The “worm in the bottle of tequila” is a popular urban myth that dictates that there is a worm at the bottom of certain bottles of tequila. In fact, there is no worm in tequila — but you can find a worm in certain bottles of mezcal, a type of alcohol distilled from the agave plant. Technically, tequila is a type of mezcal, which is where the myth originates from.
Mezcal vs. Tequila
Mezcal is a type of alcohol distilled from the fermented juice of agave or maguey plants. Tequila is a variety of mezcal, although it is distilled only from the blue agave plant (Agave Tequiliana Weber), which gives it its unique flavor. Legally, tequila can only be produced in the state of Jalisco, which is in West-Central Mexico. Mezcal, on the other hand, can be (and is) produced anywhere in Mexico. Mezcal has a distinctive, smoky taste that comes from the maguey plants being baked in charcoal ovens, whereas tequila has a sweet, sharp flavor that comes from added cane sugar.
History of the Worm
The worm was first added to mezcal in 1950 by an entrepreneur from Mexico City named Jacobo Lozano Paez. As worms occasionally made it into batches of mezcal because they burrow into the agave plants used to make mezcal, it was conceived of as a marketing gimmick to deliberately include a worm in bottles and propagate the myth of the worm’s “magical properties.” Today, the worm in the bottle of mezcal is a firmly established tradition.
About the Worm
The worm in mezcal is actually not a worm at all, but rather the larval form of the mariposa moth that burrows into and eats the agave plant. There are two types of mezcal “worms” — the red tinted larva that are found in the heart of the agave plant and the golden tinted larva that are found on the leaves of the agave plant. The red larva are considered more valuable because it comes from the heart of the agave plant.
Myths and Traditions
The “mezcal worm” is believed to contain special properties that it can impart to the person who eats it, which were partially invented and partially capitalized upon as part of the marketing ploy. It is believed to contain aphrodisiac properties, imparting sexual prowess to those who consume it. It is also believed to give the consumer strength and possibly even have hallucinogenic properties. None of these claims have ever been substantiated, but the worm is quite safe to eat so there’s no reason not to find out for yourself!
References and ResourcesAll About Worms; The Tequila Worm; Anne P. Mitchell
The Straight Dope; Why is the a Worm in Bottles of Tequila?; Cecil Adams; July 1999
Tequila Source: Mezcal Worm - Not the Tequila Worm
Tastings: All About Tequila and Mezcal