A Matter of Taste: Strange Foods From Around the World
Originally Published on 31/12/2013
When it comes to cuisine it's a question of personal taste and what's a culinary heaven for one person, can be a gustatory hell for another.
This hub focuses on those food items that are widely seen as "strange" or "bizzare" due to their inclusion of unusual ingredients, unorthodox cooking methods, cultural contrasts and alien dining customs. There are even a few entries that aren't generally considered edible (e.g. dirt, tree bark, placenta etc) as well as some fairly obscure yet controversial rituals that involve "devouring" the intangible, such as sin and sunlight.
So, prepare for your mouth to occasionally water and your stomach to frequently churn as you make your way through this hub, digesting the plethora of unusual foods detailed within.
(Sorry for the length though...I felt compelled to constantly add to this hub as more information came to my attention, though I must admit I got a bit carried away).
List of Contents of this 'Strange Foods' Hub
Baby Gaga (& Human Cheese)
Hufu (& Cannibalism)
Salo & Lardo
Human Bacteria Cheese
San Zhi Er
Bhut Jolokia (& Other Potent Peppers)
Shellac, Carmine & Gaz
Castoreum, Civet Absolute & Other Sumptuous Secretions (Ambergris and Musk)
Jugo de Rana
Snake Wine (& Other Animal-Based Liqueurs)
Kæstur Hákarl & Other Buried, Putrefied Provisions (Tepa, Kiviak and Igunaq)
Soup Number 7
Citizen's Gold Pills
Kopi Luwak (& Other Fecal-Based Beverages)
Durian & Other Fragrant Foods (Fermented Fishes, Surströmming & Chòu dòufu)
Fish and Chip Gelato (& other far-out ice-cream flavors)
Tiết Canh (Vịt)
Freeganism (& Roadkill)
Tong Zi Dan
Miraculin & Curculin
Torisashi (& Other Raw Meat Cuisine)
Gau Jal & Urophagia
Mithridatism (& Palatable Poisons)
Turducken (and Other Multi-Animal Roasts)
Yartsa Gunbu (& Other Piquant Parasites)
Heart Attack Burgers
Yeast Extract Spreads
Yin Yang Fish and Other Living Seafood (Ikizukuri, Odorigui, Odori Ebi, Drunken Shrimp & Dojo Tofu)
UPDATE February 2014: Infant Fecal Bacteria - a future ingredient in sausages?
Baby Gaga (and Human Cheese)
“If it's good enough for our children, it's good enough for the rest of us”, said icecreamist Matthew O'Connor in February 2011 when his London cafe began serving ice cream made from human breast milk.
This controversial ice cream was further flavored with Madagascan vanilla pods and lemon zest with a wafer and optional shot of Calpol (a brand of children' medical syrup) or Bonjela (an oral gel used to treat mouth ulcers, sores and teething pain in babies).
It was sold for one week before being seized by the Westminister Council to ensure that it was safe for human consumption. The product is still on the market but under the new name “Baby Goo Goo” after pop artist Lady Gaga filed a lawsuit against the ice cream's creator Matthew O'Connor.
What's it taste like?
Journalist Zoe Williams took the taste test and found Baby Gaga had a similar flavor to regular vanilla ice-cream “until the mouth-coating back taste kicks in – like a thin, more goatish, dairy”.
Peter Dominiczak wrote a very favorable review of the breast milk ice cream in the London Evening Standard describing the taste as “fantastic” with a flavor that was “light and creamy with just enough of a vanilla tinge”.
Update: In April 2015 ice cream makers, The Licktators, relaunched the product, re-labelling it 'Royal Baby Gaga' in reference to the birth of Princess Charlotte. For a period, they also made the recipe available on their website.
Similar in Substance: Human breast milk is also a key ingredient in a product called "Human Cheese", created by New York University Student, Miriam Simun, who has so far produced breast milk cheese in three flavors: Westside Smoke, Wisconsin Chew and Midtown Funk.
The milk is sourced from three separate woman with different diets, lifestyles and locations so as to provide three unique flavors. Westside Smoke and Midtown Funky are described as "creamy and just pure heaven," while Wisconsin Chew's flavor is said to reflect the vegetable-filled diet of the breast milk donor.
Note: Consuming human breast milk isn't exclusive to the cases explained above. Other notable examples include NYC Chef Daniel Angerer using his wife's excess breast milk to create 'Mommy's Milk Cheese'; as well as Abi Blake, the self-proclaimed "Nigella Lawson of breast milk cookery" using this natural ingredient to make cupcakes and lasagna among other things.
These tenacious viruses are among the most abundant microorganisms on Earth and are currently used as a food additive on numerous products in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and throughout Europe and Asia.
Bacteriophage sprays are often applied to meat, fish, cheese, fruit, vegetables and ready-to-eat meals with the goal of controlling the spread of bacteria – such as as Listeria monocytogenes – a potentially lethal bacteria to those with a weakened immune system.
What's it taste like?
Bacteriophages have no taste or negative health effects, so the presence of this virus on your steak shouldn't contaminate its flavor or make you ill.
Balut (also known as 'Balot')
It's rare to find a list of “strange foods” and not see Balut listed within the top 3. The reason why this Southeast Asian delicacy features highly on so many lists is due to Balut's appearance as a partially formed unborn chicken or duck embryo still in its shell.
Balut is prepared much like a hard boiled egg and when it's ready to eat a hole is created on one side of the eggshell revealing a deceased and partially developed bird with easy to recognize bodily features such as eyes, feet, wings and veins and sometimes a beak and feathers. Balut is generally eaten first by sucking out the liquid broth that surrounds the embryo, before peeling the shell back further and consuming the yolk and the chick. It's often eaten with a range of spices and condiments including salt, lemon juice, vinegar and ground pepper.
While chicken and Mallard duck eggs can be used, most balut-eaters consider Muscovy duck eggs aged no more than 17-days as superior. These fertilized eggs are popular snacks in the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries, with many people considering it a super-food, an aphrodisiac and an energizer that contains a number of vitamins and nutrients including retinol, B-carotene, riboflavin, niacin and ascorbic acid.
Interestingly some superstititous Filipinos abstain from eating balut out of fear that it can transform a person into a vampiric, shape-shifting, flesh-craving, fetus-eating ghoul known as an aswang or manananggal. This superstition may also drive the common custom of adding salt and spice, which are believed to ward off aswang attacks and protect balut-eaters from transforming into such creatures (though it's more likely that most people add these condiments to enhance flavor).
What's it taste like?
Despite Balut's somewhat grotesque appearance many people who have eaten it agree that it has a pleasant flavor, similar to a hard boiled egg and chicken or duck broth (depending on the type of bird within the shell). Depending on how far the bird has developed its bones may also add a crunchy texture.
National Geographic Explores Balut Eggs
In a famous scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom a Thuggee priest rips the still beating heart out of a sacrificial victim.
While thankfully that scenario was a work of fiction, it is possible to pull still beating hearts from certain animals, which are then usually served as food to paying customers. One example is a Getemono restaurant in Japan where culinary explorer Andrew Zimmern was served a disembodied and still beating frog's heart after ordering frog sashimi.
Probably the most famous location for eating beating animals hearts however is Le Mat, a village located near central Hanoi, Vietnam. Le Mat is popularly referred to as “the snake village” as the reptiles play an important role in the village's culture and traditions. On the 20th day of the third lunar month the village hosts a snake festival, inspired by a local legend of a Le Mat villager who saved the daughter of King Ly Thai Tong(1028-1054) from a giant serpent in the Duong River.
Snake dishes are a Le Mat specialty, including a raw and beating cobra heart in a shot of rice wine followed with chasers consisting of the serpent's blood, bile and venom. The heart is eaten for its purported health benefits, including an increase to male virility and sexual performance.
What's it taste like?
As the heart is usually swallowed whole and not chewed most people have found that other than being a little salty it doesn't have much taste and is usually overpowered by the flavor of what ever it's served in, whether it be wine, bile or blood. Gastroenterologist Harry Teicher and culinary explorer Anthony Bourdain have both likened the experience to eating an “interesting” and “athletic” oyster.
Anthony Bourdain Enjoys A Beating Cobra Heart in Vietnam
Bhut Jolokia (& Other Potent Peppers)
Most foods on this list exist to bring people joy, allowing them to sample cultural delicacies and uphold certain traditions while satisfying their hunger and curiosity.
Bhut Jolokia however constantly brings people just one thing – pain. Also known as the 'ghost pepper', Bhut Jolokia was listed as “the world's hottest chilli” by The Guinness World Records in 2007, reaching 1,041,427 Scoville Heat units compared to the intensity of jalapeño which only rate around 2,500-8,000 units.
The heat and pain experienced from eating chilies in general is largely due to chemical compounds known as capsaicinoids, which includes Capsaicin (the key ingredient in pepper spray) and Dihydrocapsaicin. The concentration of these compounds in Bhut Jolokia reportedly reaches up to 338 times greater than jalapenos and 18 times greater than Scotch Bonnet (which has a Scoville rating of up to 350,000 heat units).
Capsaicinoids are insoluble in water so the best way to combat a chili burn is by consuming milk or other dairy products that contain Casein - a lipophilic (fat-loving) substance that can effectively 'wash away' Capsaicin molecules similar to how soap removes grease.
Capsaicin and Dihydrocapsaicin can cause excruciating agony if chilies come into contact with a person's eyes or nose and have reportedly caused lesions on peoples' skin when Bhut Jolokia has been handled without gloves.
Pepper cultivators' determination to scorch mouths in searing pain has led to the production of even hotter chilies including the Infinity Chili; the Naga Viper; the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T (which notably is so potent that many people wear protective body suits and chemical masks when cooking with it) ; the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion; and finally the Carolina Reaper with an average rating of 1,569,300 Scoville heat units, making it the most pungent pepper recognized by Guinness World Records as of August 2013.
Though it's been replaced as the world's hottest pepper, the Bhut Jolokia's potency remains so notorious that in India it's been used as a repellent to keep marauding elephants away from human settlements as well as having been weaponized into a “chili grenade” in 2010 as an addition to the country's arsenal in its war on terrorism.
What's it taste like?
Bhut Jolokia has a “sweet”, “woody” and “smoky” flavor for the first 30-45 seconds before it's completely overpowered by the chilli's intense heat, which can last up to 40 minutes.
Those who succumb to the ghost chilli's wrath describe the experience as being “painful”, “hell” and “torture”, sometimes leading to hiccups, shortness of breath, vomiting and numerous unpleasant trips to the toilet.
