While tasting Mezcal Vago with Judah Kuper recently he mentioned that he’s importing Gran Mitla, a specialty sal de gusano from Mitla, southeast of Oaxaca. Mitla is most well known as an amazing Zapotec archeological site but it’s also smack dab in the middle of roads leading into the hills where some amazing mezcal is made.

Gran Mitla is impressive for so many reasons, first off it’s just great to find sal de gusano available in the US because it’s such an important component of drinking mezcal. In the past it’s been so elusive that our only source was toting bags back from Oaxaca or goading friends into doing it for us. But Gran Mitla offers much more because it’s a distinct interpretation of the traditional sal de gusano. Most interpretations in Oaxaca are red and finely ground while Gran Mitla’s version uses a very dark red/brown pepper mixed with large crystals of salt and gusano which crunch in your mouth while imparting a truly distinct flavor. Dare I say it but craft sal de gusano has made the scene.

Recently I chatted with Grant Mitla’s creator Ricardo Acosta over email about what goes into Gran Mitla. First, it really is what we in North America define as a craft or artisanal product, in Mexico it’s a traditional product. They only use three ingredients, all hand harvested: Organic sea salt from Colima, red agave worms, and the Costeño Pepper which is endemic to Oaxaca.

Ricardo was inspired by a long held family recipe that his grandmother kept alive and passed onto his generation. The production process is pretty impressive, per Ricardo, the “agave worm is hand selected by taking the agave plant out of the earth and cleaning its roots, which are full of these worms.” They harvest exclusively from Espadin and Ricardo wanted to be clear that the entire process is sustainable. “It is important that after cleaning the plant roots, the agave is taken back to its place without any harm, so it keeps growing normally.” They also only harvest fully adult worms which have to be at least one year old. The age matters in developing a full flavor.

Adult agave harvested for Gran Mitla sal de gusano. Courtesy of Gran Mitla

Adult agave harvested for Gran Mitla sal de gusano. Courtesy of Gran Mitla

Then they take the adult worms and leave them to die and dry in the sun, then they’re toasted, ground up with the dried peppers, and ultimately mixed with the salt. Per Ricardo “The result is the best agave worm salt in Mexico and the world.”

I’ve found it locally at La Urbana in San Francisco but you can order it in the United States through Mezcal Vago’s web site or in Mexico through Gran Mitla’s web site and the big Mexican liquor store La Europea. As Ricardo was quick to remind me Gran Mitla and sal de gusano in general has far more uses than as an accompaniment to mezcal. It’s a fantastic spice that works well with all sorts of foods so try dusting your next mixed seafood grill with some or use it on the table like salt to give your dishes a salty umami charge.

(Photo courtesy of Ricardo Acosta)