Invasive Species Cookbook
6:30 am
Wed May 8, 2013

Eating Invasive Species Comes With A Side Of Caution

Chef Kris Wessel used the imposing python in the foreground to make smoked and braised python for Fertile Earth Foundation's Underground Miami fund-raiser.
Credit David Samayoa

Editor's note: In the hunt for what to do about the various mix of invasive species found in Florida, we are running a series that not only describes the problems caused by these plants and animals but, well, offers a culinary solution. Tweet us (@WLRN) your ideas and tips or email us a recipe: WLRNMIA@gmail.com.

To accompany our Invasive Species Cookbook , we are also posting the potential health risks of eating certain invasive species and how to possibly mitigate those risks.

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 fund-raiser.

As I was preparing to head over to the Underground 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? 

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 conversations 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.
Credit 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 how they prepare the invasive critters they hunt, but 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 our WLRN-Miami Herald News series on invasive species, we've been posting culinary suggestions for dealing with animals like the giant African land snail. We're also posting on the risks (if any) of eating certain species, and how they can be addressed:

Some Health Risks With Eating Giant African Land Snail

This is a guest post from WLRN contributor Trina Sargalski's food and drink blog, Miami Dish. She is also the Miami editor for Tasting Table. You can  follow her at @MiamiDish on Twitter.