Bhut Jolokia and some of the hotter peppers are common ingredients in the world's spiciest chilli powders, sauces, extracts (one of which claims to have a Scoville rating of 9 million heat units) and curries, as well as being popular in countless food challenges and pranks.
Castoreum, Civet Absolute & Other Sumptuous Secretions (Ambergris and Musk)
When it comes to these additives the whole world can probably agree with poet Thomas Gray's now popular phrase that “ignorance is bliss”.
Castoreum is a bitter and creamy orange-brown substance sourced from North American and European beavers' castor sac scent glands, which is located near their anus, and secreted by these animals to mark their territory.
It's also used by humans, mostly in perfume fragrances but can also occasionally be found in some cigarettes and artificial vanilla, raspberry and strawberry flavorings. Food products that may contain castoreum include ice cream, flavored drinks and confectioneries, in which they're listed in the ingredients as “Natural Flavors”.
A similarly off-putting ingredient in food and fragrances is Civet Absolute, which is derived from civetone - a pheromone secreted from the perineal glands of civet cats.
According to an online merchant its initial aroma is “overbearing, raw, vile and slightly faecal” but when well diluted with alcohol or odorless solvent its scent is a lot more pleasant, becoming “musky, smoky and heightened" with "sweet animalic notes of sublime tenacity”.
Like castoreum, civet absolute is most commonly used in perfumes, but may also be included in raspberry, caramel, butter, grape and rum flavorings for beverages, ice cream, chewing gum gelatin, candy and baked goods.
Both products are considered safe to consume, though their addition to food and beverage isn't quite as common as other natural ingredients and not as widespread as many people believe. Apparently though castoreum is an essential ingredient in a Swedish schnapps called 'BVR HJT' or 'Bäverhojt'.
Other 'Sumptuous' Secretions: Other animal secretions known for their use in perfumery and cookery include musk and ambergris.
Originating from the Sanskrit word 'muṣká' (meaning 'testicle'), musk is an outrageously expensive aromatic secretion, this time harvested from the abdominal glands of the male musk deer (which are now largely endangered due to being over hunted for this fragrance) primarily located in India, Tibet, Siberia and the Jiangsu province of China.
Like castoreum and civet absolute, musk has historically always largely been associated with cosmetics and fragrances, though it's also used in traditional Chinese medicine and very low levels may also appear in food, adding nut, caramel and fruit-type flavors to beverages, gelatin, pudding, frozen dairy deserts, baked goods and candy.
Ambergris is a grey, hard, waxy bile-duct secretion, created within the intestines of a sperm whale after ingesting sharp and indigestible material, such as squid beaks. Upon being expelled from the creature's body, ambergris can be found floating in the ocean, washed up on coasts and beaches, or otherwise harvested directly from harpooned and beached whales.
Also known as "grey amber" or even "whale vomit", it was once a popular addition to medieval, baroque and renaissance confectioneries and cookery.
Historically Chinese incorporated ambergris to tea (referring to it as the "flavor of dragon's saliva"); wealthy Egyptians melted it in their coffee; while the Persians including it in a sherbet concoction of lemon and water. Ambergris was also popular in Europe, with famed cookery writer Hannah Glasse (1708-1770) and chefs Robert May (circa 1588-1664) and Vincenzo Corrado (1736-1836) making use of it in their cuisine (in his book The Accomplisht Cook, May actually describes dishes that include musk, ambergris and civet all together).
The womanizing 18th-century explorer, Giacomo Casanova apparently ate ambergris with chocolate mouse as an aphrodisiac while the 19th-century gastronome, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, create 'ambered chocolate' which he designated 'chocolate of the afflicted' and 'chocolate of the unhappy'.
Ambergris is also extremely rare, exceptionally valuable and today almost exclusively reserved for perfumery. Occasionally small quantities are used as aromatic flavors in liqueurs, tobacco, fruit flavors, beverages, candy and ice cream.
Much like Balut, this is an another popular entry on strange food lists. Originating from Sardinia, this delicacy involves leaving pecorino cheese to ferment in the sun so that it can attract cheese flies (piophila casei) which can lay up to 500 eggs at a time within the pecorino. When the maggot larvae hatch from their shells they digest the pecorino and release an enzyme that results in a fermentation process, causing the cheese's fat to putrefy. When casu marzu is ready to eat, the top of the cheese is sliced off, revealing a soft gooey substance infested with maggots.
If the fly larvae die in the cheese before consumption, cazu marzu is toxic. Some people remove the live maggots before eating the cheese, while others eat the pecorino with the squirming larvae. Consumers should also be aware of the maggot's ability to launch themselves up to 6 inches in the air.
What's it taste like?
Casu Marzu creates a burning sensation in the mouth and is said to taste similar to Gorgonzola. Some Sardinians consider it an aphrodisiac and hallucinogenic, but it was also banned in Sardinia due to health concerns that include allergic reactions, intestinal larvae infection and burning of the oesophagus and stomach. It can still be bought on the black market for several times the price of normal pecorino.
Apparently the ban was lifted by the European Union under grounds that Casu marzu is a traditional food made using traditional methods.
Note: Maggot-filled cheese isn't exclusive to Sardinia either. In Nicaragua there exists a dish that also involves worm-infested Chontales cheese. Apparently popular around the time of the Sandinista Front movement in the 1960s, it's now more-or-less vanished from Nicaraguan cuisine.
How many people would drink a beer knowing that the bartender spat in their glass? Not many would, unless they're drinking traditionally-made chicha, in which case one would expect the inclusion of human spit, as this alcoholic beverage, native to the Andes, is historically fermented in human saliva.
There are many different types of chicha all using a different core ingredients, which can include yuca, maize, quinoa, peanuts, carob, grapes, chonta palm, pineapple, cloves and pink peppercorns.
Chicha de jora, made from a type of corn called maiz jora, is one of the most well known and believed to be an Incan favorite. It's traditionally made by women of the household who chew on maize and spit it out to create small balls, which are then dried before being boiled and fermented in earthenware vats for up to 6 days. During this time the saliva's ptyalin enzymes break down the maize starches into fermentable sugars.
The end product's alcoholic content is quite low, usually between 1-3 percent.
While malted maze has mostly replaced the chew-and-spit method, some people still produce chicha the traditional way with saliva, including New York's Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales.
What's it taste like?
Chicha's taste depends on the ingredients used, which varies between Central and South American cultures. Chicha de jora is said to taste similar to cider, which when drunk young has a sweet flavor but becomes progressively more sour the longer it's left to mature. One taste tester describes the flavor as being a bit like "English barley water mixed with light pilsner" or a "shandygaff of ale mixed with cider or milk".
Chica de yuca, which is made from cassava, is also very popular and is said to be thicker but with a milder flavor.
NOTE: There are also similar beverages with different names including Peru's saliva-fermented cassava drink known as masato and nijiamanchi.
Brazilian caium follows a similar preparation, with maize or cassava being cooked, chewed, re-cooked over an open fire and then fermented in earthenware pots.
It's also rumored that early production of Japanese sake was created by women in Shinto chewing up cooked rice and then spitting it, allowing the saliva's enzymes and naturally occurring bacteria and mold to convert it into an alcohol drink. This is believed to be how kuchikami (chewed in the mouth) sake was originally made.
Citizen's Gold Pills
Created by artists Tobi Wong and Ken Courtney these edible gold leaf capsules were marketed in 2005 as part of a series of pointless luxury items, which when eaten turns a person's “innermost parts into chambers of wealth” and bowel movements into 24 karat gold – literally.
What's it taste like?
As gold can't be digested and has no taste or nutritional value the only reason to consume these $425 tablets is the joy of seeing gold flakes in your excrement.
Note: Examples of people eating gold stretch beyond these capsules, with many foods, confectioneries and beverages around the world bringing "a touch of class and elegance" to consumers by incorporating edible gold or silver leaf (sometimes referred to as "vark").
Gold, silver and sometimes actual gems, pearls and diamonds are trademark tasteless ingredients for some of the world's most over-the-top pointlessly expensive food items, ranging from sushi wrapped in gold leaf to ice cream sundaes lined with edible gold, the latter costing $25,000; and even a strawberry desert once rumored to cost $3.95 million due to its inclusion of a 7-carat pink diamond ring.
Durian & Other Fragrant Foods (Surströmming & Chòu dòufu)
Cultivated throughout Southeast Asia and renown for its unique and complex flavor, fans refer to durian as “the king of fruit”.
Not everyone shares this sentiment however as many people find durian a painful fruit to eat, not due to its thorny exterior but its offensive odor that has devastated many a person's nostrils and even led to some countries banning durian in certain public places, such as hotels, airports, restaurants and trains. In Singapore you may even see signs reading “No Smoking; No Eating or Drinking Beyond this Point; NO DURIANS”.
People have described the durian's scent as similar to rotten eggs, sewage, rotting onions, vomit and rancid meat. Travel writer Richard Sterling colorfully described the odor as being like “pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock”.
There's also some speculation on what happens when durian is eaten with alcohol. Some stories claim that it's a fatal combination; others suggest that it merely induces heavy sleep or causes indigestion; while a more interesting anecdote details the unfortunate fate of a German tourist who allegedly exploded while taking a hot bath after eating durian with rice whiskey.
Outside of rumor, there have been a number of documented deaths from durian falling from trees on to people's heads. Several 19th century reports highlight a spiritual belief of Borneo's Dayak people that those killed by falling durian have their own special place reserved for them in the afterlife.
For those who survive their encounter with durian, the fruit actually provides them with a good source of dietary fiber, proteins and carbohydrates as well as offering quite an impressive concentration of essential nutrients including Vitamin C, a range of B vitamins, potassium, copper, manganese, magnesium and zinc.
What's it taste like?
Durian fans say that the fruit “tastes like heaven, smells like hell”. Naturalist Arthur Wallace described durian as comparable to custard flavored with almonds and hints cream cheese, sherry and onions. One taste tester even says that durian tastes totally different with the first four bites, beginning with the flavor of fried onion, than chocolate, than chocolate-covered fried onion and then ice-cream.
Food adventurist Andrew Zimmern referred to durian's taste as “rotten, mushy onions” after spitting the fruit out during a taste test.
Similar in Scent: Fermented Fishes, Surströmming & Chòu dòufu
A very different series of dishes that are notable for having similarly offensive aromas involve fermented fish, such as:
- Egypt's 'fesikh', raw gray mullet dried in the sun and cured with salt, which has been associated with a number of cases of food poisoning.
- Cambodia's 'prahok', a fish paste often crushed underfoot and left to ferment for up to several years. It's sometimes referred to as 'Cambodian Cheese'.
- Korea's 'hongeohoe', which notably uses skate, a fish that urinates through its skin and after fermentation carries a strong ammonia-smell, often described as resembling a public toilet.
