The popularity of Mexican cuisine in the United States is unquestionable but one uniquely Mexican snack that hadn’t been quite as eagerly embraced are chapulines, or toasted grasshoppers.
Chapulines are small grasshoppers belonging to the sphenarium genus and have become an unexpected hit at Seattle Mariners baseball games. The insects, native to Mexico, are a specialty of the state of Oaxaca although they are widely consumed across the country. They are also considered an aphrodisiac.
In the first three games of the baseball season, a concession stand at the Mariners’ Safeco Field has sold out of the crunchy delicacies, which are seasoned with chile, lime and salt.
The stand, run by local Mexican restaurant Poquitos, sold 901 four-ounce servings at $4 a cup during the first games, which equates to around 18,000 grasshoppers. Mariners spokeswoman Rebecca Hale told ESPN that the quantity was more than what Poquitos sells in an entire year.
Poquitos owner Rich Fox told VICE Munchies that interest in chapulines had recently increased although they were on the restaurant’s menu from day one.
The increasing popularity and press coverage did not escape the attention of the Oaxaca state government.
It is now looking to take advantage of the insect’s moment in the spotlight by increasing exports to the U.S.
Jesús Rodríguez Socorro, Secretary of Economic Development, recently met with the proprietors of four local businesses to encourage them to increase their export volumes.
According to Rodríguez, chapulines are currently being exported to meet demand in the cities of Los Angeles, Houston and Seattle but shipments are also sent to Europe and other parts of Latin America.
One of the companies that has been successful with those experts is run by Humberto Sandoval and Roberto Pérez, graduates of the food-engineering program at the Technological University of the Mixteca (UTM). They produce more than 20 tonnes of high-quality chapulines per year.
“Abroad, packaged chapulines are expensive and sought-after,” the pair say. “A vacuum pack of garlic-flavored insects can sell for up to US $20.”
The entrepreneurs work with local farmers who capture the insects using mesh nets in fields where alfalfa, beans and corn are grown.
18,000+ grasshoppers pic.twitter.com/LpUUOZTHWA
— Safeco Foodie (@SafecoFieldEats) April 14, 2017
Sandoval and Pérez attribute their success to strict compliance with international food standards and say they have had no problems with U.S. Customs. Dehydration of the bugs prior to packaging, which gives them a longer shelf life, also works to the company’s advantage.
In addition, the company produces mezcal worm salt and salsas made from chipotle and poblano peppers mixed with chapulines.
Meanwhile, as supply catches up to demand, the Mariners have decided to limit sales of chapulines for the rest of the season to 312 servings per match, in honor of legendary Mariners player Edgar Martinez, whose batting average was .312.