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Last Updated: Saturday, 23 October, 2004, 04:13 GMT 05:13 UK
Diners lured by super guinea pig
A new super-guinea pig
The larger breed is said to be meatier and tastier
Scientists in Peru hope a new breed of guinea pig will convert the world to one of their favourite delicacies.

A new super-sized version of the cuddly rodent has been developed at one of Peru's top universities.

Although in most of the world guinea pigs are enjoyed as pets - not ingredients - exporters hope the larger animal will be easier to sell abroad.

"It is really delicious," says Gloria Palacios, director of La Molina National University's export project.

"I think if they become familiar with the cuisine, maybe suddenly they'll give in and be tempted to try it," she adds.

Dining experience

For hundreds of years farmers high in the mountains of Peru have bred guinea pigs for food.

They provide an important source of protein for many people in the poor South American country.

Peruvians eat an estimated 65 million guinea pigs a year.

It is a dining experience with a difference, says the BBC's Peru correspondent Hannah Hennessy.

You need two hands to pick at the small amount of stringy meat from the carcass, which often comes with its head and legs attached, she says.

It is often said to taste a bit like rabbit.

Segundo Quispe, left, and his nephew Maximo Quispe eat guinea pig in a restaurant in Lima, Peru
Guinea pig has been enjoyed in Peru for centuries
After more than three decades of research, Peruvian scientists say their super-guinea pig is almost twice the normal size, weighing just over 1kg (2.2lb).

The new breed is said to be meatier, tastier, high in protein and low in fat and cholesterol.

About 1,000 are being exported every week, to the United States, Japan and a handful of European countries with large Peruvian immigrant populations.

Besides their culinary uses, guinea pigs also have a traditional history in Peruvian medicine and native religion.

There is evidence showing guinea pigs were domesticated in Peru as far back as 2500 BC.

The Incas are said to have sacrificed 1,000 white guinea pigs and 100 llamas in Cuzco's main square each July, to protect their crops from droughts and floods.

They can also be seen in pictures in churches. While Spanish colonisers made the locals depict Catholic scenes, Peruvians sometimes added their own touches.

Thus in Lima and Cuzco churches still show Jesus and his disciples at the Last Supper dining on roasted guinea pig.

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