- Norway's 'rakfisk', made from salted and fermented fresh water fish (e.g. trout), which is soaked in brine typically for a few months, but possibly for up to a year and followed with a shot of aquavit, a strong, flavored spirit.
- Japan's 'kusaya' which is deboned mackerel, dried in the sun after soaking for 24-hours in a brine that may date back over a century.
The most notorious though is Sweden's Surströmming - fermented Baltic herrings. Due to its odor, which has been described as a “mushroom cloud of rotten eggs and decayed fish in rusty solvent”, tins of surströmming are usually opened outdoors. It's flavor is said to be a little more forgiving than its scent, tasting like salty and soured fish. It's rumored that surströmming builds up gases after being tinned, making the can bulge and possibly explode.
Another dish with a powerful odor that's worthy of mention is Chòu dòufu (or stinky tofu), which is bean curd fermented in brine consisting of various ingredients depending on the vendor, though brine recipes often include salt, meat, shrimp, vegetable and milk. It's traditionally fermented for weeks or months, resulting in a wafting aroma that resembles burning garbage.
Stinky tofu can be stewed, braised barbecued or deep-fried, with it's taste dependent on cooking method and brine ingredients. When properly fried it's said to be mild in flavor, with a crunchy golden-brown exterior and an almost creamy interior.
Fish and Chip Gelato (& other far-out ice-cream flavors)
Inspired by Heston Blumenthal's popular 'bacon and egg ice-cream', Australian café owner George Kailis worked alongside ice cream chain, Il Gelato, and two flavor scientists from Italy to create fish-and-chip flavored gelato. It is said to have little-to-no fishy taste, a “subtle tang of salt” and slight hint of potato. One blogger likens the flavor of this ice cream as eating "freezer burned bread crumbs, perhaps off a frozen fish stick".
In what seems to be a contest among ice-cream makers to out-do each other in creating truly bizarre flavors there are literally dozens of odd ice-cream combinations sold worldwide. Examples include basashi aisu (made with minced horse meat); charcoal; cicada; beef tongue; viper; squid-ink; foie gras; wine; garlic; prosciutto; spaghetti and cheese; oyster; beer; and bone marrow with smoked cherries.
Akutaq, also known as Eskimo Ice Cream, is a cultural delicacy among Alaskan Yupik communities that has gained some notoriety in other parts of the world for its unusual blend of ingredients. These usually include whipped animal fat and oils (seal, reindeer, moose, whale or walrus among other creatures) with berries and sometimes fish.
There are also clearly very few areas that are out of bounds for some ice cream makers, such as award-winning food inventor, Charlie Harry Francis who in 2014 promoted 'The Arousal' -ice cream flavored with champagne and laced with 25mgs of Viagra. It's not the first time that sex enhancers and the beloved dessert have come together, with The Licktators in early 2015 whipping together Ecuadorian chocolate ice cream with Lady Prelox, an apparent pleasure enhancer made from French maritime pine tree bark.
Freeganism & Roadkill
The term 'junk food' is a fairly broad classification for all those unhealthy consumables that nutritionists warn us not to indulge on, such as overly fatty or sugary items.
This term may however more appropriately describe the diets of those who adopt Freeganism. Followers of this anti-consumerist, environmental and anarchist movement (known as Freegans) voluntarily forage their meals straight from other people's garbage cans and indulge on all the scraps found within. This act of dumpster diving, where people scour garbage for anything they can eat, is a practice also common among the vulnerable, desperate and homeless in their search for sustenance.
Making one person's trash, another person's dinner may sound strange, but Freeganism has it merits. It's currently estimated that atleast one third, or 1.3 billion tonnes, of all food produced globally every year is wasted or ends up in landfills. Freegans are able to keep themselves nourished while simultaneously reducing this wastage.
What's it taste like?
There's no saying what flavors are experienced through Freeganism, as it really depends on what items have been recovered from the trash and their level of freshness. These often include food and drinks unopened and still in their packaging but have been thrown out by stores due to the products being damaged or nearing their use by date.
Similar in Style: Foraging for food within an urban setting also applies to those who eat roadkill - that is, animals which have unwittingly strolled on to busy streets or highways only to be hit by a car and abandoned by the side of the road to die and fester.
When found, the animal - which can be almost anything, including deer, rabbits, kangaroos, badgers, possums, cats, dogs, moose, foxes, rats, owls, pheasants or bears - might be dead already or mortally wounded. In case of the latter, the person would be tasked with administering the coup de grâce, by putting the animal out if its misery with anything they have on hand.
Much like freeganism, eating roadkill is widely considered a societal taboo, despite remaining free and unregulated in many countries and somewhat ethical, as it reduces food waste by eating something that would otherwise expire (e.g. in the U.S over a million deer are killed by motorists each year, which could potentially equate to around 20 million pounds of venison).
Proponents also argue that as long as the meat is fresh, it's probably healthier than store- bought meat, lacking antibiotics and hormones used in factory farming today as well as avoiding accusations of animal cruelty. Even some celebrity chefs support the practice, such as Fergus Drennan who sells roadkill on the market to customers and restaurants.
On the downside though, roadkill may be infected with disease, infested with maggots and insects or possibly sustained ruptured organs, so it's important to know what to look out for.
There are many foods that are potentially fatal including ackee, Namibia's giant bullfrog and cassava, but the most notorious is fugu, or pufferfish sashimi.
Fugu contains tetrodotoxin in its liver, intestines, ovaries, eyes and skin, a deadly neurotoxin that can kill a person with a dose as small as a pinhead or grain of sand. According to custom if a fugu chef fails to remove the poisonous parts of the fish and this results in the death of a customer, they are bound by honor and tradition to commit seppuku – ritualistic suicide by disembowelment.
While many have died from fugu, the death rate is low compared to the number of people who eat it.
What's it taste like?
The meat itself is quite bland and many people compare it to chicken, but it's most popular for its fine texture and the thrill of eating a potentially fatal dish. When sampled in sub-lethal quantities tetrodotoxin can cause numbness, tingling, a floating sensation and even euphoria.
Note: According to ethnobotanist Wade Davis, tetrodotoxin is the key ingredient in Haiti's coupe poudre or "zombie powder", a white powder used by Bokor Vodou priests to create "zombie slaves", by drugging a victim and putting them into a paralyzed state resembling death. After they've been pronounced dead, priests restore their victim, only to enslave them.
Gau Jal & Urophagia
Years ago the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist paramilitary group in India, wanted to go up against Coke and Pepsi by introducing their own "healthier alternative" soda. The efforts of the RSS' Cow Protection Department to rid India of foreign influence led to their creation of Gau Jal in 2009.
Taking inspiration from the cow, which is revered amongst Hindus as a source of food and emblem of life, Gau Jal's key ingredient is cow urine mixed with medicinal and ayurvedic herbs as well as gooseberries and aloe vera. Apparently the urine is only collected from female virgin cows, preferably before dawn. Om Prakash, head of the department creating this new drink, says that Gau Jal is non-carbonated, free of toxins, cheaper than foreign soft drinks and carries a great taste with no urine smell.
Current soft drinks on the market such as Gomutra Ark and Godhan Ark (and many others) are made from distilled or purified cow urine and are promoted as being the answer to dozens of different health issues and capable of lowering high cholesterol, curing respiratory disorders or diabetes and treating snake bites and obesity.
Some people take their belief in the healing powers of the cow even further by mixing its urine with the animal's dung, ghee, milk and curd - a concoction known in Ayurvedic medicine as 'Panchagavya'.
Though generally health experts remain skeptical on the purported medical benefits of cow urine, some recent studies have supported claims that cow urine can potentially lower blood glucose levels and prevent kidney stones.
While drinking canned cow urine may raise some eyebrows, it's not as controversial as urophagia, or consumption of human urine, which some people consider extremely nourishing and beneficial for bodily health, healing and beauty rather than being a harmful waste product. Some proponents belief urine to be a panacea, capable of curing almost any affliction, illness and disease, with the added bonus of being free of cost and having an unlimited quantity on tap.
Former Indian Prime Minister Morarji Desai, who died at 99 years of age, was a major proponent of urine therapy (which involves consumption and application of urine to the body) and admitted that he drank a glass of his own personal produce daily. Doctor John W. Armstrong claimed that through urine therapy he had successfully cured 40,000 people from a range ailments including cancer and tuberculosis.
Notably the Shivambu Kalpa Vidhi, part of an ancient Vedic Sanskrit text known as the 'Damar Tantra' suggests that urine therapy is "capable of destroying senility and disease" and after 12 years of treatment will allow a person to free themselves from the cycle of life and death and give them divine visions; freedom from all illness; extraordinary strength; the ability to fly through the air and float on water; and immunity to fire and poisons.
Strict Shivambu adherents minimize their intake of salt, sugar, caffeine, protein, tobacco and alcohol and harvest their mid-stream urine only while facing east, sipping it like tea 1-4 times a day from containers made of bronze, clay, gold, silver, glass, brass, zinc or iron.
What's it taste like?
Er...um...that all depends.
While one source describes cow urine as apparently tasting slightly sweet (while also finding horse's urine to be bitter and pungent and elephant's as having a salty flavor); a common description of human urine is that it tends to taste salty and bitter, especially during the first evacuation in the morning.
However, according to urine therapy practitioners its flavor also alters depending on the diet of the person supplying it. So for nicer tasting urine it's important to eat well while avoiding certain foods known to negatively effects its flavor (asparagus, coffee and salty, sour and bitter food items are apparently examples of the latter).
A member of Ferdinand Magellan's crew in 1519 colorfully described human urine as tasting "not unsavory" with a flavor "no worse than any flagon most foul of rancid port".
In the time before blood tests and urine samples, some doctors would taste patients' urine as part of their treatment and diagnosis. 17th century English doctor Thomas Willis was able to share his incite into the taste of a diabetic patient's urine (and blood) which he described as "wonderfully sweet, as if it were imbued with honey or sugar".
Some hardcore enthusiasts even claim its flavor to be superior to coffee, wine and beer. Historically this opinion on urine's taste may have also led people to "leint" beer and ale - that is fortify the flavor by adding urine.
In China's Dongcheng District you can find Guo Li Zhuang– a restaurant that specializes in cooking genitals from various animals including dogs, bulls, horses, oxs, snakes and goats.
While many diners would reel back in disgust at being served the penis and testicles of...say, a tiger...animal genitals are widely eaten in a myriad of ways across the world including parts of the US, Europe and Asia.
