Why are Ants Spicy?

Ants are spicy in taste because they contain formic acid in them which they use for defending themselves against predators. Formic acid is generally not harmful to eat especially in such minute proportions unless you are allergic to it.

In fact, formic acid was first discovered from ants and hence was given the name from the Latin word Formica, which means ant.

Why are Ants Spicy

Let’s take a deeper dive on this topic to explore the spicy taste of the ants in detail…

Read More: Can Humans Eat Ants?

Why do Ants Burn your Mouth?

The sour taste you will feel in the mouth while eating an ant is because of the presence of formic acid. All of the food items that taste sour have some form of acid in them.

For example,

  • Vinegar has acetic acid in it.
  • Lemons have citric acid in them.
  • Blackberries, pears, cherries have malic acid in them.

Similarly, the reason ants taste spicy is because they contain formic acid which adds a sour flavor.

Formic acid is mainly responsible for the burning sensation you feel when an ant stings you. When the same formic acid dissolves in your mouth, you end up perceiving the taste of “burning sensation” as spicy.

Along with this, they also contain certain body chemicals that taste like citrus fruits or even like coriander. Odorous house ants are known to contain a group of methyl ketones that smells quite similar to blue cheese.

Hence all these as a whole give the ants their signature spicy taste which ends up providing a slightly burning yet tacky sensation in the mouth.

What is Formic Acid?

Formic acid is a totally colorless liquid that has got a pungent smell. It was first isolated by John Ray in 1671 from a sample of dead ants.

It is popularly used for processing in the leather and textile industries. Its growth is slowly increasing in the industrial sector owing to its non-toxicity in lower concentrations.

It also has a huge application in the agriculture sector where farmers often times use formic acid as a livestock food preservative.

They spread it onto the hay and other food material for the livestock because the acid helps in enhancing the shelf life of the food materials. It allows the items to hold their nutritional value longer and slows down their decaying process.

People had known about formic acid for hundreds of years. It is naturally found in several insects including ants and bees. However, the formic acid used in the industrial sector is produced commercially.

Currently, the majority of the formic acid which is used, is obtained as a byproduct of the acetic acid production process.

Why do Ants have Formic Acid?

Most ants produce formic acid in a gland present in their abdomen.

  • It is by default found in the defensive or attacking machinery of ants. They use formic acid to protect themselves from predators. When they sense they are in danger they start attacking the enemy oftentimes in a swarm and end up repeatedly biting the subject of interest.
  • Ants spray the formic acid onto their eggs owing to their antibacterial effects. Ants groom each other and lick off a wide range of pathogens ranging from fungal spores to bacteria and kill them using their acid.
  • Ants use formic acid as a disinfectant. They at times ingest the formic acid to make sure their stomach gets disinfected. So they in turn end up swallowing their own produced source of acid to protect themselves from infections. Along with this they also spray the formic acid onto their exterior body to disinfect the outer body part.

Studies point out that they consume formic acid every time they eat food or drink water.

This habit enhances their chances of survival as the acid helps in better digestion of food material and ensures that they don’t suffer from any pathogenic disease.

This is also the reason why they have a very low amount of bacteria in their digestive system.

This may seem fascinating however if thought deeply this does make sense. Think about it. A single outbreak of a disease can instantly wipe out the entire colony.

Hence this process of personal hygiene prevents anything like that from happening or at least minimizes its chances. In a situation where a disease is spreading out quickly, they employ the tactics of social immunization to counter the disease.

Is the Formic Acid from Ants Harmful to Humans?

Formic acid in higher amounts can cause serious damage to humans.

However, ants contain minute amounts of formic acid which is not seen to pose any danger. Higher amounts of formic acids can pose a serious threat however smaller concentrations of formic acid are even used as a food preservative as its antibacterial. In fact, one should worry more about the kinds of harmful pathogens present on the ant body than the formic acid itself.

Even if ants are considered as hygienic animals who regularly clean themselves and even though many people prefer to eat ants raw, the best option is to thoroughly cook them first and then consume them.

This will ensure that all the inedible objects of the ants get completely removed along with the microbial organisms and the poison from the venom gland.


Do Black Ants Taste Spicy?

Black ants are known to have a citrus-like flavor. However, the taste can vary from one individual to another.

The citrus flavor occurs due to the presence of formic acid which tends to give off a spicy sensation.

This also depends on the species type as the quantity of the formic acid changes from variety to variety and hence the degree of spiciness also changes.


Ants have been consumed for several centuries in many distinctive cultures of the world. It is only in the recent few decades that it has come into the trend.

Ants store formic acid in their venom glands and when they feel they are in danger, they release it onto their predators. It is the presence of this formic acid that majorly imparts the citrus-like sour taste.

Also, you can experiment with ants in any dish you want and see which ones suit you the best. You can also experiment with the different ant species as the taste changes quite a bit with each species owing to the change in the quantity of formic acid.

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