What Did Charles Darwin Put In His Mouth? Pretty Much Everything.

One of Charles Darwin's quirks was his curiosity as to how the animals he studied tasted. Throughout his life, he went around the world eating exotic species.

Charles Darwin's most civilized attempt at being a foodie was The Glutton Club. This club, organized when he was at Cambridge, got together to eat exotic animals. Because they were students in England, their reach was limited. They managed to eat hawk and bittern, but when they tried chewing on a brown owl, the kids found it too disgusting to continue. Darwin wrote that it was "indescribable."


That's saying a lot, considering how many other animals he could compare it to. Darwin became a naturalist by way of beetle collecting, and it wasn't unusual for him, even in his teen years, to try eating the beetles he picked up. Once he recorded being disappointed that a bombardier beetle got away from him by firing acid into his hand. He doesn't seem to have realized how much worse that could have been for him.

During his voyages on The Beagle, Darwin could finally indulge himself. He ate the iguanas he studied on the Galapagos. He ate armadillo, which he claimed tasted like duck. He ate puma. The lesser rhea, known to scientists as Rhea darwinii, got its name because Darwin sent the few bits of it he hadn't eaten to London.

What's the best animal to fry up? It's a tie. The giant tortoise was famous among sailors for its delicious meat, and Darwin, who ate a few of them, loved the buttery taste. Alas, today the tortoise is endangered and can't be eaten. (It's a shame it can't be farmed, as being a cowboy on a tortoise ranch has to be the most relaxing job in the world.) But Darwin claimed that "the best meat I ever tasted," was a sleek brown rodent from South America. He didn't name it, but it's probably agouti - which is not endangered. So chow down.


Agouti Image: Brian Gratwicke

[Sources: Famous Foodies: Charles Darwin, Victorian Animal Dreams, The Oxford Companion to Food.]


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