Dear Straight Dope:
For what reason do they put a worm in a bottle of tequila? And why is it so cool to eat it?
Okay, first things first: If you are buying tequila with worms in it, it’s a fake. Take it back and demand a refund. The worms are only found in a particular type of mezcal, and while tequila is a type of mezcal, it’s not the type with the worm in it. The kind with the worm is known as “mezcal con gusano.” The worm itself, Hipopta agavis, lives in the stems of agave plants (the plant from which mezcal is made) and is a bright coral color. They are apparently fairly difficult to find, so some mezcal makers are replacing the true worm with a fake–the Atrovirens, a white worm which lives in the leaves of the agave plant. They are different in flavor, smell, and color, and the original is considered superior. You can easily tell the difference by color (and who knows, maybe by the taste). While the coral colored worms will become paler the longer they sit, they won’t ever become completely washed out. The worm was originally put into mezcal as proof of alcohol content, but apparently it also alters the taste of the liquor, as well as the color and smell.
As for why it’s “cool” to eat the worm, well, it used to be considered an aphrodisiac that blessed warriors with strength and virility. These days, it’s pretty much just for the kick. The alcohol kick, I mean, not the kick your friends get out of seeing you suck down a dead worm.
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