Occasionally the literal translation really does work the best, this time it gets us 60% of the way there with “worm salt.” Sal de gusano is actually ground up salt, dried worms, and peppers. You see it everywhere in Oaxaca. It’s sold in small bags by elderly women around the market, in huge piles within markets, and it appears everywhere in the local cuisine. It’s also an intimate part in the traditional way of drinking mezcal; you’re supposed to sit at a table with friends sharing a bottle of mezcal drunk from copitas or jicaras and, as you sip away while debating the topics of the day, dip orange or pineapple slices into a bowl of sal de gusano so that you get a blast of fruit tempered by the salty, umami flavors in the sal de gusano. It’s a tremendous foil to the heat and flavors in mezcal.
Sal de gusano is also a perfect example of the fruit of necessity because the peppers grow right along side the agave plants while salt was produced on the nearby isthmus. Classic Oaxacan cuisine features sal de gusano in some recipes, occasionally you’ll find it as a table top condiment, but I’ve really seen it break out in more contemporary interpretations of Oaxacan cooking.