Snacking on Ants in Santander

Me Eating Crunchy AntsUpon arriving in Bucaramanga, Santander’s capital city of a million people, I was under the impression that I’d get to try some sort of ant dish delicacy I’d read that the state of Santander is known for their unique cultivation of Hormigas Culonas or Big-Ass Ants, for human snacking.

In Bucaramanga, I was told that ants were out of season, that the harvest is in March and April. 

I had almost forgotten about this potential insect sampling opportunity when I arrived in San Gil, a much smaller city also in Colombia’s Santander state, just two and a half hours from Bucaramanga and on the road to Bogotá. 

It turns out that San Gil is the center for hormiga or ant cultivation, and that they’re available for purchase there year round.

Cuing Up to Buy Ants For SnackingHere you see a small crowd directly across the street from my hotel.  They’re all there to purchase one quantity or another of this incredibly edible breed of leafcutter ant.  I was told by the concierge/jack of all hotel trades, lady in my hotel that these people are on a tour of San Gil, getting the opportunity to purchase these famous and sought after ants.

After picking the lady’s brain about these ants,  the conversation moved to tour groups as opposed to travelling independently.  I told her that I like to travel solo.  That way I have the liberty to live off of an almost spontaneous itinerary.  After the crowd left, I had the whole little ant store to myself.

Big Ass Ants For SaleThe amount of ants you can purchase varies.  The smallest container costs 2,000 Colombian Pesos or $1.06.  This is what I bought on my first of two purchases.  The second was a bigger container for 10,000 COP or $5.32.  I’m currently snacking on that one daily. 

Roasted Ants in My HandYou see here that the antennas are removed.  I couldn’t imagine eating this many ants at once as I find the flavor strong.  I was told by a local to eat only a few at a time.  I now eat about five ants, one after the other, once a day.  They make a great beer nut.  The crunchy texture and smoky, earthy flavor, along with a hint of salt and a tiny touch of natural sweetness, makes this new discovery of mine a perfectly healthy snack. The flavor of one ant stays with you for a bit. I plan on bringing some to Bogotá as they’re more expensive there.

According to Wikipedia, these roasted ants are exported to Canada, England and Japan.

We Work With Ants for the Health of the RegionThis billboard can be found in the center of San Gil, near the centro comercial or mall.  It says: We work with Ants for the health of the region.   

Before Columbus, or the original Colombo in Italian, the Indigenous Guane people were roasting and eating these big-bottomed ants.  The Guanes believed that the ants might eat them if they didn’t eat the ants first.

Believed Health Benefits of Ant Consumption

● High levels of formic acid triggers an immune system boost

● High in protein

● Cholesterol free

● Boosts energy

● Acting as an aphrodisiac or natural Viagra, this specific breed of ant is often given as a wedding gift.

Ant Sculpture in San GilAnt production for consumption is a way of life for many.  This ant sculpture can be found outside of the Botanical Gardens in San Gil.

I am very happy to have come across this unique snack culture in the Colombian state of Santander and specifically in the city of San Gil.  

Would you try one of these ants if you ran into me and I offered you one?

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20 Responses to Snacking on Ants in Santander

  1. Ayngelina says:

    I don’t know if I could have done that! Kudos!

    • Mike says:

      AYNGELINA: Thanks! My guess is that if you saw me eating them you’d give it a shot. This has been the case with a few people recently, as I still have a few left and enjoying sharing, especially with people who haven’t tried them before. :-)

  2. Sonia says:

    I live in india, Here are some people that eat ants But I’m afraid :)
    It has many Health Benefits, So I will try some day.

    • Mike says:

      SONIA: I never came across ants in Hindustan but, I only visited 9 of 28 states. I’d be interested to know where in India ants are eaten and how they’re prepared. I hope that you try them and like them. :-)

  3. Eating ants is going on the bucket list…

  4. MAMMA says:

    whao, i suppose Id have to try one ! Amazing!
    love, mamma

  5. memographer says:

    Sure, my immune system would be happy :)
    Great article with interesting info on unusual snacking options :) I didn’t know they are cholesterol free and boost energy.

    • Mike says:

      MEMOGRAPHER: Thanks! I didn’t know anything about roasted ants. I just happened to come across them. I’m not a huge snack connoisseur either, but these little critters are something special. :-)

  6. Anwesha says:

    Wow… I think I would like to try some…

    • Mike says:

      ANWESHA aka Peanuts on the road: Indeed, right up your alley. I find the flavor of Hormigas Culonas is even better than a peanut and almost surely packed with more protein. :-) One thing the two snacks have in common: They’re filling so best eaten in small doses.

  7. Shing says:

    This is definitely my kind of snack!!! I love this description, “They make a great beer nut” that should be their slogan when they’re being sold to the UK market (but no doubt these ants are probably very expensive to buy over here, so consumption would probably be for a novelty instead of a healthy snack which is a shame).

    I’m loving the alleged aphrodisiac qualities – but you have failed to mention whether it’s true? hehe

    • Mike says:

      SHING: Thanks! I’m glad to hear that you’d be open to trying these Andean ants.

      To say that UK people enjoy beer is an understatement. As mentioned, beer makes eating this delicacy less of a potentially squeamish endeavor. I wonder how many people in the UK consume this organic insect. It must be a small percentage.

      It would be interesting to do a Kinsey esque study that would shed light on the aphrodisiacal effects of Hormigas Culonas.

    • Mike says:

      HOGGA: But they’re not processed so it’s au natural. A few crunchy and relatively fresh roasted ants beats a bag of chips that’s probably loaded with toxins. Here’s a good formula for the first time ant eater:

      Drink four or five glasses of your favorite beer
      Eat a crunchy ant
      Wash it down with a gulp of cerveza
      Repeat as you like (five ants is plenty, holds you over for a bit)

  8. Sean G says:

    I’d be horrified at first, but I think I would try it. I was a bit squeamish when I tried cui for the first (and only) time. Yes, ants are a whole different world compared to cui, but something tells me I’d prefer the ants! I wonder if any of the natives eat them alive…

    • Mike says:

      SEAN: Oddly I wasn’t horrified at all since it’s so commonplace for the locals. It’s the same thing with the Cuy (guinea pig) or Anticuchos (cow hearts). I’m more into ants now (in serious moderation) than I am into mammal flesh which I’m trying to almost eliminate from my diet.

      I don’t think the Santandarian people eat the ants alive. That would be beyond my threshold and I’d be horrified, as would the people who reside in the region I’m pretty sure. They soak them in salt, then roast them and voila, a true taste of the earth, but baked.

  9. Wow… a fascinating post for sure, squeamish as it made me to read it. Alas, I would not be able to put one of those things into my mouth without gagging, but kudos to you for finding a new sustainable protein source. :)

    • Mike says:

      ADIRONDACKER: I neglected to write that almost every single local has been eating them since they were youngsters. If you were here and saw me easily consume these crispy, crunchy, earth crawling leaf cutters, you’d see that it ain’t a big deal and you’d try at least one I’m guessing, especially if you had a beer to wash it down with: YUM!

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