Historically people ate animal genitals for their testosterone - the sex hormone secreted by the testicles - which was believed to be an aphrodisiac capable of enhancing the sexual virility of any man. Some cultures believe that eating genitals of specific animals will allow you to emulate the sexual prowess of that creature. There also exists a widespread belief that digesting animals genitals holds additional benefits for women's health, including better skin.
Animal penis and testicles can be served stewed, fried or roasted. In some countries it's even possible to find genitalia steeped and served in alcohol and medicinal beverages, including 'Three-Penis Wine' made from the genitals of a seal, dog and deer; and 'Five-Penis Wine', which includes the sexual organs of a snake, ox, sheep, deer and dog.
One very popular genital-based speciality is Rocky Mountain Oysters. These deep-fried and crumbed bull testicles are so popular that they have inspired several annual festivals and competitions in the US such as 'Testy Festy' and 'The Rocky Mountain Oyster Fry'.
Their popularity also led to the limited release of 'Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout', which originated as an April Fool's Joke in 2012, but was sold later that year as craft beer flavored with bull testes.
What's it taste like?
Animal genitalia is commonly said to be chewy and spongy in texture and with a similar flavor to other organ meat, such as liver.
More specifically, journalist Richard Spencer described the penis of a dog as having a gamy flavor; deer as resembling "overcooked squid tentacles"; and horse as being light and fatty. Culinary explorer Andrew Zimmern instead described deer penis as being chewy with a "neutral" flavor, similar to cartilage; while yak's private parts instead have a "melt in your mouth texture" with a beefy taste.
One description likens fried bull testes to "liver-flavored chewy calamari". As for the bull testicle-flavoured stout sold in 2012, reporter Jim Galligan claimed that it was "very dry, allowing the savoury elements to flourish without having to compete with too much sweetness from the malts".
Another taste tester found that the notorious 'Three Penis Wine' to be "like a vintage port that had gone really, really bad and hung out with some sherry and some prunes".
Over the last 8 years chef Toshio Tanabe has introduced customers to an ingredient that he's passionate about – soil.
In his Tokyo restaurant he offers a six-course meal consisting of dirt-based dishes, including dirt soup, dirt risotto, dirt mint tea, dirt sorbet, and a dirt-covered potato ball with a truffle center that he calls “dirt surprise”.
Deliberate consumption of earth, or geophagy, is well known in the animal kingdom but people have also been eating dirt throughout human history. The earliest possible evidence of this practice is the prehistoric remains of homo habilis, an ancestor of homo sapiens, that were found in the Kalambo River on the Zambia-Tanzania border with pieces of kaolinite clay.
Today people worldwide eat up to 50 grams of soil and clay a day.
Some pregnant women choose to eat kaolinite clay to subdue nausea or decrease hunger without getting morning sickness.
Kaolin was also once an ingredient in Kaopectate, a medication for mild diarrhea.
In Haiti the poor eat inexpensive treats called “bon bon des terres” made from water, salt, sugar, vegetable oil and clay-based mud, which are consumed primarily to fill empty stomachs despite having little nutritional value.
On January 15 every year around a million people from Central and South America make the pilgrimage to The Black Christ of Esquipulas in Guatemala where many eat clay tablets known as “benditos” for reasons primarily relating to fertility.
There are many other reasons why people eat dirt. Some researchers theorize that dirt cravings may be driven by deficiencies in iron, zinc or calcium, while others suggests that dirt can protect the stomach from parasites, pathogens, and toxins. Mahatma Gandhi himself believed that clay could detoxify the body and assist against constipation. Another popular theory claims that geophagy may be related to 'pica' – an eating disorder in which people crave non-food items.
What's it taste like?
Unsurprisingly kaolin is said to have an “earthy”, “chalky” and 'clay-like' taste, with some people finding it to be addictive, comparable to cigarettes. An online retailer that sells a kaolinite product called 'White Dirt' describes its flavor as “akin to the fresh way that the ground smells when it's real dry and a little sprinkle of rain fall”.
Despite its somewhat off putting name, head cheese really has nothing to do with using heads to make cheese or any other dairy products.
Instead it's a type of cold cut meat, prepared by boiling the head of a pig or cow in a pot of water until its flesh melts off the bone. The cooking juices become filled with collagen during this process and coat the head meat jelly, which is molded and refrigerated until it solidifies.
What's it taste like?
Head cheese are eaten in many countries around the world though its preparation varies depending on location and preference. Some people flavor it with a range of spices, seasonings and vegetables; while others throw in additional body parts, such as the animal's foot, heart or tongue. Unappetizing preparation aside, head cheese is said be tender, moist and flavorful with a gelatinous texture.
Note: A boiled head of a pig, cow or sheep in a broth (sometimes with its brain, eyeballs and tongue) is also incorporated into the cultural cuisine of many Middle Eastern, African and European countries, including Iceland, Bulgaria, Morocco, Armenia, Iraq, Albania, Kuwait, Bahrain, Norway, Turkey, Georgia, Iran and Azerbaijan.
Heart Attack Burgers
No matter how healthy most fast food chains claim to be, there's always some deception involved.
However one brand of American fast food, aptly named The Heart Attack Grill, isn't only being blatantly honest as to how unhealthy its food is, it's actually promoting it as over the top, disgustingly fatty junk food capable of inducing heart attack and causing death (the restaurant's food has been attributed to instances of both).
Guinness World Records has declared the restaurant's iconic Quadruple Bypass Burger as the world's most 'calorific burger' at 9,982 calories and 1.444kg (nutritionists generally recommend a daily intake of 2,000-3,000 calories). It consists of four 1/2 pound burgers, three tablespoons of lard, 20 bacon slices, 20 slices of caramelized onion baked in lard, eight slices of tomato, two tablespoons of ketchup and a single tablespoon of mustard and mayonnaise.
Their current Octuple Bypass Burger is actually double the size, with enough calories to sustain an individual for 10 days.
Meals can also come with a side of 'Flatliner Fries' which are cooked in pure pig's lard (around 600-700 calories) accompanied with a 'butter-fat' shake (estimated to be around 1600-3000 calories a glass).
Notably those who fail to finish their meal in a single sitting are publicly spanked by their waitress.
Note: Despite The Heart Attack Grill receiving official recognition from Guinness World Records for deliberately serving the world's most unhealthy food, other American restaurants have gained notoriety for selling even larger commercially available hamburgers.
Since 2012 the Guinness World Record has been held by Juicys Outlaw Grill and their hamburger weighing 352.44 kg (or 777 lb), taking the title from previous record holders, Napoleon Grills' 268 kg (590 lb) burger and a 153 kg (338 lb) hamburger sold at Mallie's Sports Bar and Grill Bar.
Juicy's 1,375,000 calorie monster contains 400-600 pounds of meat, 50 pounds of cheese, 20 pounds of onions, 30 pounds of lettuce, 13 pounds of pickles, 10 pounds of mustard and 10 pounds ketchup. It's available to order for $5,000 (£3,181) with a required 48-hour notice of preparation time. In 2014 Juicy's also began selling a 57 kg (125.5 lb) hot dog for $1000.
In 2012 Grant Achatz, a pioneer in molecular gastronomy, created a dessert that's lighter than air – an edible apple-flavored balloon made from malleable taffy and filled with helium, allowing it to float above customers' heads. The dessert is available at Chicago's three-Michelin star restaurant, Alinea.
To eat the balloon, the creator recommends first biting into the taffy (luckily it doesn't burst) and sucking out all the helium within, which of course deflates the balloon and turns a person's voice incredibly squeaky and high pitched.
In 2011 The Green Man Pub in Wellington, New Zealand made headlines for offering shots of apple-flavored horse semen as part of a national wild foods festival. The concoction, known as 'Hoihoi Tatea', was most popular with women and was drunk by knocking the cocktail back in one shot. According to the pub's chef, Jason Varley, the drink was similar to custard.
Racehorse owner Lindsay Kerslake, who also served horse semen in various flavors at New Zealand's Hokitika Wildfoods Festival in 2011, stated that it has very little cholesterol, is full of testosterone and after drinking a shot “you'll have as much zizz as a stallion for a week afterward”.
In 2013 The Green Man served a similar drink called 'The Stag's Roar' – a kiwifruit liqueur and yoghurt concoction served in a syringe and mixed with around 4,000 sperm from a healthy 7-year old sire stag named Hannibal. The pub's co-owner Steve Drummond said that Hannibal consumes “lots of greens, exercises regularly and appears to take pride in his work” resulting in top-grade semen of “export quality”. According to Sarah Wood, the Green Man's function manager, the drink has a “sweet” flavor.
Some people have taken the idea of semen as an ingredient to new heights, like Paul Photenhaurer, who advocates the use of human semen in food and cocktails. In his cookbook Natural Harvest, Photonhauer states that semen is “not only nutritious, but it also has a palatable texture and wonderful cooking properties”, though despite being inexpensive and commonly available semen remains “neglected as food”.
Hufu (& Cannibalism)
Have the hankering for human flesh but don't want to deal with all the legal costs and controversy in the aftermath of your meal?
Not to worry, because in 2005 business student Mark Nuckols sought to solve this predicament with a no-doubt delicious alternative known as 'Hufu' - or human-flavored tofu that aimed to “simulate the texture and flavor of human flesh” and “satisfy the taste of even the most demanding cannibal”.
Nuckols says that he was inspired to create Hufu after reading Marvin Harris' guide 'Good To Eat: Riddles of Food and Culture', while eating a tofurkey sandwich. It was originally intended for “students of anthropology hungry for the experience of cannibalism but deterred by the legal and logistical obstacles”, but Nuckols later realized that a greater market existed for vegans, vegetarians and of course cannibals who wanted to enjoy a legal and healthy substitute to human flesh.
The now defunct website offered amazing recipes including 'Aztec Human Stew', inspired by human sacrificial ceremonies where slaves and captives were eaten in a pepper, tomato and squash blossom flavored stew; 'Serano Nanito', dumplings filled with yams, sago and artificial human meat; and of coarse Hannibal Lecter's favorite – liver and fava beans with a nice Chianti.
Ironically, the site also offered DVDs of 'Soylent Green'.
It should be noted that some people have claimed that the product never existed to begin with, though Nuckols has insisted that it was real, even taking on websites that claimed his product to be fake.
What's it taste like?:
If it was ever mass produced in the first place, Hufu is no longer on the market so it's hard to know what it may have tasted like.
A 2005 article by student newspaperThe Harvard Crimson, reported that a taste test left participants underwhelmed, with one finding Hufu "a little bit salty and chewy", another describing it as a "cross between a chicken and a turkey" and several doubting the flavor's authenticity.
Nuckols admitted that he never tasted human flesh himself but had done enough research into history and anthropology to create a fairly good approximation. Contrary to a popular misconception that humans taste like chicken or pork, Nuckols says that we actually have a flavor closer resembling beef “except a little sweeter in taste and a little softer in texture”.
