Guinea pigs: They're what's for dinner?

Consumption of the furry rodents is on the rise in the US, and researchers think they could be a cost-efficient protein source.

By Bruce Kennedy Apr 4, 2013 7:15AM

Guinea pig served fried at a restaurant in Arequipa, Peru (copyright Cute Kitten Images/Flickr Open/Getty Images)
Guinea pigs: lovable starter pets, the next hipster food trend or a sustainable and cost-effective protein source? If you find that sentence confusing, you're not alone.


NPR recently reported that guinea pigs, also known as caveys or cuyes in Spanish, are turning up on the menu in a growing number of U.S. restaurants. As anyone who's watched one of those exotic cooking shows on cable TV will tell you, the rodents have a long history as a food source in South America. But adventurous U.S. diners are now apparently pushing the demand for guinea pigs to new proportions.

 

According to NPR, federal regulatory agencies apparently don't track the import of guinea pig meat into the U.S. -- but one company that deals with the animals says its imports have nearly doubled since 2008.


People in Peru reportedly consume about 65 million guinea pigs a year. The animals are prized there not only for their flavor -- a taste not at all like chicken -- but also for their ability to thrive in small spaces, their quick breeding cycle and their inexpensive diet that includes corn leaves, alfalfa and table scraps.

 

"Even the poorest family can afford to raise guinea pigs," Gloria Palacios, director of a small-livestock farm at La Molina National Agrarian University in Lima, told The Christian Science Monitor in 2006.

 

The animals' efficient use of space and feed have gotten some researchers wondering if guinea pigs could help feed a growing global population that will require new meat sources.

 

Oklahoma native Jason Woods, who works with the humanitarian group Heifer International, tells NPR that guinea pigs are twice as efficient as cattle when it comes to converting their feed into flesh. And a guinea pig "herd" of two males and 20 females, he says, can sustain itself while producing enough meat for six people.

 

Much like their cattle industry counterparts, Peruvian researchers have been experimenting with new diets and breeding techniques to increase the size of the average guinea pig -- from about one-and-a-half pounds to perhaps nearly three pounds of low-cholesterol meat.

 

Of course, potential consumers in the U.S. would have to get past the "ick" factor -- and find ways to explain to their kids why Squeaky's cousin is on the dinner table tonight.

 

And then there's dealing with outrage from devoted guinea pig owners.


"They are such lovely creatures and I can't imagine them being eaten over here, any more than we would eat our cats and dogs," Heather Henshaw, the general secretary of the Northern Cavy Fanciers in the U.K., told The Telegraph several years ago. "It would deeply sadden me to see guinea pigs being served in restaurants. It is difficult to comprehend eating them -- to me they are just wonderful pets."


Disclosure: The author has been ambivalent about guinea pigs since he was 6 years old, when one of them bit a chunk out of his index finger.

 

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32Comments
Apr 4, 2013 9:10AM
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If feral hogs are overrunning parts of this country, can't we eat them ??
Apr 4, 2013 9:14AM
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Before we start with a guinea pig craze, let's go back to eating more traditional meat like rabbit and venison. 
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It's all in what you were raised eating. Parts of the world won't eat beef, where others eat bugs,dog.rat, and cat, (some we keep as pets including cows).

Guinea pig is just another food source. Ask Andrew Zimerran. :)

 

Apr 4, 2013 10:39AM
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I don't see the problem? A lot like eating rabbit. People need to get over themselves and accept that there are just different customs and cultures. Now yes I couldn't see myself eating a dog or a cat (just seems wrong and always heard eating carnivores is not always a good thing, plus dogs at least have a long history of being there for mankind, sorry cat lovers). That and there are other options out there. No need to confine ourselves to only a select few sources. The fact is there are too many people on this planet and we are going to have to continue to look for alternate and more sustainable food sources. If guinea pig meets both demands, great, bring it on. I'd try it. Having a diversified food source is smart and makes sense. Just like a diversified energy portfolio. All are going to be important things for countries and civilization in the future. I'll also go on a side note and say that for those who can learning to be a little more self sufficient (own veggie garden for example) can really go along ways and those are skills our society needs to get back and have a wider group of people who know them like we used to have.

