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Red Ant Egg Hunting – Isaan Caviar in Thailand

Now is the start of the red ant egg hunting season in Sakon Nakhon, Thailand. The hunting begins in earnest around mid February, after the first hot period that marks the end of the cool season, especially when the hot weather is accompanied with a bit of rainfall. Both a hot spell and some rain have occurred recently, so many Sakon Nakhon residents have headed out into the forests or (if they are lucky) their gardens in search of that Isaan delicacy known as Khai Mot Daeng (ไข่มดแดง), Red Ant Eggs, or Isaan Caviar.

When searching for a Red Ant nest to pillage, you want to look for one with dense white fibers, which means that it is an old nest likely to be full of red ant booty. These nests are often found atop mango, jackfruit, and palm trees. One person stands at the base of the tree with a sack, while a 2nd person with a long stick knocks down the nest into the sack. Red ants are fierce biters, and obviously not pleased by this attack, so the person with sack must be very careful when catching the broken parts of the nest. Some bites are usually inevitable, but if you don’t watch yourself you could soon find yourself covered in red ants and tearing off your clothing.

 

Khai Mot Daeng (ไข่มดแดง)
Thailand red ants will fiercely protect the eggs in their nest.

 

The contents of the sack (a mixtures of red ant eggs, larvae, nest pieces, and red worker ants) are then poured onto a tray or basket, and you attempt to separate the the eggs from the ants who are trying to carry them away to safety. It is best not to kill many red ants (if possible) because they are the ones who will be building another nest for you to harvest from in the future.

After separating as many of the red ants you can (by shaking the tray or basket and letting them fall through), the red ant eggs are sprinkled with flour, which will rid the eggs of any red ants who refuse to leave. Unfortunately, the flour will likely eventually kill the remaining red ants, but if you have been diligent in the previous step, it will not be too many.

Red ant eggs are white and of two types: ones which are small like a grain of rice, and larger ones which burst into a creamy, sweet taste in the mouth. These eggs are washed to remove the starch and then they are suitable for use in cooking. Popular Thai dishes that incorporate red ant eggs, include omelets, salads, soups, and curries, or they are roasted and eaten alone.

Red ant eggs are not only delicious but they have high nutritional value. 50 grams of red ant eggs contain around 4 grams of protein, as well as vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B1 and B2, calcium, iron, potassium, and niacin. They are not only popular in Thailand. Red ant eggs (Escamoles de Hormiga), or Red Ant Roe, are called the “Caviar of Mexico,” and used in tacos, omelets, and salsas.

So, give red ant eggs a try! Even if you don’t have the opportunity to hunt for red ant eggs yourself, you can find them for sale at the markets of Sakon Nakhon and other cities in Thailand. Prices vary, but 600 baht for about a half kilo (or 1 pound) is common.