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Amazon Culinary: insects for indigenous eating

By April 16, 2020 No Comments

Food Customs and Indigenous Recipes

There are currently more than two hundred indigenous peoples known in the Brazilian territory. Each with their eating habits, gastronomic preferences, and foods they cannot eat. Delicacies for some are repulsive foods for others.

Live larvae and insects

For the peoples of the Amazon, as in parts of Africa and Asia, some foods are not typically found in the cuisines of people of European or African descent. However, this does not mean savagery, lack of civilization, or lack of hygiene.

Larvae and caterpillars are, therefore, widely provided as food, not only among the Indigenous people but also among rural populations. In the high regions, the larvae of the buritizeiros weevil were highly prized (Martius). Much requested by other human groups were the larvae of an insect that contaminated the fruits of the uauaçu palm (Attalaya espertabilis, Mart.).

Here is a picturesque reference. Among the Atché of the Uruguay River, the larva called “coró” constitutes, for those who find it undermining some rotten stick, a real treasure, since, just for that fact, the wife of another will be able to leave it to live with the lucky one that discovered a new source of a chorus.

Beetle larvae harvested from hollow sticks are fried in the fat itself, when not eaten raw.

Anoplants (Lice)

Parasites are also part of some indigenous diets. According to Abguar Basto, non-indigenous travelers, with their cultural differences, were astounded to see Aboriginal women chewing lice. “[…] the hair […] very severely treated and full of lice, which mutually catch themselves, with a knife from the tip, then bite them in the teeth, as we saw “.

The Crichaná, according to Barbosa Rodrigues, consider this practice “vulgar”: “The custom of eating head animals is common among them, as in many other tribes in the Amazon region.”

Stradelli says that the indigenous louse (Kiyua-Rana) is different from what infests white people’s heads. They are fatter and equipped with palps “with which they hold.”

The origin of the lice would be in the old Krã-Kamdjuáre (Kaiapó myth), which sent the girls to hunt them down, and, as he had teeth on his head, he bit his fingers and sucked the blood and killed them, as he was a man-eating. One day they managed to kill him, but lice remained as a plague to torment mortals. The habit of consuming lice is not only found among Brazilian indigenous peoples but also other peoples: “The women of Java, says Bristowe, pick their friends’ heads, biting the lice with their teeth.”

Of caterpillars and insects exposed to fire

According to Bastos’ report, not only small larvae, fruit or not, were sought for food. The larger ones (caterpillars) were also widely accepted: “Larvae and caterpillars only saw them eating certain species, which possibly come from large chestnut trees. They were cooked in compound dishes, mixed with grated yam and Amazon nuts (Bertholletia excelsa). Sometimes they gathered ripe bananas and poultry meat “.

The same author refers to the Erigpagtsá (Canoeiros), Indians who live in the upper Juruena, in Mato Grosso. About the dishes with varied mixtures, the author goes back to saying: “They prepared them by adding manioc flour, grated chestnuts, sweet potatoes or cooked and pilado yams, mixing with a large handful of chestnut (butterfly) caterpillars that the men brought from the forest, wrapped in green leaves. It was a popular dish. These caterpillars were trapped in a web of fine threads like silk, from which they had to be removed. They washed the caterpillars and added them when the other ingredients were almost cooked “.

As we can see, the caterpillars consumed were harvested in their chrysalis state, and, as for their flavor, only the Erigpagtsá could explain, since the said caterpillars were also mixed with cooked chicken yam, so they seemed to enter the food as a unique condiment.

Do not say, in the case of Canoeiros, that there was a lack of other foods. In addition to hunting and fishing, they had a wide variety of vegetables: chestnuts, bananas, yams, pumpkin, beans, manioc, corn, since they used to practice agriculture. It follows that the larvae should represent a first pyramid.

Among the Tukano on the Tiquiê River, a tributary of the Uaupés, caterpillars were also a well-celebrated snack, as Bastos reports:

“At the headwaters of the Tiquié River, Papuri and other tributaries where fish are scarce, the Indians also feed on caterpillars, which appear from August to November in the cumuri trees, of the euphorbia family. They are dark caterpillars, with white dots and the size of a finger. To pick them up, they clean the forest under the tree, cover the ground with banana leaves from the forest, like a sheet, then shake off the branches, causing them to fall in large quantities, toast them and store them in pancakes like manioc flour. When caterpillars appear, the Indians quit their jobs, and there go whole families in search of these animals. If the caterpillars have already ended up in the cocoon, around the branches and at the fork of them, very crowded, like the silkworms, the Indians cut the branches and take them to eat the roasted or raw chrysalis. Then, men, women, and children come, each with a branch in his hand, to tear with nails the cocoons and to eat the nails isolated with the greatest avidity “. As for caterpillars, there are specific rules, such as taking their heads off and removing their intestines, without which poisoning may result.

