Growing in the 1980s, in Puerto Rico, Jean-Paul Polo and Isabel Perez Loehmann were constantly aware of the menacing effects of the island’s fast-increasing iguana population, currently estimated at around four million. Found all over the Carribean, Central and South America, these large spiny-tailed reptiles are known to wreak havoc on crops and can even weaken asphalt pavements by hollowing out tiny paths underneath them. To deal with what some Puerto Ricans call the ‘green plague’, some researchers have come up with an unusual, albeit slightly scary, way of pest control: eating them as deep-fried delicacies.
While iguana meat is commonly consumed in many of the Central and South American countries, people of Puerto Rico are not quite ready to accept it as food. This mainly stems from cultural aversions towards eating reptiles. What is more, it is actually illegal to sell the meat in the island, which is ironic since most of it is exported to the United States where it sells for nearly $56 per pound.
And ‘iguana as food’ is exactly the solution put forth by biologist Rafael Joglar of the University of Puerto Rico. So, in the process of making a video on the subject, Polo and Perez Loehmann, film producers working for the National Geographic, invited Roberto Hernandez , a chef at a well-known restaurant in Washington, DC, to come up with delicious iguana recipes. The meat can be fried, roasted and even stewed. According to Hernandez, however, his deep-fried popcorn iguana seemed to be the biggest hit among the diners. He said:
It smelled like fish, it felt like chicken in their hands, but it looked like red meat, so it’s a completely different experience for me as a chef.
The iguana meat is almost completely lean (thus accounting for cheap chunks of protein), and is also used for its oil, which is believed to cure rheumatism, cuts and bruises, and even increase one’s sex drive. However, one of the main concerns with regard to its consumption, is the risk of acquiring salmonella. Moreover, it should also be noted that while iguanas are an invasive species in Puerto Rico, they still belong to many of the endangered lists in a few countries – on account of being hunted for their ‘chicken-esque’ protein content.