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Hormiga Culona: Colombia’s Edible Fat-Bottomed Ants

Hormiga Culona: Colombia’s Edible Fat-Bottomed Ants

Hormiga Culona are a large leafcutter ant, typically female, that is a popular unusual delicacy eaten in the Colombian region of Santander. The Hormiga Culona ants are either fried or roasted and eaten as a snack like peanuts.

The History of Hormiga Culona

Hormiga Culona originated in the northern part of Colombia, in Santander, which means leafcutter ant. This insect is also called Atta Laevigata, which is one of the many species of leafcutter ants. 

They are typically harvested by the Guane Indians as a protein source, as they are packed with fats, vitamins, and minerals that are beneficial for the body.

The ants are harvested every year between April and May, usually the rainy season in Barichara. Within these months, farmers would go out and hunt for what seems to be gold dust to them.

This is because these months are only the time where hordes of leafcutter ants go out. Typically the female ones (because the females are the only edible ones) fly out of their nests to mate, resulting in their bottoms filled with eggs.

These juicy-bottomed insects are the ones farmers are hunting to sell or for personal consumption. The mass-hunting of these leafcutter ants during April and May has been ongoing in Colombia for hundreds, maybe thousands, of years already.

Hormiga Culona as an Aphrodisiac

Other than being eaten as a snack, the Hormiga Culona is also very popular because of the tradition it was carrying over many years. The Guane people of Santander has also considered this as an aphrodisiac.

Leafcutter ants’ bottoms are egg-filled, which the Guanes have believed as a symbol of fertility. They say that consuming these ants just when they are about to reproduce would give the person sexual potency and would be able to produce children.

So, if you’re planning on conceiving a child, you may want to try this popular snack! Even up to this day, Hormiga Culona is still a very popular wedding gift as it is said to give you many children.

Preparing Hormiga Culona

Hormiga Culona in a frying pan
Photo Credit: Jose Jr romero 2004

Preparing Hormiga Culona is pretty easy to do. Typically, these ants are cooked fried or roasted, but some upscale restaurants make their own gourmet version of it.

One way of preparing them is by frying or roasting them on a big aluminium pot with a generous amount of salt. They are usually cooked alive to avoid the bitter taste of the ants. 

The toasting process gets rid of the ants’ wings and legs, leaving only the dark reddish-brown crispy body. This is also where the flavour is coming from.

Many locals suggest getting the toasted ones as they give a crunchier texture and smokey taste, unlike the soggy and greasy fried Hormiga Culona. They are sold in plastic bags on the street or in small corner shops.

If you feel like you can’t take to eat these leafcutter ants on their own, why not try it in restaurants? Some restaurants in Colombia have a different way of incorporating these ants into a dish where it would be less icky for people who want to try it.

In Barichara, a restaurant called Color de Hormiga is famous for making dishes that combines their traditional Hormiga Culona. One of the dishes they serve is the Beef Tenderloin in ant sauce, which comes out very tasty and delicious.

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