Zhong Nanshan, the chief infectious disease expert of China, has said that the bamboo rat or rhizomys could be the source of the latest coronavirus.

Dubbed as agricultural pests, these rodents feed on crop plants like bamboo, sugar cane, and tapioca. Since they are an annoyance to Chinese farms more than anything, adding them to a Chinese diet to increase their protein intake is a good idea.

The consumption of bamboo rat was highly recommended in the classic 16th century traditional Chinese medicine bible, ‘Compendium of Materia Media’. It was said that the meat of the bamboo rat is sweet, smooth and non-toxic, as well as beneficial for ‘qi‘. It was also said to be able to counter poisons.

In modern times, farmers say that bamboo rats are rich in iron, phosphorus, calcium, amino acids, steroids, and vitamin E, making their meat better than poultry, seafood, and red meat. The girth of the bamboo rat is thick and it can usually be found in subtropical forests, bamboo forests, and thickets. They are said to be rich in nutritional value, economic value, and medicinal value.

The large bamboo rat is also touted as a wonderful source of protein, while being low in fat, calories, and cholesterol at the same time. Thanks to its size and nutritional value, more and more Chinese people have grown to acquire a taste of it. It has also been recommended by several online celebrities, including Chef Wang Gang, Ye Fayan, and the ‘Chinese Farm Brothers’.

The Chinese Farm Brothers actually specialise in raising these rats for meat. Since the price of this meat is higher than regular meat and has become very popular with diners, a lot of artificial breeding farmers like them have popped up in China.

Farmers have been strongly advocating the consumption of bamboo rat meat, as well, by claiming that it can cure anything from depression to heatstroke to aggression. They have even been sharing cute pictures of the animal to endear it to people.

Several Chinese restaurants have also added these rats to their menu roster and while they weren’t exactly well-received in the beginning, online videos have popularised it. Plus, there are claims that the meat is good for the skin and to enhance one’s beauty, so millennials have taken a liking to it.

Bamboo rats multiply very quickly with three to four litters a year. Newborns grow quickly, too – from 10g to 2kg in half a year. Since farming thousands of them would be easy, you can definitely see the huge potential in the rat business.

It seems they are indeed already very popular, though. Having started with only 50 bamboo rats in 2014, the Chinese Farm Brothers now sell 1,000 bamboo rats a year. Another farmer has also boasted that he has sold more than a million bamboo rats in 2019 alone and that the demand has already outstripped the supply.

Header Image from Zaobao.