Before closing his company in 2006, Nuckols was also apparently planning to expand his product range with three exciting flavors: "Delicious Baby Seal"; "Endangered Panda" and "Underprivileged Child".
Notes: Though anthropologists aren't sure exactly when true cannibalism began, the practice may have existed since the dawn of mankind.
The earliest possible evidence of human beings eating each other was found in 1994 within the Gran Dolina cave of the Sierra de Atapuerca region in northern Spain. There 800,000 year-old bodily remains of six Homo antecessor (one of the first human species in Europe) were discovered, bearing physical signs of being cut, chopped, skinned and de-fleshed in a similar method to the animal remains found nearby. This has been widely interpreted as the first example of "nutritional" or "cultural cannibalism" between humans.
While it's nearly universally considered unlawful and immoral today, historically cannibalism was viewed differently across cultures, with some societies considering it a savage and abhorrent act while others saw it as a sacred custom. Notably 'Medicinal Cannibalism' (in which human bone, blood and fat was ingested for medical benefits) was widely practiced by commoners and royalty alike for centuries, reaching its height in Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries.
Some people have also partaken in cannibalistic acts when the alternative was starving to death; while in some occasions individuals have gone as far as self-cannibalism (also known as "autophagia" or "autosarcophagy") where a person, by force or voluntarily, eats pieces of their own body, sometimes as a form of mental illness, body-modification, or extreme torture.
Cultural groups that are still commonly believed to engage in cannibalistic practices include The Korowai Tribe of Papua New Guinea, who reportedly eat those found guilty of being a witch (or Khakua); and The Aghori, a religious sect in India who are known to carry out post-mortem rituals, such as consumption of corpses and smearing their own bodies with the ashes of cremated human remains as part of their worship to the Hindu God, Shiva. Much skepticism and conflicting reports exist though on whether modern-day Korowai and Aghori still consume human flesh today.
There's also no real consensus among cannibals as to what best resembles the flavor of human meat, though many have compared it to pork and veal.
If a plant is infected with disease, should you eat it? The obvious answer is "no", but in the case of huitlacoche many people would reply a definite "yes".
Also known in most countries as 'corn smut', huitlacoche appears as a bulbous, fungus-like product that grows on ailing corn crops that have been infected with a plant pathogen called Ustilago Maydis.
This plant disease is most prevalent in warm and moderately dry areas where it effectively deforms and destroys corn by making infected kernels swell into large, black galls or tumors. Sometimes the galls split open and release spores that spread the infection and grow additional fungus on corn crops.
The word 'huitlacoche' is a Nahuatl term used by the Aztecs who enjoyed eating it. Though the term has been translated with various meanings, the most popular translation for 'huitlacoche' is 'raven shit', which somewhat describes the hideous and sickening appearance of infected crops.
Though many countries have introduced methods to try to eliminate corn smut from crops, in Mexico huitlacoche is a popular delicacy that's harvested around 3 weeks after the diseased fungus has appeared on corn. The galls on a single ear of corn can weigh up to a pound and they're often included in sauces, soups and other dishes.
What's it taste like?
Huitlacoche's taste has been likened to mushrooms, with a savory, earthy-sweet and woody flavor. It's got several health benefits too, as huitlacoche is chock full of proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals including beta-glucens that keep cholesterol down and lysine, an amino acid that helps build muscle and keeps skin clear.
Note: A similar smut called Ustilago esculenta is known to infect zizania latifolia, a wild rice that's eaten in China and Japan.
Human Bacteria Cheese
Unlike most other listings in this hub, human bacteria cheese will most likely never be available for public consumption...and that's probably for the best because it's literally made with microbes of bacteria sourced from human armpits, belly buttons, toes and mouths. It first gained media attention after it was displayed at the Science Gallery in Dublin in late 2013.
What's it taste like?
According to co-creator, microbiologist Christina Agapakis, the cheese's taste and scent resembles the donors' body odor. Agapakis also said that cheese cultured with bacteria from her own mouth tasted surprisingly similar to plain cheese, though the product's main purpose is for evoking thought about humans' connections to the microbial world rather than eating.
There are currently 1,900 edible insects that are incorporated in traditional diets of at least 2 billion people, providing highly nutritious sources of fat, protein, vitamins and fiber. While bowls of a-ping (fried tarantulas), escamoles (ant larvae) and mopane worms may be disconcerting for some, they're popularity tends to be tied to certain cultures and regions.
However growing in popularity worldwide (though more so in the U.S) is the idea of entombing insects in chocolate and sucrose or sprinkling them in artificial flavors to create some of the most terrifying confectioneries, snacks and junk food imaginable: chocolate-coated fly pupae, wasp cookies, scorpion suckers, tequila-flavored lollipops with worms embedded in the center, burgers made with 500,000 midge flies and crickets seasoned with bacon & cheese and salt & vinegar flavoring, to name just a few examples.
What's it taste like?
While insect confectioneries are highly popular and in great demand, reviews on their taste are not quite as positive.
Upon reaching the center of a banana-flavored scorpion sucker, Bon Appétit magazine found the arachnid within to have a "distinctly pungent, nutty smell" and its flavor to be "slightly acrid, like eating a nut on the cusp of going bad, with a just hint of sesame oil".
A number of amateur taste tests published online found flavored crickets to taste somewhat bland, with The A.V Club describing them as "dusty, ashy, and disappointingly boring". Another online reviewer found the chocolate-covered cricket to have a "certain tang" with an overbearing "musty, dusty sort of taste" and dry, flavorless and unpalatable legs, wings and abdomen casings.
According to an online retailer, the terrifying chocolate-covered scorpion has a “crisp wafer like texture and a pleasant nutty taste similar to walnut”.
Note: Insects are generally said to have a hint of nuttiness (especially when roasted), though their overall taste can vary depending on numerous factors, including the bugs' diet and the diner's expectation.
Crickets supposedly resemble tofu with a flavor comparable to shrimp or lobster. Bee larvae is said to taste like bacon; wasp larvae like blackberry; witchetty grubs similar to scrambled eggs; and tarantulas are a cross between chicken and cod. Beetles, which are the most commonly eaten insect (representing 31% of insect consumption worldwide ) are said to taste of apples.
Does a twitching strip of beef grown in a petri dish and soaking in a nutrient bath sound appetizing?
Regardless of personal preference, lab grown meat, also known as “shmeat”, “in vitro” or “cultured” meat, is a present day reality with scientists growing pieces of meat by extracting myoblasts, a precursor to muscle cells, from living animals without causing harm.
The cells multiply while soaking in a nutrient-rich medium consisting of sugars, amino acids, lipids and minerals. Tissue formation is further supported by placing the cells on a biodegradable scaffold system, placing it in a bio-reactor and exercising the meat so that it can build up muscle.
Lab grown meat was first conceptualized from the work of biologist Alexis Carrel after he kept a piece of chicken heart muscle alive for 20 years in a nutrient bath. In 2002 NASA showed interest in the science, funding experiments that led to lab grown fish. In recent years Maastricht University in The Netherlands were able to produce only thin and transparent strips of meat until August 2013 where they revealed the first lab-grown hamburger.
What's it taste like?
The lab-grown burger was the first cultured meat to be officially taste tested. Colored red with beetroot juice and cooked in breadcrumbs, saffron and caramel by chef Richard McGeown, those who sampled the burger reported that its texture was close to regular meat, but lacked the fat and juiciness that made traditional hamburgers so enjoyable.
In vitro meat has many supporters for its potential to reduce the risk of food-borne illnesses; to decrease the livestock industry's ecological footprint, as it requires less land use, energy and water; and to put an end to factory farming, a system that's often been accused of animal cruelty.
Whether you support the idea of lab-grown meat or find it a little creepy, it's not about to hit the markets any time soon with a cost of £215,000 or $330,000 USD to produce a single hamburger.
Jugo de Rana
As a kid I occasionally heard people liken a bad situation to a frog in a blender.
Well, juice vendors in Peru challenge this old saying by sourcing frogs from Lake Titicaca and running them through a blender with a mix of aloe vera, honey, maca (a root vegetable native to the Andes), malt, coca (a plant used to create cocaine and until 1929, Coca-Cola) among various other ingredients..
According to traders, jugo de rana (frog juice) or extracto de rana (frog extract) is effective against anemia, pneumonia, fatigue, stress, irritability, asthma, bronchitis, the common cold and even sexual inhibition, leading to some people calling it the 'Peruvian viagra'.
What's it taste like?
So how is the flavor of a blended frog meat smoothie?
Travel writer Michael Turtle says that the texture is gluggy and the flavor is earthy, a little malty and largely dominated by the maca roots.
Afterwards he noticed an energy boost, similar to how one would feel after drinking too much coffee.
Kæstur Hákarl & Other Buried, Putrefied Provisions (Tepa, Kiviak & Igunaq)
Prepared by putrefying Greenland or basking shark meat, this Icelandic delicacy dates back to the Viking Age and has gained some notoriety for terrifying some of the most well-known current-day food adventurists and culinary explorers.
Unless prepared correctly the Greenland shark is inedible due to its flesh containing naturally high occurring levels of toxins, such as urea and trimethylamine oxide.
After chopping the shark into pieces, the meat is traditionally buried in a pit under the weight of rocks and sand, which press the toxins out from the shark's flesh. The body is left in the pit for up to 7 weeks in summer or approximately 3 months in winter. After it's been dug up it's left to air out in a well ventilated shed for around 2 months. More contemporary methods involve pressing the flesh above the ground and draining its excreted toxins.
Hákarl is eaten at Iceland's mid-winter Þorrablót festival and is often followed with a shot of Brennivin schnapps, popularly referred to as “black death”
What's it taste like?:
Hákarl's flavor is generally considered an “acquired taste” and has received a mixed response. Food adventurist Anthony Bourdain described it as “the single worst tasting thing he's ever eaten”.
Hákarl has a highly concentrated flavor of ammonia and fish and some liken the experience of eating it to ripe cheese.
Culinary explorer Andrew Zimmern has compared Hákarl's flavor to stagnant urine, due to the shark peeing through its skin.
National Geographic Explores Hákarl
Similar in Preparation: Putrefying meat underground makes Hakarl's preparation comparable to several other ethnic groups' cultural specialties
Tepa or Stinkheads, for example, is an Alaskan dish where salmon heads are buried underground (some accounts include wrapping the fish in skunk cabbage prior to burying). If buried close to the soil's surface (around a foot under) it generally takes around two weeks for the fish to be ready to eat. However digging deeper can result in the fish keeping for several years.
