The Unlikely Protein Source We Might Be Eating in the Future

Photo: Boyloso (Shutterstock)
Photo: Boyloso (Shutterstock)

As the world becomes more mindful of the way livestock production affects the environment, researchers and farmers are on the lookout for the next potential source of animal-based protein that’s not only sustainable but able to feed a growing global population. We’ve previously covered how insects are a possible food source of the future, but a recent study at two Southeast Asian commercial farms suggests that snakes might have serious protein potential, too.

Why snakes make sense as a food source

What is it about snakes that might make them a viable food source?

“In terms of food and protein conversion ratios, pythons outperform all mainstream agricultural species studied to date,” said Dr. Daniel Natusch, Honorary research fellow at Macquarie University in Sydney, in a recent Macquarie journal article. In other words, the amount of python meat produced relative to the amount of food snakes require to grow is very efficient, especially when compared to standard farm animals like chicken and cattle.

The white meat, high-protein-yielding snake grows to a viable slaughter weight within the first year after it’s been hatched. Snake is already a fairly widely available food in China and Southeast Asia—Pizza Hut even put it on a pizza in Hong Kong once. The point of highlighting snake meat’s viability isn’t necessarily to encourage the entire globe to eat snake burgers and skewers, but rather to assist people around the globe who are protein deficient.

Yet another benefit of snake meat is that these reptiles hardly require any water to sustain them. A snake can survive off the condensed morning dew on its scales, and researchers found that when vegetable protein was mixed into snakes’ farm diet of waste protein from fish and other meat, the animals were able to digest the material with no problem. Then there’s the matter of greenhouse gases: Snakes don’t produce as much solid waste as livestock animals, and water waste is minimal.

I’ve never eaten snake meat by itself, though I have tasted it. It was in sausage form, and the meat was mixed with fatty pork, so if there was any particular nuance to its flavor, I couldn’t tell. Even so, using snake meat to supplement other meat products with a bigger carbon footprint footprint could still have environmental benefits, as long as people can get past the idea of what they’re eating.

Knowing the way many feel about snakes, at least in the Western world, this might be a tough sell in our market. But alternative protein sources will have to come from somewhere, and this sounds like a promising start.

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