Anyone who thinks of guinea pigs as pets – cute, squishy, squeaking bundles of fur – might find a new dessert idea hard to digest – guinea pig-flavoured ice cream.
The rodents are a traditional hot dish in some Latin American countries, including Colombia, Peru and Bolivia.
In Ecuador, people typically cook them with salt and serve them with potatoes and peanut sauce, but one vendor is taking things to another level, serving “cuy” – as the animal is locally known – as a cold dessert.
“I was suspicious, but it was tasty,” said Marlene Franco, a 78-year-old retiree who tried a scoop at a stall next to a road linking the capital of Quito to the city of Sangolqui.
The stall owner is Maria del Carmen Pilapana, whose offbeat offering inspires disbelief and laughter among first-time customers.
He operation is small, with two tables in an open area lined with dentists’ clinics and other businesses, but demand is growing – every week, the entrepreneur prepares 150 servings for about 80p a cone.
She also makes 40 servings of ice cream flavoured with beetles, also traditionally eaten as a salty snack, and a smaller amount of mushroom ice cream.
“My family and my husband thought I was crazy. They didn’t think anyone would like these ice creams, but now they’re our main product,” said Ms Pilapana, who acknowledges she had her own doubts about whether her investment would pay off.
After attending free training courses for entrepreneurs, she was challenged to do something innovative and, after six months of testing, she starting selling her range of ice creams at the beginning of September.
She concentrates guinea pig flavour by cooking and preparing a pate from the animal’s flesh, adding milk or cream and refrigerating. The finished concoction has the rough consistency of ice cream, while the taste is similar to chicken.
The beetle and mushroom ice creams include fruits such as pineapple and passion fruit. Beetle ice cream has a slight aroma of wet earth.
Ms Pilapana has new flavors in mind: crab, chicken and pork.
“Seeing how my business is picking up, I’m sure I’ll do well,” she said.