Grasshoppers, the New Protein Jumping Out of Oaxacan Restaurant Cultura

In a small California beach city known as Carmel-by-the-Sea, Chef John Cox and partner Sarah Kabat-Marcy are bringing a little taste of Oaxaca, Mexico, to their restaurant, Cultura Comida y Bebida. John and Sarah met while working together at Post Ranch Inn’s Sierra Mar restaurant. Their shared love of Oaxacan and other Mexican flavors has translated into a tasty menu of food and drink, some of which use alternative proteins like chapulines.

What are chapulines? Grasshoppers! In an era of increased environmental awareness, Cox wants to teach his community about alternative proteins and how delicious they can be.

“When you look at something like beef that takes two years to produce, it takes tons — literally tons — of feed for every pound of meat that we’re getting, and then you look at crickets or grasshoppers. It’s the same protein content, its higher iron and calcium. This is almost an inevitable shift in the way that we eat as a culture,” he said.

Chapulines are commonly eaten in Mexico after being toasted on a comal (a clay cooking surface) with lime juice, chili, and salt.

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Another alternative protein the partners play with is Sal de Gusano or worm salt. Sal de Gusano is made from the larvae of a moth that lives in an Agave plant. After the moth larvae are harvested, they are comal toasted and ground up with chiles and salts to produce an earthy, spicy, and umami flavor. This salt is then served as an accouterment to Mezcal, along with oranges and some more chapulines.  

“You can either sprinkle a little over the orange and have a bite between sips, or dip your finger in the salt and taste the salt between sips as well,” Kabat-Marcy said, explaining that there is no right way to enjoy the Sal de Gusano with Mezcal.

“We’re not, definitely not, self-proclaimed experts on Mexico or Mexican culture, but it’s something that we feel passionate about, something that we want to learn about," Cox added. "And when we go, whether it’s to Mexico City or Merida or Oaxaca, we’re always open for new experiences and we hope that we bring a little piece of that back home to share with the guests.”

Learn more about the tasty alternative proteins and Oaxacan-inspired dishes at Cultura on this episode of "On Foodable Side Dish!"