Copper engraving of a civet cat from Pomet’s “A compleat history of druggs’,
translated into English, with additions from Lemery and Tournefort, London, 1712
Viral DNA Match Spurs China's Civet Roundup Dennis Normil Science Volume 303, Number 5656, Issue of 16 Jan 2004, p. 292
Civets Back on China's Menu Dennis Normile and Ding Yimin Science Volume 301, Number 5636, Issue of 22 Aug 2003, p. 1031.
The Cantonese are infamous for their penchant for wild and interesting animal flesh. As a dongbeiren [person from northeast China] friend once put it: "The Cantonese will eat anything that flies, except an aeroplane; anything in the water, except a boat, and; anything with legs, except a table!"
...I remember the first time I saw a civet cat outside a fancy restaurant adjacent to the Pearl River. The strange little animal, curled up as far from the cobras as he could get, perplexed my friends and me. In fact it wasn't until last year when the poor little fellas were first blamed for the SARS outbreak that I finally knew what that animal was. (Civet cat and turtle, I'm told, make for a great soup)...
Delightful delicacies and deadly diseases
The source of the SARS virus, as of most other troubles, is ultimately food. Not its scarcity - but its specialty
By Ruqaiya Hasan
Scientists have been busy, tracking down the source of the SARS virus, and it turns out that the source of this trouble, as of most others, is ultimately food. Not, however, its scarcity, as perhaps with some types of terrorism, but its specialty. It has now been definitively established by some scientists at the University of Hong Kong that the SARS virus -- like that of the Hong Kong flu -- can be traced ultimately to the Cantonese convention of treating as edible everything that bares its back to the sky or moves around in the ocean. The flu virus crossed from ducks to humans, via animals domesticated for food such as pigs.
The SARS virus has a much more exotic source: it is found in a variety of the cat family known as the palm civet. Not much bigger than the ordinary mogs we adore as pets, it is a rare and very expensive ingredient of Cantonese cuisine, one of the major cuisine traditions from the great Chinese civilisation. For several years, the use of the civet cat in cooking has been illegal in Hong Kong, and though in PRC its culinary use is legitimate, the scarcity factor pushes the price up, turning it into an expensive and desirable delicacy. The temptation of the taste is such that often some rich folks (why are the rich always at the bottom of every problem, I ask!) travel all the way from Hong Kong to Shenzhen or Guangdong just to have dishes containing bits of the civet cat.
One of the culinary delights said to cost hundreds of yuan, is known as tiger, dragon and phoenix soup, the ingredients of which include shreds of snake (that's your dragon!), of palm civet (the tiger, obviously!) and the petals of the chrysanthemum (that's the phoenix!), which attracts gourmet connoisseurs from miles around. One wonders what makes the dish so popular - its taste or the privilege and status indicated by the ability to afford such high price for no more than part of a meal. After all, the ultimate mark of good taste in wine is the ability to purchase certain French wines at the rate of $1000+ per bottle, even though its contents might be materially not much better than an ordinary $12 bottle of Australian or South African wine.
What Does Civet Cat Taste Like?
(Brendan I. Koerner, Slate)
Though their sleek torsos and short, limber legs may seem catlike, civet cats aren't really felines. Rather, they're members of the family Viverridae—which ranges from Africa to eastern Asia—and they're closely related to the mongoose. African viverrids tend to be carnivorous, but the civets common to China prefer to dine on fruit, especially spiky, foul-smelling durians. The species on the hook for SARS is the masked palm civet, so called because it resides in trees and bears black-and-white facial markings.
The simplest way to prepare civet for the dinner table is to roast the animal whole. Because of its diet, the animal is reputed to emit a fruity fragrance once cooked, although those who've sampled the flesh more often characterize it as "gamey." A traditional Filipino recipe masks the taste by adding vinegar, salt, soy sauce, pepper, garlic, and oregano to the mix. The Chinese approach—braising the meat in soy sauce, hoisin sauce, sugar, garlic, vinegar, and ginger (among other ingredients)—also does the trick.
From Lynne Kasper's column
Dear Lynne: I have a weird question. On TV's "CSI," they caught a murderer because he drank "the world's most expensive coffee" brewed from beans first passed through an animal's digestive system. Made-up for TV, right? -- Coffee Nut
Dear Coffee Nut: Vietnam's civet cat coffee, or caphe cut chon, is real. This cult food promoter's dream reportedly tastes rich and earthy (no wonder). It is the end result of wild fox-like civet cats (related to the mongoose) feasting on ripe robusta coffee berries.
Between wild land lost to cultivation and civet cats becoming prized barbecue, real caphe cut chon is as scarce as hen's teeth. Faking is constant, so don't pawn the Harley for this one.
Bardot Blasts China for Killing Civet Cats Saturday January 10, 2004 News Channel 8
PARIS (AP) - French actress Brigitte Bardot has sent a letter to China's president criticizing the killing of civet cats in its fight against the SARS virus.
Bardot's letter to President Hu Jintao claims there's no scientific proof about which animal species first caught the severe acute respiratory syndrome and lashes out against China's "cruel and barbarous slaughtering methods."
"The eradication methods these animals are put through are unacceptable," Bardot wrote in her letter, which was made available to reporters Thursday.
The southern Chinese province of Guangdong has targeted 10,000 civets for slaughter - by drowning, electrocution or incineration - by Saturday as part of its battle against the spread of the virus.
offee That Satisfies A Discerning Civet Cat Is Excellent Indeed
Good to the Last Dropping,
Caphe Cut Chon Is a Rare Find (Wall Street Journal
March 17, 1999)
By SAMANTHA MARSHALL
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
DAKLAK, Vietnam -- Coffee farmer Ho Hoang Yen fondly remembers one of his boyhood chores of half a century ago. With mist rolling off the hills, he would rise at dawn, trek through the lush highland wilderness, and forage beneath dewy bushes for the finest coffee beans.
