Wednesday, February 09, 2005

As The Worm Turns

Mexico rescues an industry:

The world nearly lost a peculiar piece of Mexico's cultural tradition this week after the government, without regard to drinkers anywhere, targeted the lowly worm at the bottom of the mezcal bottle for extinction.

....The effort to remove the worm came amid concerns of the worm's high fat content.

If you make it to the bottom of a bottle of mezcal, a fatty worm is the least of your problems. But officials say they were worried that fat globules alter the chemical composition of mezcal, made from the blue agave cactus, the same raw material used to make tequila.

After learning of the anti-worm legislation, mezcal producers swung into action, lobbying and producing studies that show that the worm poses no health risks. The government reversed course, saving not just the worm, but in all likelihood the mezcal industry.

"It would have been devastating," said New York-born Douglas French, who exports Oaxacan mezcal, with a scorpion instead of a worm, to the United States. "It's an old beverage for Mexico, but it's new for the world and its trademark is the worm."

French estimates that sales, especially for mezcal exported abroad, would have plunged without the worm, perhaps as much as 70 percent.

... the worm has been imbued with all sorts of powers: Some believe it can cause hallucinations; in Japan, drinkers believe the worms to be aphrodisiacs and demand multiple worms in their bottles. For Mexicans and tourists alike, eating the worm can be a rite of passage.

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