Venezuelan Hot Sauce Has a Secret Ingredient: Ants

Tourists visiting Kumarakapay, a remote village in Venezuela’s Gran Sabana region, a vast grassland area within a national park, are in for a spicy treat. Villagers there make a unique hot sauce called kumache. As the National Geographic video shows, making the sauce is a lengthy process, starting with a base of boiled-down yucca, various hot peppers, and a sprinkling of large red ants and termites.

Restaurant owner Kendall Donals, who sells his sauce to tourists along with roasted chicken, forages the insects, breaking up the tiny hills they build on the plain and exposing them with a flat shovel. The process of gathering the ants and termites is rooted in his ancestors’ survival, Donals says. “Because as you can imagine, in the Gran Sabana, it’s almost impossible to even find fruit.”

“The aborigine is used to eating yuca bread when going out,” Donals says. “whether to fish or traveling to other towns far away.” He would dig out the ants with a machete, “and with a bit of salt and hot sauce, he’ll get the protein he needs.” The ants and termites give it a crunch and add flavor, he says.

Recently, natives have been trying to bottle the ant-laced hot sauce and sell it to tourists, who are often willing to try anything (see Insect Eating Is a Gimmick,) for kicks, but they have so far been unsuccessful in petitioning the government to allow it on a larger scale. So kumache remains a bit of a secret sauce—for now.