Monday, January 5, 2015

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Frogs

     Frogs, I was somewhat surprised to learn, are one of the most common animals on Earth.  Except for some of the Sahara Desert, Antarctica, the extreme northern tips of land above the Arctic Circle, and a few isolated islands, frogs are pretty much everywhere.  Although, alas, that’s perhaps only for now:  Frog populations have plummeted in the past 60-70 years.  Diminishing habitats, environmental toxins, various diseases, and over exploitation by humans appear to be the main culprits.  But more about this later.
     Moving on, the distinction between frogs and toads is completely overblown.  They’re both part of the same order, and essentially, from a taxonomic standpoint, they’re all frogs.  “Toad” is just the common name for those frog species with dry, warty, skin, that live on land (as adults).
     With such a wide range of homes, it’s not too shocking that frogs have evolved a whole host of weird, interesting attributes.  Some types can survive being frozen.  Others can glide from tree to tree, similar to “flying” squirrels.  And now we get to their  defenses.  They commonly emit secretions from their skin to discourage predators.  These secretions range from making them slippery and tough to grasp, to making them taste bad, up to being deadly poisonous.
     Reproductively they can be a bit odd, too.  Some species have unfortunate high male to female ratios.  The males compensate for this by being well… extremely unchoosy, and occasionally disturbingly aggressive.  Females are sometimes fatally overwhelmed by suitors, and it’s not that rare for males to mount other (unreceptive) males, random inanimate objects, and even deceased frogs.  So they take the “any port in a storm” adage to disgusting and even terrifying extremes.  Once mating has been successful and the female is ready to lay eggs things can get unusual, too.  Darwin’s frog males keep the eggs in their vocal sacs for a couple of months, and then give oral birth when the young frogs have matured enough.  And, revoltingly again, the Suriname toad’s eggs end up under the skin of the female.  They gestate there, looking like some bizarre honeycomb.  After they hatch, and mature enough to leave, they erupt from the toad’s back, like some sort of huge, living zit.  Check this out on YouTube—it’s even more disturbing to actually see it.  I got to see a frog egg mass in the wild once in Virginia, and it was strange looking.  It reminded me of a breast implant—it was a firm-ish jellylike disc.
     Monty Python did a funny sketch wherein police officers are horrified that a confectioner is making literal “Crunchy Frog” chocolate candies.  However, folks actually eat them fairly frequently.  The French are probably the most famous partakers, but they’re also consumed in Belgium, Slovenia, India, Luxembourg, China, Vietnam, Thailand, Portugal, Spain, Greece, and parts of the U.S., especially in the Southern states.  Typically only the legs are eaten, as this is the best source of meat on them.  They’re fried, stewed, grilled, and put into soups.
     I’ve traveled fairly extensively in the South U.S., but evidently in parts that aren’t big on eating frog, as I have almost never seen it on the menu.  I can only recall having frog twice—from a Chinese restaurant in New York City, and at a casino buffet on the Cherokee Reservation in North Carolina.  Both times I remember the legs were breaded and fried.  The cliché about the taste, like many other exotic meats, is that frogs, “taste like chicken.”  Well, in this case, the cliché is accurate.  They do have a mild, chicken-like flavor.  Very good, I enthusiastically ate many.  Their little legs even resembled chicken wings visually as well.  I would certainly order them again, if/when I get the opportunity.
     But, to end on a cautionary note, as I mentioned before, frogs in general are threatened, and many species extremely so.  To be an environmentally conscious diner, then, for these reasons (and certainly not the taste) I don’t recommend eating them often.  Save them for an occasional, change of pace treat, is my advice.
     I'll end with a bit from the Monty Python sketch.  The manufacturer, Mr. Milton, of the Whizzo Chocolate Company, says the Crunchy Frog candy is made from baby frogs "dew-picked and flown from Iraq, cleansed in finest-quality spring water, lightly killed, and then sealed in a succulent Swiss quintuple smooth treble cream milk chocolate envelope, and lovingly frosted with glucose."  And they leave the bones in to make them crunchy.  Other odd candy choices include the Cockroach Cluster, Ram's Bladder Cup, and Anthrax Ripple.

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