How come that something usually associated with sensations like disgust and revulsion is now regarded a highly fashionable accessory to people’s gourmet outings? How is it possible that “mouth-watering” can be the chosen adjective to a brew, whose original ingredients have passed through animals’ intestines? Kopi Luwak, the coffee made from beans fished out of civet cat droppings, tops the list of delicacies of the must-try series. Its exorbitant price makes the experience even more exclusive. Or so it seems.
The Asian Palm Civet
Fully grown, it is about half a metre long, has a tail of similar length and a shiny pelt of coarse, greyish hair. The rather cute Asian Palm Civet (paradoxurus hermaphroditus) could be compared with the raccoon inhabiting North America and is a so-called toddy cat. Its preferred diet consists of berries and pulpy fruit, making it a diligent dissemination agent of (undigested) seeds across the lush tropical forest – thus automatically keeping the delicate ecosystem in a healthy balance. A civet also happily feeds on palm sap turning into palm wine (toddy) when fermented, and it plays a major role in the germination of palm trees. When threatened, the animal activates a scent gland* situated at its rear and emits a nauseating secretion to scare the enemy away. And to mark its territory. Same as raccoons, they are not (yet) an endangered species. They populate virtually every Asian country in high numbers and, just like their US cousins, have become a growing nuisance in some residential areas.
From the gourmet point of view wild civets are regarded highly desirable creatures. Not for their meat, beware! The object of international concupiscence is their droppings. Not a pretty sight, that’s for sure, nor an olfactory pleasure during the harvest. With all likelihood, storage times are strictly limited for obvious reasons. Perhaps – to the relief of outsiders – it should be clarified that it’s not the feces that are being consumed. May heaven prevent that that becomes fashionable one day! But like in many landslide inventions, hidden qualities were detected by mere coincidence.
Tastes of chocolate and caramel
Why anyone would want to sample unadulterated toddy cat excrement in the first place, has not been bequeathed. History has it that one day, during a mysterious but obviously fruitful mission followed by a dare-devil self-experiment– locals discovered that enzymes prevailing in the civet’s stomach and digestive tract broke down the bitterness in coffee beans quite beautifully.
All cold-blooded pioneers must suffer! After washing, drying, roasting and brewing, the former colon content was marketed as what later was to be known as Kopi Luwak. Despite its arguable provenance, the most expensive coffee worldwide is very much in demand and still fetches top-notch prices of approx. 70 US-Dollars per 100 grams – shipping included. Remains to be emphasised that – different from back then and still often claimed by producers – nowadays it is said not to be as rare a commodity as consumers are made to believe.
Why? Large numbers of civets are being captured from their wild habitat, caged battery-style and fed coffee beans for mass production of this much-desired blend. Animal-welfare protectors are now on red alert.
“TAMPAKSIRING, BALI – MAY 27: A civet cat looks out from a cage inside a ‘Kopi Luwak’ or Civet coffee farm and cafe on May 27, 2013 in Tampaksiring, Bali, Indonesia. World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) commissioned research showing the true cost of the world’s most expensive coffee, thousands of civets are being poached from the wild, kept in inhumane, conditions, and farmed to meet the growing global demand for civet coffee.” Nicky Loh.
*Musky civet oil: from the gland straight into the perfume bottle
The natural „by-product“ of the anal glands, the civet oil, exudes a pungent smell but is confirmed to fuse nicely with floral components. The strong and feculent secretion becomes „pleasantly musky with an animalistic nuance“ when used in minute quantities, and it lends „warmth and depth“ to any fragrance. In order to harvest the oil, the secretions are/were? scraped from the live – encaged – animal’s glands in a painful procedure. Today’s Western perfume industry claims only to use the synthetically replicated variety – for ethical reasons. www.petaasiapacific.com