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| Raise guinea pigs and eat well ! |

 

The first thing Fernando Escobal hears when he steps out of his small office at the National Agrarian Research Institute in Cajamarca in Peru’s northern Andes is a chorus of chirps. The sound comes from thousands of guinea pigs held in mesh cages. They are destined not for pet shops but for the table. Mr Escobal hopes they will improve the diet of many of the poorest Peruvians.

The guinea pig, or cuy as it is known in Peru (from its chirping cries), is a delicacy throughout the central Andes. It was domesticated nearly 5,000 years ago. “Raise guinea pigs and eat well,” enjoined an Inca saying. Spanish colonial paintings of the Last Supper in the cathedral in Cuzco, the former Inca capital, and in Lima’s San Francisco monastery portray Christ and his apostles feasting on a plate of roasted cuy. The rodent is still a fixture on Andean feast days. It is also used by traditional healers to diagnose illnesses. The animal is put over the sick person, and is then opened and its innards are examined in order to find out the nature of the disease. Peruvian people consume 22 millions of guinea pigs every year. Escobal and its team would like to convince them not to eat them occasionally but on the contrary, regularly. To this end, they have created new species. On the 16th July they have presented a “super-cuy”, weighing up about 6 lb.

 
According to the Farming Minister, the flesh of the guinea pig contains more proteins and less fat than that of the chicken or the pig, not to speak about red meat. A cuy new generation can feed a four persons family. Moreover, the new super-cuy might interest the discerning palates. The taste of the cuy reminds the rabbit’s one. In Cajamarca, we eat it in stew; southwards we skin and fry it until it is glazed and crispy. The Institute has established a long list of recipes. Cuy’s main drawback up to now was the limited amount of food it offered and the high concentration of bones. Science may have changed all this….

 

 

The Economist July 2004

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