Monday, October 22, 2012

So How Does Panda Taste?

Chinese scientists have found evidence that prehistoric people ate giant pandas. The Explainer has previously described the flavors of whale, sloth, dinosaur, horse, and even human. How does giant panda meat taste?

Terrible, apparently. In 1983, a Chinese villager named Leng Zhizhong was tried for illegally killing a giant panda. He told the judge that his wife cooked the meat with turnips, but they didn’t enjoy it, so he fed some to his pigs and gave the remainder to his sister. Leng, unfortunately, didn’t explain what made the meat so unpalatable in what appears to be the only written description of panda-eating.
But then, given some of the things that appeal to Chinese (bird nests, jellyfish), I don't always accept the first Chinese opinion that I come by on the edibility of some item.
Rural Chinese people have no tradition of eating the animal, and some ethnic groups may have considered the practice forbidden. When President Theodore Roosevelt’s sons, Kermit and Theodore IV, killed a giant panda in 1928, their local guides refused to join them in eating the meat and called in a priest to purify the hayloft where the beast had been butchered. (The Roosevelt boys left no description of the taste.)
Who'd have thunk that Teddy Roosevelt would name one of his sons after Kermit the Frog?
It’s tempting to assume that giant pandas would taste like other members of the taxonomic family Ursidae, such as black and brown bears, which were a regular part of the frontier diet in 18th-century North America. Bear meat is darker and fattier than beef, although similar in flavor. The problem with the comparison, though, is that an animal’s diet greatly affects the flavor of its own flesh. Bears that dine mainly on salmon, for example, taste worse than those with a more varied diet. Since 99 percent of a giant panda’s diet is bamboo—with the occasional addition of a rodent, bird, or fish that popped out of a stream—it’s very unlikely that its flesh tastes anything like that of other bears.
I don't see how that follows at all;  I would be willing to believe that Pandas taste a lot like other bears that have been eating a mostly vegetarian diet, as they often do.  But there's only one way to find out.

General Tso's Panda anyone?

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