this place are NOT Mexican.

For some weird reason, The South of the Border was on this lady’s bucket list.

Apparently, taking a picture with Pedro is also a must.

The Pedro statue is what I found to be probably the most offensive.

IMO, this kind of theme park could be more relevant in a place like California or Arizona, where the Mexican culture thrives and can be celebrated in a powerful way.

Aside from the sombreros and mustaches and all the other stereotypes, what makes this downright disrespectful to me is that the Latinx population in South Carolina is 5%.

Araceli Cruz
CREDIT: Araceli Cruz

In the early ’50s, when this place was first built, the Latinx community in the area was a lot less than 5%, almost non-existent, which makes the idea of this theme park seem nothing but exploitive.

Schafer caricatured Mexican culture instead of actually celebrating it.

Araceli Cruz
CREDIT: Araceli Cruz

READ: 9 Ways I Felt At Home In South Korea

Would you visit “The South of the Border?”