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Invasive, delicious: how to cook and eat invasive species

18 October, 2023
Blue crabs, an invasive species.


Grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)

Cute as they are, the grey Squirrel, native to North America, threatens Europe’s population of red squirrels leading to the former ending up on the menu of some progressive restaurants. Restaurants like the now-closed Native in the UK, have come to feature the invasive grey squirrel on the menu and changed how the ingredient is perceived both at home and internationally. Squirrel makes a perfect substitute for chicken or game in any number of recipes and for something slightly different put it in this recipe.

Nutria (Myocastor coypus)

The South American nutria has invaded Europe and North America, but the rodent provides a very lean, protein-rich meat that is widely used across its native habitat of Latin America. Substitute the nutria in any recipe that calls for turkey or rabbit for a delicious, ethical alternative.

Sika deer (Cervus nippon)

While sika deer venison is widely used across the world as a premium game ingredient, the East Asian deer is invasive to North America and Europe and the population needs to be controlled. For tips and tricks on cooking venison in various ways check out this guide. Try this hearty recipe for Venison ragout with croutons and potato noodles to use sika deer in an ethical, sustainable way.

Wels catfish (Silurus glanis)

The wels catfish, native to eastern Europe, in the basins of the Baltic, Black and Caspian Seas has invaded large swathes of Western Europe and North America since the beginning of the 20th century and has thrived there ever since. A voracious predator that can adapt to any freshwater environment the fish regularly grows to become a 2.5 metre monster. That means that when a fisherman lands one of these beasts, there is copious meat to go around. Use wels catfish as a substitute for cod in this recipe for hearty fish pie.

Fish pie is a classic recipe for any budding chef’s repertoire and a delicious, lighter option for the sunnier months.

Japanese knotweed (Reynoutria japonica)

Japanese knotweed, native to Japan and East Asia has infiltrated temperate climates across the globe and is considered a pest that hampers the growth of native species in many countries. The good news is that the roots of Japanese knotweed are edible and delicious, with a similar flavour profile to rhubarb. Substitute knotweed roots for rhubarb in the below recipe.


Iguana, currently out of control in the US state of Florida, is a widely used ingredient in Central America and is sometimes called ‘chicken of the trees’. The meat of the iguana is very good to eat and contains more protein than chicken. So, you can substitute iguana for chicken in virtually any recipe, like the one below.

Burmese python (Python bivittatus)

One of the largest snakes, the Burmese python has infested the swamplands of Florida where it has been a thriving invasive species for decades. Some experts estimate that the python has reduced the population of native mammals by as much as 90%. The meat of the python is tough and so requires cooking over a long time at low temperatures to tenderise it. Once cooked though, it can be used as a substitute for pork in any dish. Try the recipe below to make ‘pulled python’ sandwiches.

Try these easy recipe for pulled pork sandwiches, perfect if you're looking for an authentic American dish: a panini recipe for a tasty brunch or quick meal

Rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)

The rainbow trout is a species native to cold-water tributaries of the Pacific Ocean in Asia and North America, however, it is well established across rivers and lakes all over the world. The meat of this fish is a highly prized ingredient in many countries and is a typical freshwater fish that can be used in many recipes. Try this recipe for rainbow trout with chervil, forest mushrooms and wild garlic.

Apple snail (Ampullariidae)

The apple snail is a genus of snails that includes multiple species that typically hail from Central America, where they are traditionally highly prized as an ingredient. The snail has become an invasive species, most notably in Southeast Asia where it was introduced as a farmed produce but hence threatened rice production in the region when the snails escaped their enclosures and got out of control. The apple snail can be eaten and cooked in any snail dish and offers more protein than the typical Burgundy snail used in escargot dishes. Substitute the apple snail in the dishes below to get the most from this invasive, yet delicious species.

Carrot cake at Oyster Oyster.

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