His French-colonial plantation master expected nothing but the best on his breakfast table, and the young Mr. Yen knew just where to find it.
"Ah, fox dung," recalls the 66-year-old farmer, smacking his lips. "It makes the most, most excellent coffee."
Mr. Yen says it has been seven years since he has savored a cup of the improbable beverage, because Vietnam -- one of the world's big coffee exporters -- has been doing an injustice to one of its most instinctive coffee connoisseurs: the civet cat, a creature of the Viverridae family that looks something like a fox but is actually a cousin of the mongoose.
With its long, sensitive snout, this finicky eater is legendary among old-time coffee growers here for sniffing out the best ripe robusta coffee beans and eating them from the low branches of the coffee bush. The hardiest beans survive the digestive process intact and, according to aficionados, are improved by it.
"The fox is very clever," says Ba Chieu, a 74-year-old retired coffee grower. And industrious, too. She recalls in years past easily collecting as much as a kilogram of caphe cut chon, or fox-dung coffee, on her tiny five-acre farm.
But Vietnam's development ambitions are badgering the civet cat. Since the Vietnam War, the government has urged migrant farmers to settle down and grow more coffee for export. Thousands of acres of forest (civet-cat habitat) have been razed. And modern farming techniques have been introduced, such as picking beans before they are entirely ripe, the effect of which is to deprive civet cats of a decent meal.
Another reason caphe cut chon is disappearing from dinner tables: Civet cats are showing up as the main course. At the bustling Bac Map restaurant in coffee country's provincial capital, Buon Me Thuot, barbecued civet cat is a big-selling delicacy among newly rich coffee traders, says Chung Hue Bac, the proprietor. He isn't too troubled by the resultant scarcity of caphe cut chon. "I'd much rather eat the fox," he says.
At her home a few doors down the street from the restaurant, the elderly Mrs. Chieu despairs. "Young people today don't respect the old ways," she says.
Indonesians Enjoy Civet-Dropping Coffee ABC News Tuesday January 20, 2004
JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) - SARS fears have stopped the Chinese from eating civet cats. But that hasn't turned off others from sipping the strangest of brews - one they insist is made from coffee beans eaten, partly digested and then excreted by the weasel-like animals.
The story goes like this: Civets live in the foliage of plantations across Southeast Asia. These fussy foragers pick the best and ripest coffee berries. Enzymes in their digestive system break down the flesh of the fruit before the animals expel the bean.
Workers collect beans from the plantation floor, wash away the dung and roast them to produce a unique drink that devotees might say is good to the last dropping.
Skeptics, though, dismiss it all as a weird and unverifiable marketing gimmick. Still in Indonesia's capital Jakarta, the owner of three fashionable cafes, Agus Susanto, sells what he claims is a mix of regular beans and those that have passed through civets. The blend and the cafes are both called "Kopi Luwak" - in English: "Civet Coffee."
"Our coffee has a strong taste and an even stronger aroma," Susanto said by telephone from his factory in central Java.
In Vietnam, now the world's second-largest regular coffee grower, a blend supposedly containing some civet beans is produced by the Trung Nguyen company under the "Weasel Coffee" brand.
In the Philippines, the Old Manila Coffee House used to sell a civet brew, but supplies have dwindled over the years, said Ellen Tuason, its finance officer.
"Some of our guests said it was an aphrodisiac. It has a strong coffee smell, but different. There is a distinct odor and flavor," she said.
The beans are also marketed internationally. Several US-Internet based coffee traders claim to offer them for up to $150 a pound, ($325 a kilogram) making among the world's most expensive beverages.
However, many in Asia's coffee trade doubt whether the beans are truly produced in significant quantities, if at all.
"There are maybe a few bags here, a few bags there, but mostly its just a myth," said Victor Mah, a Singaporean who has been selling coffee from Southeast Asia for more than 25 years.
Others just won't swallow the claims.
"I think it's a big scam," said Mark Hanusz, who spent eight months traveling Indonesia researching his book about coffee called "A Cup of Java."
In the past few weeks, authorities in southern China have exterminated thousands of civet cats on fears that they carry and spread the severe acute respiratory syndrome virus.
The World Health Organization also sees a potential relationship between the furry black and white animals and the disease that killed 774 people worldwide last year.
If that link is confirmed, consumer interest in civet coffee could plummet.
But in Jakarta, Susanto isn't worried. He expects to keep selling what he claims is 100 metric tons (110 tons) of civet coffee a month.
"There are many different kinds of civets in this world. The Indonesian ones are different from those in China," he said.
The story of civet (William Jackson, The Pharmaceutical Journal
Vol 271 No 7280 p859-861
20/27 December 2003)
Civet is a musk-like substance, of about the same consistency as butter, produced by the two perineal glands of civet cats. The glands form a deep pouch in the abdomen, divided into two sacs, in which the secretion is stored. There are several species of civet cat, but the two main ones are the African and Indian cat. Approximately three feet long, they are nocturnal animals with spotted bodies and ringed tails.
Civet varies in colour (from cream to yellow to dark brown) becoming darker and stiffer in texture as it ages, especially when exposed to air. Pure civet has a strong and disagreeable odour, but this becomes attractive when diluted and, throughout its history, its main use has been in perfumery. In order to retain their fragrance most perfumes require a “fixative” and civet is an excellent, though expensive one.