Image Credit: Cambridge Distillery
Looking for something unusual to put on your bar cart? Then check out Anty Gin, a collaboration between The Nordic Food Lab and the Cambridge Distillery ("the world's first Gin Tailor"), which is made from the essence of the red wood ant Formica rufa.
According to the booze's website, the ants “communicate using a host of chemical pheromones ... and they defend their complex communities by producing formic acid in their abdomens and spraying it in the direction of any invader ... Formic acid (the simplest organic carboxylic acid, with the chemical formula HCOOH) is a very reactive compound in alcohol, serving as an agent for producing various aromatic esters.”
Jonas Astrup Pedersen of the Nordic Food Lab explained via email that they’d “been working with insects ... for a period, and still do, trying to use deliciousness as argument for entomophagy,” the process of eating insects. “We came across these red wood ants and simply found the flavour astonishing.”
For those of us who don’t know what ant distillate tastes like, Pedersen compares the flavor to those of lemon and lime, and “a bit of lemongrass as well.” To balance the citrusy taste, the gin also contains “herby notes from wood avens, nettles, alexander seeds and of course, juniper.” The base alcohol is made with wheat.
To produce the first batch of 99 bottles, Forager, the appropriately named team in Kent, UK, found and preserved more than 6000 Formica rufa in alcohol. When the alcohol is distilled, the different parts of the liquid separate through evaporation and condensation. Each 700 milliliter bottle contains the essence of about 62 ants and comes with a 50 ml bottle of pure wood ant distillate.
If insects aren’t normally included in your personal food pyramid, the idea of ant gin may not strike your fancy. However, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reported that “insects form part of the traditional diets of at least 2 billion people,” and “more than 1900 species have reportedly been used as food” [PDF]. And ants, along with bees and wasps, make up 14 percent of the “most commonly consumed insects.”
A bottle of Anty Gin costs £210, or about $321, plus shipping. Unfortunately, it’s not available in the United States, so you’ll have to try it the next time you travel to Europe.