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The world is ripe with unique cultures and backgrounds, so much so that it is difficult to learn everything there is to know. When trying to learn about another countries culture, many people will delve into their cuisine and see what they eat. For the most part, this plays out fine as a lot of countries have food that is popular globally such as Italy and their pasta dishes, or Korea and the increasingly popular Korean barbeque. With that in mind, some places around the world have culinary delicacies that are not really found anywhere else. Some of them have religious meaning behind them while other delicacies are the result of a tradition. One of the more common delicacies found in some countries are bugs, such as the Columbian delicacy known as hormigas culonas which is dried and edible leafcutter ants.
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What Are Hormigas Culonas?
Hormigas culonas, officially known as atta laevigata, are a delicacy that originates in Santander, Colombia, and are leafcutter ants that have been roasted until crispy and seasoned with salt. Culonas is Colombian slang for something that has a large behind, which is why this delicacy can also be known as ‘big-bottomed ants’ or ‘big-ass ants’.
The leafcutter ants are rather difficult to collect as there are only a few weeks in the year that suits harvesting them. These weeks are found in April and May when it is most likely to be rainy. Despite being edible insects, they are surprisingly not cheap and can even be found in gourmet restaurants around the country. While they make a great snack and also act as an aphrodisiac, restaurants and diners can make them into a relatively fancy meal that can be served at either lunch or dinner.
Hormigas Culonas Nutritional Value
The people of Santander haven’t been eating ants for all these years for no reason, the health benefits and nutritional value of hormigas culonas is really surprising. The ants are very high in protein, vitamins, and minerals which make them a brilliant snack. Not only are they high in protein, but they also contain iron, calcium, fiber, and fat. Hormigas culonas also have high amounts of vitamin B and have been linked to the prevention of high cholesterol. There is saturated fat in the Colombian ants as well, and they possess aphrodisiac qualities which make them even more popular.
Where Are Hormigas Culonas Found?
These big-bottomed ants are distinguished from other ant species thanks to the smooth and shining head they have attached to their relatively large body. They are most commonly found in the rainy season and Colombian farmers will sell them when they are easily found. While they are originally harvested all over Santander, the town of Barichara has become notorious for selling them. Many street vendors, shops, and restaurants sell them in many different ways. Some of them will sell live ants, while others will sell them after they have been deep-fried and salted. Some upscale restaurants will also include fried ants in their gourmet dishes.
What Do Hormigas Culonas Taste Like?
While their flavor will differ depending on how they are prepared, almost all hormigas culonas are soaked in salted water before being cooked. This leads to them having a subtle salty flavor even after they have been cooked. There is a small dose of formic acid found in them which can be neutralized by boiling them. However, some people enjoy the slight tang and zest that the acid brings to the ants and will happily eat them without boiling them.
You can also expect the ants to have fatty and nutty flavors no matter how they are prepared. Some people will choose to deep fry the ants, which can lead to a smoky flavor similar to that of bacon. Like most edible insects, there will not be too much of a unique taste to them which is why it is important they are properly flavored during the cooking process. To do this, a lot of people season them with salt.
It is best to cook hormigas culonas while they are fresh and to keep them alive for as long as possible before cooking them. This is because once they die, the flavor will start to turn bitter and keep getting more bitter as time moves on. To ensure they are as delicious as possible, they are best kept alive until moments before being cooked.
How To Prepare Hormigas Culonas
Preparing and cooking the big-bottomed ants is thankfully not too difficult and can be done by almost anyone whether they are a pro in the kitchen, or just looking to have some culinary fun. While each recipe related to them will differ, the main ingredients you need for this healthy snack are;
- Hormigas Culonas
- Your Preffered Oil
- Seasonings of your choosing
Before you cook them, you will want to prepare the ants a bit to ensure they are ready for eating and will not cause any issues. By this, I am talking about their wings and legs which can prove to get stuck between your teeth similar to the shells of popcorn.
To start off you will want to separate the wings and legs from the ants. They are pretty easy to pull off and can be done so with your bare hands. After this, you will want to clean the ants by rinsing them with water. This can be done by placing them in a sieve and just putting them under the faucet while tossing occasionally to be thorough.
Once your bugs are legless, wingless, and thoroughly rinsed, you can soak them in salted water for 30 minutes in the fridge. A couple of tablespoons of salt should do the trick although you can opt to use three if you want to. After they have been soaked, you can decide on how you want to cook them. Your two options are to either deep fry them as they are, or boil them first to get rid of the formic acid that will bitterly flavor them.
If you choose to boil the ants, they only need to be boiled for a minute or two. This will neutralize the acid and remove the bitter tang that they would naturally have. If you boiled them or not, you want to drain the water from the ants and dry them with a paper towel. This can be done by leaving them on a few sheets of paper towels and letting them naturally drain, or by patting them.
Once your ants have been drained and dried, you can separate them into equal portions. The portions are so that frying them is easier as if you fry them all at once it might be a bit overwhelming. A couple of handfuls at a time is a nice benchmark as long as your pan or deep fryer can accommodate it.
To deep-fry your ants, you will want to fill a pan or deep fryer with enough oil to fully submerge them. The oil can be anything of your choosing. Peanut oil will slightly flavor the ants which can be nice, but as long as you know the oil works and you are not allergic to it, you can use it. Heat the oil to approximately 350 degrees F and deep-fry each batch of ants for two to three minutes until they are fully cooked and crunchy.
To remove them from the pan, you can use a slotted spoon or tongs. Place your ants on a plate lined with a few sheets of paper towels to soak up any excess oil. Once the oil has been soaked up, you can either transfer them to a bowl or another plate or leave them where they are.
Now that you have fully cooked and crunchy ants ready for snacking on, you can season them. Flakey sea salt works wonders but anything you can think of will most likely work as well. If you really want to use salt and pepper on them, go for it. If paprika is the only seasoning you have, go nuts and use that instead. These ants can also be used as a topping for pizza if you are feeling adventurous.