It sounds crazy, but you can do your part to save the world … by eating. No joke. In all seriousness, you can help the environment by eating certain invasive plants and animals. While that may not sound tasty, hear us out.
Invasive species are introduced (typically by humans) into an area where they have no natural predators, meaning they rapidly multiply and eventually threaten the ecosystems they live in. With few ways to stop them, the best thing to do is eat them! Which we will happily do.
Here are nine of the most delicious invasive species that you can eat while simultaneously saving the environment.
These beautiful yet venomous fish came in like a hurricane to wreak havoc all over the Atlantic. They’re originally native to the Indo-Pacific ocean, but it’s believed that aquarium enthusiasts, tired of seeing these predators eat the smaller fish in the tank, released them into the wild sometime in the 80s.
Considered one of the most aggressively invasive animals on the planet, they’re known for decimating small native populations of fish on coral reefs. But once you remove their poisonous spines, you are left with a delicate-tasting fish, similar to snapper, that is ideal for grilling, frying or serving in a ceviche.
2. Prickly Pear
Common in drier areas of the world, the prickly pear is one of the most invasive species of cactus. And one of the most delicious. Originally native to Mexico, they can now be found in the Southern U.S., Australia, and parts of China, the Middle East, and North Africa.
Already a classic Southwestern and Mexican staple, both the fruit of the prickly pear and the pads (nopales) are edible. One popular way to eat them is by frying strips of the cactus pad with eggs and jalapeños for a delicious breakfast treat. If you pick the pear while it’s young, the dangerous pines won’t have hardened, so you can enjoy it skinned or un-skinned.
These fish are terrifying – terrifying and delicious. Supposedly, one mating pair kept as pets and released after outgrowing their tank are responsible for their spread throughout much of the U.S.
As a top-tier predator, snakeheads eat everything in sight and can even breathe air and walk on land – for days at a time. THEY’RE A NIGHTMARE.
However, these freshwater fish native to China, Korea, and Russia taste fantastic in classic Asian stew. One restaurant in Maryland makes a great snakehead ceviche with citrus and cilantro, which sounds much better than imagining these fish walking out of the water and taking over the world.
4. Wild Boar
We loved bacon too much. Early European settlers brought boar with them to the U.S., and they’ve now taken over much of the South, eating everything in their path and causing over a billion dollars in damage.
Thankfully, wild boar is served up pretty commonly at higher end restaurants, and for good reason. Wild boars (and their distant cousins, feral pigs) tend to interbreed in the woods of North America and Europe and quite literally run wild.
However, while they are similar to the pork we know and love, their meat tends to be slightly leaner and darker. World-saving pork chops anyone?
5. Garlic Mustard
A plant with this name already sounds amazing. Native throughout Europe, Western & Central Asia as well as parts of North Africa, it’s one of the oldest plants we’ve used for cooking. In the 1860s, it was brought to North America where it quickly spread throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Once you harvest this wildflower, you can wash off the leaves and enjoy them raw in salads. If given time to age, they become more bitter and taste great in soups, marinades or meat rubs. Our favorite way to enjoy this invasive plant? Turning it into a garlic mustard pesto. Now that is the best way to help the environment, my friends.
6. Green Crab
Like you need another excuse to enjoy crab. Originally found in the Northeast Atlantic Ocean around Europe and the Baltic Sea, green crabs are now found on both U.S. coasts as well as Japan, Australia, South America and Africa – so yeah, nearly everywhere.
Green crabs are unignorable everywhere on the East Coast. Literally. Flip over a rock in Maine or Massachusetts and, guaranteed, there will be green crabs. The key to eating them is knowing when they molt, which Italian cooks have perfected, dipping them in egg batter and deep frying them. The U.S. variety is harder to predict, but chefs are starting to use their meat to make amazing risotto and minestrone dishes.
7. Asian Tiger Shrimp (a.k.a., Giant Cannibal Shrimp)
No this isn’t the latest SyFy Sharknado rip-off. They’re cannibal shrimp, and they can grow as big as thirteen inches long, which is about the size of a lobster. Lobster-sized shrimp cocktail? YES, PLEASE.
As their name implies, these shrimp also enjoy eating the native shrimp we happen to call food. Thankfully, the larger shrimp are also delicious. Originally native to the Indian and Pacific Oceans, they’re quickly spreading throughout the Gulf of Mexico.
8. Wild Fennel
Native to the Mediterranean region, this tall (up to 9 ft) invasive plant is now a common sight along America’s roads, particularly by coasts and rivers. Their seeds are easily dispersed by water and wind, which means they’re everywhere.
Wild fennel is already a pretty popular herb, also known as anise or aniseed. But it persists to grow like weeds. So, do your part and use this fennel whenever you can. Just don’t confuse it with poison hemlock, fennel’s very poisonous look alike.
This one seems a little gross, but you have to trust us. The nutria is a large, beaver-sized rodent with a long rat tail that thrives in tropical South America and some parts of the Southern U.S. Still with us? Cool.
Nutria tend to destroy most of the plant life around them, making them a hazard to the ecosystem, but a blessing to our stomachs. If you can get past the fact that you’re eating a 20-pound swamp rat, you will enjoy yourself some nutria Slim Jims. Yeah, not joking.