When it rains, they are everywhere: red American swamp crabs. Berlin has been struggling with a real invasion of animals for years. Above all, the Tiergarten and the Britzer Garten are their territory. The fact that animal immigrants from America feel so comfortable in this country is a problem. Because the animals in Germany have no natural predators, but eat everything that comes between their crab claws, they have become a danger to the local flora and fauna. Their spread must therefore be contained. They have been released for fishing since spring 2018.

But why simply kill something that tastes wonderful, thought three Berliners. Lukas and Jule Bosch as well as Andreas Michelus recognized the potential of the “pests”. Together they founded the start-up Holycrab!. The idea: to bring animals and plants that have become a plague in Germany onto plates as a delicacy. Ultimately, explains Lukas Bosch, what is perceived as a problem for nature conservation could be valuable elsewhere. The concept won the Gastro Founder’s Prize in 2019.

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Last year was Holycrab! on the road with their own food truck, and also served in pop-up restaurants and at food events. In addition to the seafood, which is the company’s main focus, other animals were also served on the table. Because it’s not just the swamp crabs from America that are on the rise, there are also large numbers of camber crabs, signal crabs and Chinese mitten crabs making the local waters unsafe. In German forests, nutria and also Egyptian geese are multiplying more and more. They are therefore all on the list of invasive species published by the EU.

Since the animals are being killed in large numbers anyway, Holycrab takes action! only accesses resources that have so far remained largely untouched and turns the animals, which otherwise mainly end up in the biogas plant or are otherwise disposed of, into food. To achieve this, the start-up works with inland fishermen and hunters, taking seasonality and product availability into account. The company caused a stir in particular with the processing of one animal: the raccoon was also attacked. “We did this fully aware that it would be viewed controversially,” said Bosch. Because the raccoon looks cute, but it also causes damage to nature. But does it also taste good?

“The taste is less exotic than you might think,” says Bosch. He describes the taste of raccoon meat as a mixture of venison and duck, and nutria meat as a combination of quail and rabbit. A greater challenge is to find the right method of preparation, as there is a lack of experience. And of course the meat of the new wild animals also has to be made palatable to people. The dishes that are created should be understood as a translation effort for the local palate and also the mind. “It was clear to us from the start that we had to manage to use the exotic ingredients in dishes that are familiar in our culture,” explains Bosch.

This idea resulted in, among other things, a bouillabaisse in which the Chinese mitten crab was used. The catfish, which is also a regional product, serves as a supplement. A dessert was created from the invasive Japanese knotweed plant. After the first year served as a trial year and there was a lot of experimentation, the catering industry is currently at rest due to the corona. Instead, the start-up’s current focus is on its own products.

As of this week, a stock made from the Chinese mitten crab is available online. If everything goes according to plan, Holycrab will bring! In the summer, the first regionally caught crayfish were brought onto the market as a frozen product. They should then be available for both catering and for cooking at home, but initially probably only in the Berlin area in order to maintain regionality.

Even though the crabs are present in large numbers, they are wild caught. This is time-consuming and cannot be compared with the breeding and processing of animals from industrial facilities. That’s why Bosch says very clearly: “We don’t compete with the frozen pizza or the kebab around the corner – we couldn’t do that even if we gave up the profit.”

In the longer term, it is about no longer just seeing the animals as an invasive species, but rather seeing them as a possible addition to the menu and thus achieving a change of perspective. It doesn’t always have to be a complete avoidance of meat in order to do something good for the environment. After all, the animals are there and in huge quantities. What’s more, these are regional products, i.e. exactly those that are becoming increasingly important in times in which meat production and meat consumption are increasingly being questioned.

“In the future, it would be a dream to also offer the products to the general public,” says Bosch. But that is not yet foreseeable. Although a further step is already being considered. The company can imagine that regional structures will emerge in the long term and that exactly the invasive animals that live there can be offered in the respective locations. In the Cologne area, for example, these would be Egyptian geese and nutria. The company plans to orchestrate the supply network of hunters and fishermen.

Source: Tagesspiegel, Gründerszene, brand eins