Bats are a food source for humans in the Pacific Rim and Asia. Bats are consumed in various amounts in Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Guam, and in other Asian and Pacific Rim countries and cultures. In Guam, Mariana fruit bats (Pteropus mariannus) are considered a delicacy, and a flying fox bat species was made endangered due to being hunted there. In addition to being hunted as a food source for humans, bats are also hunted for their skins. Hunting techniques include netting and with a shotgun.
The 1999 version of The Oxford Companion to Food states that the flavor of fruit bats is similar to that of chicken, and that they are "clean animals living exclusively on fruit". Bats are prepared in several manners, such as grilled, barbecued, deep fried, cooked in stews and in stir frys. When deep fried, the entire bat may be cooked and consumed. Bats have a low fat content and are high in protein.
In the Torah and in the Bible, the book of Leviticus (11,13-19) prescribes not to eat the flesh of a bat: "These you shall detest among the birds; they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: (...) the bat."
Bat meat was already consumed in ancient times. In the Geographica of Strabo it is described the city of Borsippa (now Birs Nimrud in Iraq), where there was a large number of bats captured by the inhabitants, who "salad them to eat them". In the sixteenth century Italian naturalist Ulisse Aldrovandi refers in his treatise Ornitologia that bats have a white meat, edible, and excellent flavor.
The consumption of bat meat in Europe has been scarcely widespread, not only because of repugnance, but also because of the size of European bats, which being all insectivores are also small.
In the past it has been recorded the custom of the peasants of Costozza (in the province of Vicenza, Italy) to eat bats, considered edible and tasty, especially Horseshoe bats. After WWII the bats of Costozza caves were almost extinct "for the ruthless hunting that the natives make of them, at the time of the grape, in order to assimilate them with the most tasty little birds" In 1959 it is reported that "in some places [of Italy], for example in Liguria and Veneto regions, the bats are or were used as food". The current Italian law no. 157/1992 includes bats in the so-called "particularly protected" wildlife and punishes criminally the killing, capture and detention of specimens with the arrest from two to eight months or a fine from 774 to 2065 euros.
The Indonesian people of Minahasa, who live in the northern part of the island of Sulawesi, have a dish called paniki, prepared with fried fruit bat and seasoned with curry. Often other spices and herbs and coconut milk are among the ingredients for the dish; the paniki can also be used as a base to prepare a soup. Sometimes the paniki is abundantly seasoned with pepper and then, according to some sources, it tastes like hot beef.
In Vietnam, the bat meat is sometimes added to rice porridge, while in Laos and Cambodia bat heads are fried on skewers and in some areas are a popular snack. In these countries, small bats are generally stewed over low heat with vegetables. There are also recipes for boiled and finely chopped bat meat, the extract of which is used as a tonic. In the Philippines, the consumption of the Dobsonia chapmani species was widespread and is now endangered due to intensive hunting.
Bat dishes are also known in the southern regions of China, while in Cantonese cuisine the bat meat is considered an exotic dish. In Taiwan, in some shops it is possible to find fried bats. Also known in Sichuan cuisine is a soup made from undigested mosquito from bat droppings.
In Japan, food consumption of bats was widespread in the Ryukyu Islands (during the existence of the Ryukyu kingdom) and in Ogasarawa, although they were episodic cases not present in traditional culture. The number of bats on these islands has always been small, so they are now protected and hunting is prohibited by law.
In Palau local bats are cooked with coconut milk, ginger and various spices and served in local restaurants and sold in shops. During the period of Japanese rule in Palau (1918-1944), bat dishes were a common food in high school canteens.
Vanuatu's cuisine is also famous for its bat dishes. The islanders, as well as the Filipino aborigines of the Agta people (Aeta) in the past, mainly use bows and arrows to hunt them.
In New Caledonia, bat hunting is sometimes organized as a show for tourists.
In Papua New Guinea, the consumption of bats is common among the Karan. According to some sources, the meat of local bats resembles chicken and the soup with spices that is cooked by it is considered more nutritious than its Indonesian counterpart. Some Australian Aboriginal tribes also eat bats, hunting them with the boomerang.
In West Africa, food consumption of bats is recorded in Guinea and Sierra Leone, but is most common in Burkina Faso, where bat meat dishes are quite popular: residents of the country hunt them with guns, air guns or fry them with slingshots made from tree branches and elastics.
In the Seychelles Islands, in the Indian Ocean, bat meat is cooked with curry and is one of the main dishes of Creole national cuisine.
Bats for human consumption in Laos
The hunting and consumption of bats as bushmeat is a public health risk in West Africa due to the danger of zoonotic diseases. Bats are a natural reservoir for Ebola virus and Marburg virus, and infected bats can pass viruses to humans who come in close contact with them. Bats may also host henipaviruses and various strains of rabies.
Eating fruit bats is also linked to a neurological disease called lytico-bodig disease. Paul Alan Cox from the Hawaiian National Tropical Botanical Garden in Kalaheo, and Oliver Sacks from Albert Einstein College in New York, found the bats consumed large quantities of cycad seeds and appear to accumulate the toxins to dangerous levels.
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