Eating Invasive Species May Come with a Side of Caution

Kris Wessel smoked and braised python for Fertile Earth Foundation’s Underground Miami event. (David Samayoa)

Just what does python taste like? The braised python-and-Brazilian-pepper fritter  I sampled was reminiscent of eggplant tempura in taste and texture–with maybe a hint of turnip. Kris Wessel, executive chef at Florida Cookery, had prepared this innocuous looking fritter (in contrast to the scary-looking whole creature) for the Fertile Earth Foundation’s Underground Miami event.

As I was preparing to head over to the Fertile Earth Foundation’s Underground Miami fund-raising event last week, I read about some of the invasive species that would be offered on the menu. Some of the information was less than appetizing: Python rife with mercury? What was this “brucellosis” found in pigs?

Amber Antonelli of The Naked Bite prepared oyster mushroom species with peppercorns from the invasive Brazilian pepper plant. (David Samayoa)

Granted, these foods are more of a niche interest among adventurous foodies than a widespread trend. However, in the past few years, there has been more conversation about building markets and appetites around invasive species like carp and lionfish to help curb their relentless population growth.

Jackson Landers collected his accounts of hunting and eating invasive species like nutria, Asian carp and iguana. (Courtesy of Storey Publishing)

 

Jackson Landers, also known as “The Locavore Hunter,” is the author of the book Eating Aliens: One Man’s Adventures Hunting Invasive Animal Species: “I don’t claim that eating invasives is a one-spot-solution. Creating a market can be part of the solution. I would say one of the biggest things we can do is stop studying the problem and start solving it, which sounds trite.” But that’s what Landers did: he learned to hunt and eat invasive creatures like iguanas and carp.

Landers feels that people should take great care with the how they prepare the invasive critters they hunt, but that when it comes to certain animals like wild boar and Muscovy duck, he takes this perspective:

“It’s no different than domestic livestock—maybe less so than what I’ve seen. Animals packed in like sardines in a factory farm have much more potential for transmission of disease. Individual slaughter in the wild is also safer, as opposed to a slaughter house where ground meat is produced.”

However,  there are different risks to eating various invasive species. As part of a series on invasive species, WLRN Miami Herald News is posting culinary suggestions for dealing with animals like the giant African land snail. Throughout the next two weeks, I’ll be posting on the risks (if any) of eating certain species, and how they can be dealt with:

 

Giant African Land Snails: Are They Worth Eating?

 

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