Most people are familiar with the long haired cute and cuddly Peruvian guinea pig as a pet. Not all guinea pigs raised in Peru have long hair and they aren't considered pets by Peruvians, they are food...
Guinea pigs supply about 50% of the protein in the Peruvian diet. They are the primary source of meat for many of the natives living in the rural areas of the Andes Mountains. Called cuy by the natives, guinea pigs breed rapidly and are simple to raise much like rabbits and other rodents. While they are rather sinewy and tough, some breeders are striving to develop a plumper more tender version with an eye toward export. Although traditionally they are cooked and served with the paws and head on, some Peruvian chefs are now removing the paws and head in deference to the sensibilities of tourists. There are recipes for fried, baked, roasted and stuffed cuy and although a few brave tourists may try it, it is not really popular with North Americans and Europeans. Cuy is said to taste like a cross between dark meat chicken and rabbit.
Better Tasting Guinea Pigs
Scientists at La Molina University have succeeded in creating a new breed that weighs in at a whopping 21/2 pounds. Most guinea weigh about 11/2 pounds. The new breed is high in protein and low in fat. Peruvians eat about 65 million guinea pigs per year and many households raise the animals themselves, although it is possible to buy them already butchered in stores. So far, Westerners haven’t shown any interest in buying Peruvian guinea pigs as food, although they are imported as pets in the U.S. and some European countries. Cuy is considered finger food since the natives pick up the animal and suck the meat out of the skin. Some Westerners have found that trying to eat them with a knife and fork is nearly impossible.
Native Chefs Try to Sell Cuy to Tourists
Peruvian chefs are now serving their cuy with the head and paws removed and trying to convince tourists to try their native dish. Overcoming the food prejudices of picky Westerners may not be easy. Although the Chinese eat dog and cat, Westerners are openly disgusted by the consumption of animals they consider pets, and Peruvian guinea pigs have a history as pets in many Western countries. While some tourists will try any kind of food just to say they tried it, getting large numbers of tourists to overcome their feelings about Fluffy may be difficult.
Peruvian guinea pigs are likely to remain popular as pets in Western nations, but it is unlikely they will be regarded as a source of food anytime soon. In the meantime, Peruvians have bigger and better guinea pigs to serve up for dinner.