The Curry Moth
The curry moth, Samia aromii, is closely related to the Ailanthus silkmoth, Samia cynthia, and commonly found throughout southern India. It's large size, as well as delicately coloured wings, have long made it a species of interest for collectors, but it is only recently that its culinary properties have been discovered. Or, to be more precise, re-discovered.
The curry moth, like most moths and buterflies, only lays its eggs on specific plants that meet the requirement of the soon-to-be hatched larvae. In the case of the curry moth, it looks for plants that have a relatively high concentration of capsaicin, the “spicy” molecule of chili peppers. As a result, they are mostly found on the spice plantations that grow chilis, or on wild plants of the same variety.
When the British East India Company took over India in 1757, they also took control over the spice trade and production. Due to poor communication with locals, which was due as much to arrogance as incompetence, the british failed to see the curry moth as anything but a pest, and ordered farmers to dispose of the insects trying to breed on their crops. Later, as pesticides and herbicides were introduced, the curry moth population suffered an even more drastic fall, and in 2005, the species hit its all-time low, now being found only in the wild. However, recent efforts to introduce biological agriculture in the region have seen a revival of the moth, and local population have kept the memory of the moth, and its uses which eluded the british, alive until today.
In fact, due to its restrictive regime, the curry moth was often used by local s as a seasoning in and of itself. The moth larvae absorbs much of the aromatic molecules of its food, especially the capsaicinoids, and stores them in its body, possibly to deter predators. This, however, did not work well on humans, who quickly discovered that the subtly modified spice produced by the moth was even more enjoyable than that of the plants themselves. But as the moths started disappearing due to the chemicals used in the fields, they disappeared from peoples food, too.
The rediscovery of the curry moth as a seasoning, however, has not only caused a cultural revival in India, but a culinary revolution in the west as well. What was inconceivable to british colonialists (namely, eating insects) is commonplace for the modern “foodie”, and the moths are starting to appear in more and more high-end restaurants in the western hemisphere. This, in turn, encourages indian spice farmers to reduce, or eliminate, the use of chemicals in their fields, allowing them to switch to biological methods of cultivation and increase their profits at the same time, the moths now fetching much higher prices than the spices themselves.
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