6 June 2024

Food vendors and consumers have been hard hit by the escalating prices of chicken, eggs, and pork in particular, the latter has doubled in price since last year. It’s a situation that calls for some innovative ideas, and owners of crocodile farms have risen to the occasion by promoting the reptile’s meat as a cheaper alternative.

While a croc might be unappetizing to some, the health authorities are reassuring, saying it’s fine for people to consume the meat when it’s handled and cooked properly. Indeed, gourmets will tell you cuts from the tail and fillet as well as the penis are tasty.

A good source of protein that is low in calories and fat

Dr. Suwannachai Wattanayingcharoenchai, chief of the Department of Health, says crocodile meat can be an alternative protein source when pork is expensive but advises people to remain vigilant when handling and cooking.

“Eating the meat raw or undercooked would not be safe,” he says.

He explains that most reptiles including crocodiles carry salmonella, a bacteria found in their guts. Crocodile meat can become contaminated with bacteria during processing.

The bacterial infection in people, he adds, can cause illness including severe food poisoning, typhoid, diarrhea and abdominal pain.

To avoid cross-contamination, Dr. Suwannachai advises washing the hands and utensils before processing the meat and thoroughly cooking it before consumption.

When it comes to buying the meat, he suggests looking for flesh that is fresh and solid and has no bad odor and only purchasing from a reliable source that is concerned about food safety and storage.

He adds that crocodile meat from farms is regarded as an ‘environmentally friendly’ product as the reptiles are raised in a free-range environment and are chemical-free.

Dr. Saipin Chotivichien, director of Bureau of Nutrition, Department of Health says crocodile meat is low in calories and fat.

There is very little difference in the protein content between the reptile’s meat and other traditional meats when comparing servings though it does tend to have a slightly higher cholesterol level than other meats.

The expert gives a nutritional breakdown of different meats per 100-gram serving as a guide.

According to Dr. Saipin, a serving of crocodile meat contains 99 kilocalories (kcal), 21.5 grams (g) of protein, 2.9g of fat, and 65 milligrams (mg) of cholesterol. Pork on the other hand has 107 kcal, 22g of protein, 2g of fat, and 22mg of cholesterol.

A serving of chicken meat contains 145 kcal, 22.2g of protein, 6.2g of fat, and 62mg of cholesterol while beef has 121 kcal, 21.2 of protein, 4g of fat, and 51mg of cholesterol.

All the meats are packed with protein, Dr. Saipin says, adding that fish, eggs, nuts, legumes, and beans are also good alternative sources of protein for those who prefer not to eat meat.

According to her, the cuts of crocodile meat can be cooked in the same manner as other traditional meats, ranging from boiled to stewed and from grilling to frying

High demand gives hopes to farm owners

Demand for crocodile meat has been strong following the spike in prices for pork and Wichai Rungtaweechai, for one, is grateful. The owner of the Rungtaweechai Crocodile Farm in Nakhon Pathom’s Don Toom district tells Thai PBS World said in a phone interview that the farm has seen the sales of the reptile’s meat rise by more than 70 percent. Sales at the farm’s restaurant have also increased.

“We serve different dishes with grilled or stir-fried cuts of meat and with noodles too,” he says.

The farm sells over 100 kilograms (kgs) of meat per day at retail prices ranging from 150 to 200 baht per kg, which is far less than pork, which is hovering around 200 baht.

Wichai says his farm has been operating for more than 30 years and is currently home to more than 10,000 crocodiles of various sizes, of which 1,000 are breeders. The reptiles are mainly farmed for their leather and blood. Meat is a byproduct that is sold for human’s consumption.

The blood of crocodile is in demand in many Asian markets for its perceived medicinal properties, he adds. It usually comes in capsules as a dietary supplement.

The farm owner explains that crocodiles are ready for slaughter when they are about 3 years old and weighing 30-40 kgs. An average-sized animal gives about 12 kgs of meat.

Most parts of the crocodile can be eaten, with the most popular cuts being the tenderloin, ribs, body, jaw, and tail.

“Most people enjoy eating meat from the body as it’s boneless. Some like the premium cuts from the upper part of the animal’s tail. These cuts are among our bestsellers,” Wichai said.

He adds that the growing trend is giving hope to his farm, which had been hit hard by Covid-19, making it difficult to sell the skin and the blood.

“I’m not sure if the increased popularity will last. Well, crocodile meat is lean. low in fat and high in protein so, it can be a healthy choice for meat lovers. It can be used in several recipes. We use no chemicals in farming, so the meat should be safe for human’s consumption. On top of that, the prices are now cheaper than chicken and pork. The meat can be ideal for many,” Wichai said.

Exotic and tasty

Restaurateur Kamol Trisitthichet, the owner of the 79-year-old Chinese restaurant Arlek Ratchawongse, said that the tail is delicious and tastes like chicken. “It can be cooked like other meats such as stir-fried in oyster sauce, boiled or barbequed,” he says.

When he first got the meat from a friend, he worried it would have an unpleasantly strong smell but he washed it with salt and rinsed it with water and the taste was okay.

Youtuber and epicurean Sahassawat Chobchingchai (aka Mom Thanad Daek) was quoted by Khomchadluek online as saying crocodile meat is truly exotic and delicious.

“Crocodile meat tastes a lot like chicken. There is no fishy odor. I love the penis cut. It’s tasty. It can be compared to pork tendon,” the gourmet said, recalling his review of a restaurant that serves exotic menus cooked with the reptile’s meat.

Even though the animals look menacing, they are tasty. And their meat is very much the same as other traditional meats, Sahassawat adds.

Another epicurean who doesn’t want to be named simply echoed Sahassawat’s comments about the taste.

“I love meat from the tail and fillet. It’s very much like chicken. The cut is perfect for steaks for BBQ. It can be used as a substitute for chicken in stews or stir-fried dishes,” he said.

By Veena Thoopkrajae with additional report by Sukhumaporn Laiyok