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Tequila Vs. The Worm

“Did you eat the worm?”

It was, and remains, something of a right of passage for young people as they pass the legal drinking age: Take a shot of tequila, lick the salt, bite the lime, eat the worm. Eating the worm is supposed to enhance virility and perhaps even give you visions (or hallucinations). The only problem with this gentle myth is, there is no worm in tequila.

That’s right. Tequila, which is made from the blue agave plant and can only legally be produced in the Mexican state of Jalisco or in a few municipalities in Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas, does not—and never has—contained a worm in the bottle.

On the other hand, Tequila’s less-picky cousin, mezcal, can be made with any type of agave and is produced in a broader region of Mexico. The worm, which is actually the larvae of the Mariposa butterfly called a gusano de maguey, was added to bottles of some mezcals that were imported into the United States beginning in the 1940s, as a marketing ploy to differentiate mezcal from tequila. It should be noted that Mexican spirits regulations specifically prohibit adding worms or insect larva to tequila.

So, if you are taking a shot, licking the salt, biting the lime, and eating the worm, you’re not drinking tequila; you’re probably drinking mezcal.

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