Kiviak or Kiviaq is an obscure traditional wintertime delicacy enjoyed by Greenlandic Inuits. It's preparation involves stuffing 300 – 500 auks (an Arctic bird) into a seal skin sack or a hollowed-out body of a seal and burying it under layers of stones for around 7 months (or a maximum of 18 months) until the seal's fat has seeped onto the bird meat and become highly decomposed.
Information on kiviak is scarce, but most sources describe its smell as "foul” and its taste as being similar to very ripe cheese, like Stilton. The soft fermented bird meat is sucked off the auks' bones and everything is consumed including its brain and other organs.
Canadian Inuits are know to enjoy a dish known as Igunaq, which involves slicing up and burying a walrus for up to a year. If it's left to decompose too long it can become highly poisonous and fatal, but when it's done right Igunaq is said to resemble blue cheese in taste, smell and consistency.
There's a clear divide in opinion when it comes to this effervescent drink.
Some consider it a panacea, a health drink capable of boosting the immune system, enhancing liver function and treating cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, gout, multiple sclerosis, high blood pressure, AIDS as well as reversing the aging process and almost anything else.
Though Kombucha is currently drunk world wide, it's been consumed in China since the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) where people saw it as an elixir for immortality.
However scientific data and clinical trials do not support these purported health benefits, with critics pointing out a whole bunch of potential health risks linked to the beverage.
If made in unsanitary conditions Kombucha can become contaminated with harmful germs, dangerous to people with HIV, cancer, or other immune problems.
Preparation in a glazed ceramic pot has also been associated with lead poisoning.
Other reactions from drinking Kombucha may include anthrax of the skin, jaundice, yeast infection, stomach problems, nausea, vomiting, myositis (inflamed muscles), neck pain, lactic acidosis, hepatotoxicity (chemically-driven liver damage) and possible death.
Differing opinions on whether Kombucha will make you super healthy or super sick are largely based on the use of a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (or 'SCOBY'), which takes the form of a fungus-like, rubbery, spongy disk that is steeped in sugary tea (whether it be black, green or white) for around a week, creating a slightly fizzy and fermented drink with a low alcohol content.
A SCOBY can become highly acidic if it interacts with objects that are not made from wood or glass and is capable of self-replicating, with every batch of Kombucha creating a new spongy disk of various bacteria (including Acetobacter, which is known to turn wine into vinegar) and yeast species (such as Saccharomyces, a common ingredient in brewing).
What's it taste like?
Just like its effect on health, there's a range of opinions on Kombucha's taste. Among other factors its flavor depends on the duration of the fermentation period, with the beverage having an overly sweet taste if left for six days or less; a similarity to apple cider if left for 7-9 days; and a progressively vinegary or sour flavor if left for 10 days or longer. Generally, consumers tend to drink kombucha once it's reached a balance of sweet and tangy.
It should be noted as well that some people have even gone as far as eating the SCOBY itself, with enthusiasts claiming all sorts of health benefits for devouring the rubbery and slimy symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. The texture is apparently quite chewy and the flavour is said to be fairly tangy.
Kopi Luwak & Other Fecal-Based Beverages (Black Ivory; Un, Kono Kuro; & Ttongsul)
Kopi Luwak is a notorious drink that's also known as 'Civet Coffee', because before the coffee beans are ground the berries are first eaten and semi-digested by palm civets. After passing through the animal's digestive tract the beans are picked out of the animal's feces, then cleaned and roasted.
Dating back to Dutch coffee plantations in Java in the 1700s, today Kopi Luwak is one of the rarest and most expensive brews in the world, at $100-$600 a pound with only 500 pounds of coffee beans being produced yearly.
What's it Taste Like?
Some coffee aficionados denounce Kopi Luwak as nothing other than a bland novelty item, but those who enjoy it describe this coffee as having a “nutty” “smooth” and “earthy” flavor and a “syrupy caramel taste” with a heavy body of “incomparable richness”.
Other Fecal-Based Beverages: A similar product from Thailand's Golden Elephant Triangle Foundation is the 'Black Ivory Coffee', created by feeding Arabica beans to elephants and then picking it out of the excrement before processing. According to the producers the elephant's enzymes enhances the coffee's flavor by breaking down proteins responsible for its bitter taste. Only 100 kilograms of Black Ivory Coffee has been produced as of March 2013. At $50 a cup or around US$1200 a kilo, it may the most expensive coffee in the world, and is said to carry a rich and flavorful earthy, nutty taste.
The potential of enhancing flavor by first processing the ingredients through the digestive system of an elephant was also recognized by beer breweries in Japan, when they created 'Un, Kono Kuro' – which also contains semi-digested coffee beans from The Golden Elephant Triangle Foundation. This beer reportedly has an initial bitter taste followed by immediate sweetness.
Lastly, a fecal-based beverage that reached some notoriety in late 2013 is 'Ttongsul', an exceptionally rare drink from Korea that's unknown to most nationals and those South Koreans who are aware of it generally believed that the beverage vanished by the 1960s.
In August 2013 website VICE published a video report featuring a Japanese correspondent travelling to South Korea to meet with a medical traditionalist who claimed to be one of the few people left with the knowledge to make the beverage. Apparently dating back centuries Ttongsul contains a blend of rice wine or soju (a distilled beverage made from rice, barley, wheat, potatoes or tapioca) and fermented feces from children or animals.
The doctor in the documentary, Dr. Lee Chang Soo has described the flavor as being somewhat sour, though when the reporter, Yuka Uchida, drank the concoction she found that it simply carried the taste of rice wine with the scent of feces. Ttongsul also contains around a 9 percent alcohol and was historically drunk to heal wounds and even cure epilepsy.
VICE explores the tradition of 'Ttongsul'
If you're someone who finds veal distasteful for its slaughter of baby cattle, then kutti pi may be too much to stomach.
This rare and obscure Anglo-Indian dish involves cooking an unborn fetus of any animal cut straight from its deceased mother. It's a local delicacy of Southern India and while it is legal to sell and eat it, kutti pi is not publicly accepted and is considered a taboo.
It can also be hard to find, as kutti pi in India is in high demand and can only be bought from slaughterhouses if on the off chance a pregnant animal has been killed that day. Butchers are wary and conscientious about serving anything taboo over the counter and will even consider delivering kutti pi to a customer's house rather than be seen handling an animal fetus in a public market.
It's eaten for its rarity as well as medicinal properties, with many Anglo-Indians believing it to be beneficial for pregnant women's health and for tuberculosis and back pain.
National Geographic explores Kutti Pi customs
According to a popular (and somewhat anachronistic) folklore, in the midst of a Viking raid in Ireland Saint Patrick sent men to poison the invaders fish stock with lye. Rather than making them sick, the Vikings loved this tainted fish and thus lutefisk was created.
This Norwegian delicacy is prepared by first taking a dried white fish and soaking it in cold water for up to six days.
It's then soaked in cold water for an additional two days with lye (a powerful alkali used in soaps and cleaners), which causes the fish to swell and its protein content to reduce by around 50percent, leaving the fish with a jelly-like slimy texture.
Following this preparation the fish's pH levels will be as high as 12, making it highly caustic and therefore able to chemically burn a person's skin. Therefore the lutefisk must soak for an additional 4-6 days before it can be cooked by steaming, baking or boiling.
Failing to clean plates, pans and utensils immediately after use can permanently damage them as lutefisk often sticks and is nearly impossible to remove if left overnight. Its also recommend that stainless steal cutlery be used, as lutefisk's acidity levels can also damage sterling silverware.
What's it taste like:
This dish has become increasingly popular in other countries including the American Mid-West. It is said to have an incredibly pungent scent but a very mild flavor that some find surprisingly pleasant and enjoyable with a range of condiments.
Some critical reviews of the dish liken its flavor to soap, due to the use of lye. Its often gooey texture however has been a turn-off for many people.
Known also as 'soft roe' (with 'hard roe' referring to fish eggs largely used in caviar), milt is essentially sacks of fish sperm that are eaten in many countries but most commonly in Japan and regions of Europe.
In Japan cod sperm, known as 'Shirako' (or 'White Children), is usually eaten raw or sometimes slightly grilled and served with tangy ponzu sauce.
In Italy, tuna milt, also known as 'Lattume di tonno' has been known to be included in salads and pasta.
In England milt from herring, carps and mackerel is preferred poached though it can also be pickled, smoked or fried and eaten on canapes or in salads, soups and stews.
What's it taste like?
Generally milt is considered a delicacy where ever it's eaten and is said to be soft, creamy and custard-like.
Miraculin & Curculin
These interesting fruit extracts have earned a reputation for their ability to radically alter how we taste certain food.
Miraculin is a mostly flavorless protein that bonds to the tongue's sweet receptors after chewing “miracle fruit” berries.
Curculin is a similar taste-modifying protein, isolated from curculigo latifolia, a plant grown in Malaysia.
After chewing these fruits, sour food tastes drastically different for at least 10 minutes (curculin) or up to an hour (miraculin) e.g. lemons taste like very sweet oranges or candy; vinegar can taste like apple cider; and cheese may taste like frosting. Unlike miraculin, curculin and another taste modifier known as strogin (derived from Staurogyne merguensis Kuntze plants) can make regular water taste sweet.
Because of this 'flavor tripping' effect, nutritional experts within some countries have considered using these taste modifiers as low-calorie sugar substitutes.
Flavor tripping parties are known to occur in the US, where people gorge themselves on sour and tart food after eating miracle berries.
What's it taste like?
Miraculin is known for being rather devoid of taste, though some people describe miracle fruits as being "only slightly sweet and a little tangy, like a raw cranberry". Curculin and strogin on the other hand are said to elicit sweetness, with the former being up to 500 times as sweet as regular sugar.
Note: Not all taste modifiers are so sweet, as some actually inhibit our ability to perceive sucrose. Gymnemic acid is just one example. After chewing the leaves of a Gymnema sylvestre plant, sugary solutions reportedly taste like water and sugar crystals have the flavor of sand. This effect last several hours.
Other medicinal plant leaves, such hovenia dulcis and ziziphus jujuba, similarly suppress sweetness; while yerba santa plant extracts instead inhibit bitter tastes.
Mithridatism (& Palatable Poisons)
In the 1st century BC, King Mithridates VI, Eupator of Pontus instructed Zopyrus, a physician of Alexandria, to create a potion that would give him total immunity to all poisons. Containing over 40 minerals, poisons and other ingredients the concoction was called 'mithridate' or 'theriac' and proved so effective that when Mithridates later decided to end his life, he had his servant run him through with a sword after the vaccine thwarted his attempts of suicide by poisoning.