Fruits and Vegetables

In general, vegetables are not part of the indigenous people’s eating habits.

Among the wild fruits that serve as food are the mangaba called bato-i (Hancornia speciosa); the ingá (Inga edulis) which they call y-igá; the araçá (Psidium araçá); the jabuticaba (Myrthus jaboticaba); the abiu (Lucuma caimito); Guabiraba (Campomanesia guabiraba, Abbelillea maschalantha); the eighth crown (Moquilea rufa); the small papaya (Caryca papaya); passion fruit (Passiflora edulis, Passiflora bahiensis, Passiflora alata); the sapucaia also called cumbuca-de-monkey (Lecythis pisonis), from which they eat meat and seeds and mix or roast the chestnut, considered one of the indigenous delicacies; genipapo (Genipa Americana), whose pulp and seeds are savored, the bark is used to paint the body black; pequi (Caryocar brasiliense), using the almond to extract an oil rich in carotenes. The word pe-qui, in the Tupi language, means prickly peel, characteristic of the fruit that is full of delicate and small thorns.

For many Indians, cassava is the staple food, and corn is also essential for many tribes. Some, like the Timbira, from Tocantins and Maranhão, and the Nambikwara, from Rondônia, collect food available in the forest, without much dedication to plantations, unlike the Caiapó, Mato Grosso and Pará, which have large fields, including with experts to assess the location of the best soil for their crops in the villages.

The Spices

Their seasonings are salt and pepper or a mixed mixture of the two. They use several types of pepper: round, long, green, red, small, or large. Some also use lemon, wild herbs, pindoba heart of palm and bredo, or caruru to season their food. Salt is obtained through the evaporation of seawater, in the case of the tribes that inhabit the coastal region (coast), in natural saline (sands impregnated with salt) or from the burning of wood, from where the salt is removed from the ash, quite rich in potassium. The seasoning is always put after preparation and even eaten with the food, placing a chunk of food in the mouth and then the seasoning.


Through the Process of Fermentation of Corn, Macaxeira, Caju, Jenipapo, Jabuticaba, and Mangaba, the Indians manufacture drinks, a type of wine generically called in the Tupi language of Cauim or Cahoi.

Caxiri is a drink made from cassava produced by the Macuxi Indians in Roraima. According to the indigenous tradition, only women can prepare caxiri. The preparation begins with the choice and harvest of wild manioc. After that, the primary ingredient of the caxiri goes through a cleaning process, with the discard of the peel.

Cassava is passed down the drain so that the dough is obtained and mixed with water.

According to tradition, the dough should be cooked in a clay pot, on a wood stove, and stir constantly. Cooking lasts from 24h to 48h, because cassava has a substance that, when eaten raw, can cause Intoxication.

The alcoholic content of the drink will depend on this fermentation time. It is indicated that, after cooking, the cassava dough rests for only three days.

Other non-conventional foods


The truth is that the indigenous people transform the jungle into a gigantic emporium of edible animals, vegetables, and minerals, without prejudice of taste, which undoubtedly gives them greater food availability under challenging times. Suddenly they may lack game, fish, manioc, yams, yams, corn, mendobi, pumpkin, chestnuts, bananas, buriti, açaí, bee or stick honey, the beans or the heart of palm. So it is necessary to invade the area of ​​larvae, caterpillars, beetles, snakes, lizards, and sauvas.

Of the countless wild animals, he copies the customs and uses them. In the rotting wood, in the heart of the fruit, in the tufts of palm trees, in the tabatinga or on the beaches, you can find resources for the physiological satisfaction of hunger. Satisfy yourself.

The most exquisite hunts are, due to their size: the tapir, the deer, the capybara, the peccary, and the peccary. Participate; also, rural and urban cuisine: paca, agouti, armadillo, and most birds.

He appreciates the monkey and the sloth. He does not always reject the jaguar, as was the case among the Txukahamãi: “They use all types of game and any fish, rays, etc. They still eat jaguars, hawks and big game, they lose nothing, not even their guts”.

Guaicurus not only ate palm hearts and macajuba nuts, but they also ate snakes, alligators, jaguars, deer, tapirs, capybaras. Only married women did not eat tapir or capybara.

Brazil nut

In addition to eating roasted and cooked fruits, the Krichaná made butter.

Brazil nuts (known today as Brazil nuts) and bee honey were also essential foods in the Brazilian Indian diet. When they still did not see the sugar cane – which arrived in Brazil in 1502, from Madeira Island -, the indigenous people removed the honey from the combs of the hive after chasing the bees with fire and still ate the bees roasted on stones. Wisely, they were careful to leave a little honey to ensure the continuation of the work of the bees, which would guarantee the permanent obtaining of the food.