Other ingredients that are indispensable in Brazil are quite unknown in the North - some, like manioc, are inherited from the native American tradition and others, such as dendê oil, came from Africa with the slaves.
One such Brazilian food, which has been appreciated in Brazil since before the arrival of Europeans in 1500, is an exotic protein called içá or tanajura. The scientific name for this little animal is Atta sexdens and it a member of an class of animals that is not even considered to be comestible by most North Americans or Europeans- insects.
In English Atta sexdens is known as a leafcutter ant and it is only one of the many species of these highly-social ants that farm fungus on bits of leaves that they have collect and bring back to their colony. In parts of Brazil these colonies grow to tremendous size, with up to 8 million workers in a single colony.
|roasted içá abdomens|
In areas such as the Vale do Paraíba, located between the cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, when the female ants take flight they are chased after and caught by children and adolescents, who either give them to their families for home eating or sell for up to R$20 (USD $12) per kilo. Each ant is carefully prepared for eating by removing and discarding everything except for the round abdomen.
Once separated the abdomens are roasted and then used in a number of dishes. The most common is called farofa de içá, and just in case readers of Flavors of Brazil want to catch some flying ants next summer so they can serve sometime completely exotic to their family or friends, we'll provide a recipe for this dish in our next post on this blog.