Throughout subsequent centuries the practice of deliberately ingesting or administering poisons and venom to build up a resistance was rigorously studied by the Romans and other civilizations trying to discover the secret of theriac, with various concoctions being sold as a universal remedy or panacea for any affliction until the 19th century.
Today consuming small quantities of poison and progressively increasing the dosage as the body adapts so as to gain total immunity is a practice referred to as 'Mithridatism'. This method has proven to be a somewhat effective defense for people with severe food allergies and those who handle venomous creatures. e.g. Bill Haast, who lived to be a 100 years old, was known to inject doses of venom into his body, helping protect him from many of the 172 snake bites he received during his career.
Stories also exist of people willingly eating poison oak with bread, exerting dubious claims that it holds numerous health benefits and immunizes the body against poison ivy.
One of the most well known cases of people deliberately eating lethal doses of poison comes from Styria (a part of Austria) during the mid-19th century. In 1851 explorer Johann Jakob von Tschudi first reported on Styrian individuals who routinely ate up to 400mgs of arsenic trioxide (a prevalent and highly toxic form of inorganic arsenic) every 2-3 days for over 30 years without any adverse health effects.
Lethal doses generally range from 70-300mg a day, though vary on numerous factors, including the consumer's body weight and whether the arsenic is in organic or inorganic form, with the latter being the deadliest.
Reasons given by the Styrian arsenic eaters on their abnormal dieting habits were that arsenic enhanced female beauty; increased sexual virility; improved breathing at elevated altitudes; acted as a prophylactic against infectious disease; increased courage; and was an effective digestive aid.
Needless to say that the arsenic eaters' claims have been treated with skepticism. However this didn't stop a number of manufacturers in Victorian England from flooding the market place with various arsenic-based health and beauty products, Fowler's Solution being among the most famous. This oral treatment was prescribed for many disorders from the mid-1780s right up to the mid-to-late 1900s when it became disused due to instances of toxic and cancerous side effects as well as more effective treatments being introduced.
In recent decades, arsenic has re-entered the medical realm, receiving renewed interest for its potential in fighting certain types of leukemia.
As for its taste, arsenic is said to be mostly flavorless though slightly sweet and metallic, making it popular in assassinations as it's easily concealed in food and drinks.
Sub-lethal amounts often also appear in our food and water, as a result of both human activity and natural causes. Presently some countries, such as the United States, controversially include arsenic-based additives and drugs in animal feed for chickens, pigs and turkeys that are ultimately intended for human consumption. Such arsenical substances (e.g. roxarsone, carbarsone, arsanilic acid etc) are largely used to improve growth, feed efficiency, pigmentation and disease prevention in poultry and swine.
Growing up in the 90s, I was bombarded with commercials for health food that advertisers claimed actually tasted good - as if such a thing was otherwise non-existent. Unfortunately nattō doesn't do much to challenge this concept and instead compliments the idea of healthy food generally tasting bad.
These fermented soy beans are a popular breakfast food in Japan's eastern regions and are prepared by inoculating the beans with bacillus subtilis natto bacteria before being left to ferment for around 20 hours in temperatures ranging from 100F/ 38C and 124F/51C and then refrigerating it for several days.
Nattō is particularly notable for its pungent aroma that's been likened to the scent of ripe cheese, body odor and ammonia. Many foreigners also struggle to get over its unpleasant appearance and texture, which is found to be extremely gooey, stringy and sticky with strands of slime that increase and thicken after stirring and can stretch over several feet and tether a diner's mouth to their bowl of slimy fermented soy beans.
Itohiki nattō is a good source of protein and is rich in calcium, magnesium, pyrazine, potassium, Vitamin B and Vitamin K. Some research has shown that an enzyme extracted from nattō, known as nattokinase, may also be useful in decreasing the risk of heart attack, stroke and Alzheimer's Disease.
What's it taste like?
Nattō is commonly considered an acquired taste, with a flavor some people consider 'bitter' and 'musty' while others say it's similar to cheese or has a nutty flavor
Salty nattō is a lesser known variety, prepared by soaking koji-mold covered soy beans in salt-water for up to a year. Unlike the slimy texture of the commonly known Itohiki Natto described above, Salty nattō is semi-dried.
Japan consumes around 50,000 tons of nattō every year.
Note: Fermented soy beans inoculated with bacillus subtilis bacteria are known to be used in the national cuisine of other Asian countries, including China, Korea, India and Nepal.
Some foreigners also compare the sliminess of these products to the mucilage in okra, a green vegetable that produces copious quantities of slime during cooking.
Ortolan buntings are small migratory birds that are currently protected under the European Union's Bird Directive and the basis of one of France's more controversial dishes.
When caught, ortolans are blinded or placed in a dark box to trick them into believing it's night so that they will gorge themselves on millet, grapes and figs until they've grown four times their original size. When it's ready for eating, the ortolan is drowned alive in Armagnac brandy, its feathers are plucked out and the tiny bird is roasted.
What's it taste like?
While this preparation of ortolan is frequently denounced as “cruel”, the traditional method of eating it can only be described as “unusual”.
First you stuff the whole bird in your mouth and then cover your head and face with a napkin, which is meant to intensify the flavors and aromas of the roasted bird, though some people say that it's also to hide this gluttonous act from the eyes of God.
It's customary to eat the entire bird, including its head, organs and bones, but some people prefer biting its head off, which falls back onto their plate. It can take up to 15 minutes to chew up an ortolan and its meat is said to be sweet and delicate, though the birds organs have a bitter taste and the Armagnac in the bird's lungs can be quite strong.
Many people use gum to freshen their mouths, others eat mints but some prefer to chew paan. Prepared throughout Asia, Europe and The Middle East but most popular in India, paan is a chewing mixture that's been prepared for at least 5,000 years.
Paanwallahs create it by covering a betel leaf with various ingredients including supari (areca nuts), katha (a red paste created from acacia), meetha (a sweet mixture that includes cardamon, peppermint, jellied fruit, anise, honey and coconut), chuna (slaked white lime) and zarda (chewing tobacco).
Paan is often chewed as a mild stimulant and at the end of a meal to aid digestion and freshen mouths, though it also generates excess saliva, which increases spitting. After a period of chewing the betel leaf mixture, most people spit out all of the ingredients, leaving red blood-like stains all over footpaths that are difficult to remove. In parts of India, paan stains marking the public infrastructure and landmarks are a common site.
Numerous studies released in recent years have indicated that spitting out the chewing mixture in public areas can cause public health and environmental issues as well as damage to public infrastructure.
In fact the power of paan is so great that it threatens to take down one of West Bengal's most iconic structures - the 71-year old 'Howrah Bridge'. Despite standing strong against monsoons, barge collisions and daily traffic of up to 100,000 vehicles and 150,000 pedestrians a day, engineers have revealed that it's pedestrians spitting out the corrosive ingredients (e.g. slaked lime and paraffin) found in paan and a manufactured chewing mixture and stimulant called gutka that risks compromising the bridge's structural stability, by corroding metal casings on the key struts supporting its girders.
In olden days paan was eaten by women to increase the redness in their lips. It's considered by many Indians as an aphrodisiac and a mild stimulant, producing feelings of well-being, euphoria and alertness. Sometimes this effect is enhanced by covering the betel leaf in cocaine. Both paan and gutka are also fairly carcinogenic, with many cases of mouth lesions and cancer being linked to these stimulants.
What's it taste like?
Paan comes in many varieties and can be served plain (sada), sweet (meetha) or even with tobacco as a main ingredient (tambaku). So its flavor largely varies depending on ingredients used, as does the frequency of spitting, as meetha paan is generally considered safer to ingest while sada and tambaku are commonly spat out.
Betel leaf, which is a common element used to wrap the paan ingredient, is often described as being peppery, occasionally bitter, and similar to arugula or rocket. Areca nuts, another common ingredient are also said to be quite bitter.
When some people see a healthy blooming tree they gaze upon it with a moment of silent reflection, meditation and admiration for all the natural beauty that exists in the world.
When a starving adventurer, survivalist or special forces member see the same tree, they might instead consider how they're going to cook and eat it: fried; boiled in a soup; ground down into a 'flour substitute' and baked in bread; or cut into chips and roasted.
The ultimate survival food, in moments of desperation people have frequently turned to nutritious strips of 'phloem' or inner-bark cut from tree trunks as food to keep one alive (the outer layers of bark are inedible and avoided by tree eaters). Trees known for producing edible and 'delicious' tree bark include slippery elm, basswood, tamarack, ash, birches, aspens, rowan, poplars, maples, spruces, willows, pines and hemlocks.
Indigenous groups in North America and Scandinavia were known to strip bark from pines,birch pinon and other tree types to eat them raw as a dietary supplement or in various dishes. Even as recent as World War II, people in Russia and Finland were known to eat bark when food was scarce. Apparently bark bread is still made and sold in some parts of Finland and other Scandinavian countries.
Various tree barks and leaves are also known to have a range of health benefits. Pine, for example, is very rich in Vitamin C; while willow, aspen, slippery elm, birch and several others contain salicylic acid, an active painkilling ingredient of aspirin, as well as being used to treat various health conditions such jaundice, urinary tract infection and parasites.
What's it taste like:
Some people have said that tree bark tastes quite bitter, while other say that as long you're eating the inner bark and young leaves, the flavor of many edible trees should be quite sweet and fairly tender.
Also known as “the century egg” or “ the thousand year egg”, this Chinese delicacy has around 500-600 years history. According to folklore the origins of this date back to the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) when a homeowner randomly decided to eat two duck eggs that he discovered in a bucket of slaked lime that had been used as a mortar several months earlier.
Traditionally Pidan is prepared by coating or soaking an egg in salt and an alkaline mixture which can include mud, wood ash, lime, lye (sodium hydroxide), tea leaves, and sodium carbonate or a combination of these ingredients. The egg can take up to 6 months to prepare and can keep for around a year.
A much quicker and more sinister method to mature the eggs involves an application of lead oxide, a highly poisonous substance.
The alkaline materials transform the egg significantly over time: the shell turns black, the egg white resembles a semi-transparent brown jelly; and the yolk's color turns jade green.
What's it taste like:
People have described Pidan's taste as “earthy”, “salty”, “strongly alkaline with accents of sulfur and ammonia”, “a cross between an overripe avocado and old fish” and “reminiscent of overripe Camembert”. It has a high sulfur and ammonia aroma and is often eaten at banquets and as an appetizer.
On the exterior they somewhat resemble a popular and flavorful snack in Taiwan known as Tiedan or Iron Eggs, which are hard boiled eggs essentially cooked over and over again in soy sauce or tea, until they turn brown and shrink in size until they resemble small stones.