I think its time

Apr 4, 2013 1:28PM
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Give a man a guinea pig and you feed him for a day, give a man two and he eats for life!
Apr 4, 2013 9:55AM
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A few more years under this administration and we'll all be eating rodents.

Apr 4, 2013 6:00PM
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Omg.......... it's still a rat...........  I could see it if someone was starving, but eating one just to eat it....... no thank you, I'll pass...Honestly with wild hogs running around all over the place, it seems like Pork would be a far better, and easier thing to eat...........besides, Guinea pigs are cute..............
Apr 5, 2013 10:45AM
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So........

 

Do you use a Wet or Dry rub for grilling ?

 

How do they do in a cassarole ?

 

Any guinea Bacon ?

Apr 4, 2013 12:48PM
Apr 4, 2013 2:27PM
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I'm tired of burgers made from parts of 1000 hormone/antibiotic, corn (not grass) fed cows. 
Where are the recipes?
Apr 7, 2013 10:26PM
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WHEN we get to survival mode,not if,but when!! You will learn to eat anything that even resembles protein or a carbohydrate!! From one who has been there,The Serferdude
Apr 5, 2013 4:43PM
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HOW ABOUT HORSE MEAT--WHICH I WOULD NOT EAT EITHER
Apr 4, 2013 10:00PM
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A Guinea pig....Is just a cuter rat, or rodent as many would know..

Rabbits are rodents and squirrels are rats in trees, but unlike many rats they are a vegetarian  species.

I have eaten rabbit, squirrel, woodchuck(groundhog) and many others or at least tried..

Don't think I would be interested in a GP, but I'm sure they are eaten some or many places?

 

Yes dog is eaten in SE Asia and I believe the Chinese are into cats..

And monkeys or monkey brains are served at events in Viet Nam..

But I think monkeys are eaten several locations in the World, mostly the Tropics.

Apr 4, 2013 11:33AM
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It's a rat. Serve it in upscale NYC restaurants. They would never know the difference. I would.
Apr 4, 2013 4:12PM
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I had GP in Peru ...it wasn't bad ....BUT the ick factor is there
Apr 4, 2013 2:52PM
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BARRY S. I`m noy respondind until you can be civil.You`ve never answered my questions.

when I hit you with facts you change the subject or turn it around to blame the Dems.I`m

a news junkie who reads tons.I have relatives who are right wingers, but at least they

can be civil about things.

Apr 4, 2013 11:37AM
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I live in Quito and cuy is a very popular dish among the locals and throughout the country.
Apr 4, 2013 10:44AM
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Why don't they just eat the potatoes and beans on that plate that is plenty of protein"  "I wonder if BRUCE KENNEDY is a guinea pig eater? I wonder if he has ever been scratched by a cat? Bit by a dog? What a wimp! They should have let someone else write this article instead of this traumatized guy! Why did they even put that disclosure on there that just shows this guys has issues he needs therapy over and shouldn't be writing articles over his deep emotional problem, let him do the weather! Oh wait maybe he is scared of thunder and lightning!
Apr 4, 2013 10:33AM
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REALLY! The author of this article has been traumatized since he was 6 because a guinea pig bit him??????? That says a lot about him huh? There is such a big, huge, giant problem with dogs and cats not being spayed or neutered why don't we eat them? I have never heard of  a unwanted guinea pig population. I have not see any commercials with teary eyed movie stars saying "Please spay or neuter your guinea pigs so they don't run the streets unwanted and starving and then animal patrol will have to hunt them down and put them in a pound just so they can be put to sleep in a week" Oh the tragedy. Guinea pigs are pets in this country just like cats and dogs I am surprised animal advocates aren't all over this.
Apr 4, 2013 11:21AM
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I say if dog is good enough for their leader all liberals should eat dog.
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