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Chef Jason Peru

It looks like pork but tastes like beef, is cheaper than most traditional meats and touted as healthy.

Capybaras, known as the largest swamp rodents in the world, are being hunted for their meat by many locals who have acquired a taste and craving for it.

People in T&T are already eating a rodent, the agouti.

A delicacy in South America, former Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez promoted empanadas with the meat washed down with papaya juice.

In T&T, local chef and culinary author Jason Peru is making waves with the preparation of the meat for bacon, stew, curry, geera and hamburger, capybara meatball and spaghetti and mince capybara lasagne. He is even curing capybara prosciutto (Italian word for ham).

For Christmas Peru made a batch of capybara bacon that tasted so amazing, he is in the process of making more and tweaking the curing and smoking time.

His friends loved eating it and raved about it, but when he publicised it on his Facebook page some people were sceptical and critiqued it, while others were more accepting and willing to try it.

“World’s largest rat,” one of Peru’s Facebook fans wrote, while another added, “I will never eat it, you lost a fan today.” Unperturbed, Peru responded calmly, “No problem,” and pressed on to inform others of its versatility and succulent taste.

“Great tasting wild meat,” “Lean and tasty, drop a lil cassareep in there and you set for life,” others posted.

To the sceptics, he assured, “Trust me, you won’t know the difference if you tasted it.”

Speaking to the Sunday Guardian Peru said “I looked at the anatomy of the capybara, which I learned is an invasive species and found it resembled a pig. It has this nice drooping belly just like a pig and I wondered how would bacon made from it taste?” He took the bold step and tried it; the capybara bacon turned out amazing, Peru said excitedly.

He said when the meat was prepped, it looked just like pork, with the same front, back leg, ribs, belly cuts, but it tasted exactly like beef because of the bold, robust flavour as a result of the semi-aquatic environment it lived in, while pork tended to have a milder, more subtle flavour.

The capybaras are herbivores and eat aquatic plants such as water balisiers, water lilies and swamp grass. Peru described cabybara meat as extremely healthy as it is low in cholesterol and saturated fat.

The animal developed a thick skin, an adaptation for aquatic life and swamp conditions, with almost one inch of fat.

Peru said, however, he removed at least 70-80 per cent of fat from the meat before preparing it to eat.

“I was introduced to capybara hunting by some veteran hunters,” he said.

“It’s very important for me to always try to make from scratch, the roots and source of foods such as making my own cheese, butter, bacon, wine, yeast,” he added.

The author of “The Impregnation of Flavour” believes that once people are educated capybaras can be a viable option for pork, beef and chicken in supermarkets.

Peru opined that the capybara can also be an income generator

Even the skin of the capybara is valuable.

Peru explained that capybaras are considered by some luxury brands as the finest leather in the world.

Capybara leather, also known as Carpincho leather, ages well and gets even more comfortable with time.

The leather is used in fashion houses to make gloves, jackets, shoes and hats as well as handbags and rucksacks.

Capybaras are found in Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Peru, Brazil, Paraguay, Northeast Argentina and Uruguay. They are easy to hunt because of their weight, as some can cross over 200 lbs.

Peru added, however, that capybaras are deceptively fast over short distances, about as fast as an average dog.

The capybaras are brought into the country in pirogues from Venezuela along with other exotic animals such as monkeys and birds as a cover to smuggle guns, ammunition, alcohol, and drugs and released into the wild after the illegal transactions are conducted successfully.

A prolific breeder like the rabbit, the capybara has become an invasive species destroying farmers’ crops primarily in Orange Field in Carapichaima, Aranguez South and North and Orange Grove.

Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat revealed that the capybara though not native to T&T has been here for over 20 years, primarily in the Orange Field, Carapichaima area and then in the Caroni Bird Sanctuary area.

He said it eventually became a pest to the farmers in Aranguez South, then North and Orange Grove.

Rambharat was happy to see that it is being consumed in T&T and said the ministry will be happy to consider proposals for commercial use of the capybara.

Rambharat disclosed that Chef Jason Peru was one he followed a lot because he loved his style and the way he promoted local cuisine.

He was happy that Peru was showing off the versatility of the capybara.

The minister confirmed that several years ago, the ministry listed the capybara as a pest under the Conservation of Wildlife Act so that landowners can kill it and they are free to consume it.

When asked about the potential to save forex and generate new revenue streams with capybara meat and leather, Rambharat said he would leave that for the investors to determine.

Rambharat said there were many skins with commercial potential, but that required private sector exploration.

Regarding capybara as an alternative to imported meat, he saw the potential if the local consumer will explore the alternative.

No matter the potential of the capybara, Rambharat opined that it ultimately depended on the purchasing decision the consumer made.