Possibly inspired by wild animals' natural tendency to eat their own placenta after giving birth, health food companies in Japan have latched on to this concept by making pig, horse and sheep placentas key ingredients in a range of health drinks and supplements.
Many people worldwide consider placenta to be a miracle food and have even taken their enthusiasm for afterbirth to the next level by eating their own.
Such a practice gained media attention in 2011 when chef Daniel Patterson reportedly prepared his wife's placenta in a bolognese sauce with pork and poached eggs. The San Francisco Food Adventure club have also cooked Placenta Rumaki, making the full recipe available on their website, though they're just one of many online resources offering placenta recipes. Some people have even gone as far as encapsulating human afterbirth, offering it in pill form as a natural remedy.
Human placenta is chock full of iron, lipids and hormones and those who eat it believe that it's capable of increasing energy, preventing post-partum depression, enhancing milk supply, beating the baby blues and assisting the uterus to contract in new mothers. Eating someone else's placenta however can lead to blood-transmitted diseases such as HIV and hepatitis.
What's it taste like?
Some new mothers choose to eat their placenta raw or even blend it into smoothies and cocktails, though it's also added to pastas, sandwiches, pizzas and pâté . Human placenta is said to taste similar to other organ meats, like kidney or liver. One woman who boiled her own afterbirth with jalapeno and lemon described its texture as “spongy” and the taste as similar to chicken or seitan. She also used her placenta to make tea, which she told The Bold Italic, had a spicy flavor.
Concocted with prime ingredients swiped from prison cafeterias and brewed to perfection in jail cells, this wine is widely appreciated by those who don't have access to anything better than fruit, sugar, bread, water and condiments mashed up together in a plastic bag - namely prisoners. The bag of random ingredients are periodically heated with hot water and wrapped in towels so that its contents ferment.
After around a week the cell block wine is ready to drink, though doing so come's with the possibility of contracting botulism – a paralytic illness that's potentially fatal. Pruno's alcoholic content can reach up to 15 percent so it will get you drunk if it doesn't make you sick first.
Though indigenous to prison communities, pruno has also become popular outside of jails,with numerous websites offering recipes and a pruno competition being held at the 2004 conference of the American Homebrewers Association's National Homebrew Conference.
What's it taste like?
Pruno has been widely described as having a pungent aroma of rotting food and the flavor of vomit or “bile flavored wine cooler”.
Salo & Lardo
In a health-conscious society, people generally try to regulate and minimize the amount of fat that they consume.
However, in several European countries nationals will abandon their diets and throw health cautions to the wind for a cut of fat taken from the back of a pig (known as 'fat back), which is not only relished in cooking but also when eaten raw.
Italy's lardo for example is literally solid unrendered pig fat with little to no lean meat. It's salted, cured and soaked in brine for around three months to an entire year and often seasoned with garlic, pepper, rosemary and sometimes bay leaves, sage, juniper, nutmeg, bay, coriander, cloves, cinnamon and aniseed.
The most common products are known as 'Lardo di Colonnata' (which is traditionally cured in marble containers) and 'Vallée d’Aoste Lard d’Arnad' (often cured in containers made of wood), with some Italians enjoying thin slices of these cured pig fats on top of bread with onion, oregano, black pepper and tomato. Some restaurants are known to serve lardo as part of an antipasto, with a single serving amounting up to 900 calories per hundred grams (this is around a third to a half of the recommended daily calorie intake).
In parts of Eastern Europe cured pig fat is known as salo and is especially popular in Ukraine and Russia, though it's more commonly associated with the former country where it's often seen as Ukraine's official food and a national obsession. Ukrainian's love for salo is also the basis of many ethnic jokes throughout Eastern Europe, such as one one involving a Ukrainian student writing a letter home which begins with a request for unrendered, cured pig fat before even greeting his mother ("Send me salo, hello mamma!”).
Salo is generally enjoyed as a snack with bread, garlic, paprika, onion and pickles with a shot of vodka. It's also known as 'Ukrainian Snickers', referring not only to salo's popularity in Ukraine, but also rumours that it's been served in a chocolate coating.
Historically pig fat and drippings (often melted beef fat) were widely seen in Europe as a poor man's food, something that one would sustain themselves on in times of poverty and scarcity. Today, both are incorporated into contemporary cuisine for both rich and poor.
Sannakji (and Odori-don)
It's always nice to sit down in a restaurant and not have to wrestle your first course to the death. Don't expect any such luxury when dining on the Korean delicacy Sannakji, as it fights the diner right down to the last moment, attempting one last act of vengeance before finally meeting its demise.
This dish is prepared by a chef cleaving off the tentacles of a small octopus (known as nakji), slicing them into pieces, arranging the still moving appendages on a plate with dipping sources and condiments, and then sending them out to a customer. The mass of squirming tentacles writhe around aggressively and can stick to a person's mouth or throat while being eaten, which has reportedly led to numerous people choking.
A variation on the dish involves serving an entire baby octopus in a bowl of water, where it will often try to escape a diner's grasp by squirming across the table. Once the octopus is in hand, the diner dunks it head first into various condiments before cramming the still living mollusc into their mouth, sometimes after wrapping it around a chopstick so as to minimize resistance from the slimy cephalopod.
Considering the creature's sliminess and the strength of its tentacles and suction cups, it's unsurprising that shoving a whole living octopus into one's mouth has reportedly led to deaths via suffocation and asphyxiation.
What's it taste like?:
Sannakji has a chewy texture but many people find its taste to be somewhat bland. Instead people's appreciation for this delicacy often comes from the shear experience of eating food that is still moving. Some Koreans also believe that eating live, moving octopus builds strength and stamina.
Similar in Style: Odori-don
A similar dish is Japan's odori-don, which is a squid served with soy sauce on a bed of rice and salmon roe. It's also known as the "dancing squid rice bowl" as the high sodium content in soy sauce causes the dead squid's tentacles to start twitching or flailing around as if it's returned to life. Similarly, detached and skinned frog legs are also known to "dance", when sprinkled with salt.
National Geographic Explores the Art of Eating an Entire Living Octopus
San Zhi Er
Take a live hairless new-born mouse, wash it, apply spicy condiments and serve with dipping source – voilà you've got 'San Zhi Er', a relatively obscure delicacy that's reportedly eaten in China's Yunnan and Guangdong Provinces.
This dish is also commonly known as 'Three Screams' or 'Three Squeaks' as the live baby mouse will first shriek in fear as it's picked up with chop sticks; it will scream a second time as it's dipped in seasoning; and squeak a third a time as it's shoved into a person's mouth.
It should be noted that there is a good deal of skepticism surrounding this dish, as some have dismissed it as a hoax. Though this dish has been detailed in several media reports and publications, as well having featured in a number of videos, information on San Zhi Er remains relatively scarce.
Shellac, Carmine & Gaz
The act of finding a fly or bug in ones food can be a dramatic ordeal, with the taint and thoughts of contamination often being enough to see a person be put off their meal entirely, even after the offending insect has been removed.
What most people are blissfully unaware about however is that many of the food items we eat on a daily basis contain ingredients produced from insects.
Take shellac for example.
This natural polymer is created from the secretion of the kerria lacca bug, a sap-sucking scale insect that lives in massive tree-dwelling colonies throughout Southeast Asia. Their secretions may have been used in India and China as a dyeing agent for centuries before merchant and explorer Marco Polo introduced the substance to Europe in 1290AD.
Today shellac is a common wood varnish but it's also been used as a tasteless and odorless glaze for chocolate, gum balls, sprinkles, jelly beans, medical pills, doughnuts and a wax for apples and pears among other edibles.
Then there's carmine - a red color additive created from dried, crushed and boiled carcasses of female cochineal, a mostly immobile scale insect that makes its home in cacti in central and south America.
This appetizing ingredient is used to color meat, beverages, ice cream, dairy products and cosmetics. Some people are highly allergic to the coloring agent, which can cause anaphylactic shock.
Carmine originated within Aztec and Mayan communities where it was a highly valuable and sort after dye. Following the Conquistadors arrival in Mexico in the 1500s, carmine became widely popular throughout Europe and other parts of the world as well.
Lastly, a sweetening agent produced in Iran known as 'gaz of Khunsar' is known to be excreted from the anus of the psyllid insect Cyamophila astragalicola during its final nymph stage.
Appearing as a "soft, colorless, thread-like substance', gaz of Khunsar is generally found covering the spiny shrub, Astragalus adscendens, and is most commonly used in gaz, a popular Iranian nougat.
Until recently, the origin of this agent has been debated for centuries and has even been associated with manna, a heavenly food mentioned in Exodus and said to be bread-like with the flavor of "wafers made with honey".
What's it taste like?
Shellac and carmine are known for being tasteless. Gaz of Khunsar, however, is very sweet due to its high fructose level.
Snake Wine (& Other Animal-Based Liqueurs)
The belief that snakes can grant health and medical benefits has existed for a long time, with The Hippocratic Corpus (which dates back to the 4th and 5th century BC) prescribing snake wine for a retained placenta, snake grease to treat infertility and viper's broth to cure skin disease.
Today most snake wines contain a preserved serpent coiled at the bottom of the bottle, sometimes posed in a threatening position. It's most well known in Eastern and Southeastern Asia including Cambodia, China, Korea, Laos, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam. The snakes are usually soaked for several months in a variety of liqueurs including rice wine, awamori, soju and whiskey, which dissolves the venom.
Japan is well known for steeping habu snakes in fire water to create habu-sake or habushi, but has gained less recognition for creating a dessert that fuses ice cream with venomous mamushi pit vipers. Vietnam's rượu thuốc has over 100 variants, each for a specific medical issue. Brazil also makes an alcoholic beverage called 'Pinga de Cobra', which contains snakes steeped in cachaça or aguardente. .
There are many purported health benefits associated with snake wine including better blood circulation; strengthening immune systems; reversing hair loss; relieving pain and muscular spasms; and treating lumbago and rheumatism. It's also believed to be a potent aphrodisiac. Still in some case snake wines can be hazardous if the serpents spring to life after the bottle has been opened. In a recent incident a woman was attacked by a pit viper after it had been sealed in a bottle of shejiu for 3 months.
A similar beverage is China's 'Baby Mice Wine', a popular health tonic that contains a large number of 2-3 day old baby mice left to ferment in rice wine for around 12 months. Other creatures that are steeped in alcohol and used in medicinal liqueurs include bees, scorpions, spiders, seahorses, lizards, baby monkeys, eels, geckos, deer fetus, locusts and giant centipedes.
Quite possibly the most nauseating animal-based beverage for anyone outside of an Inuit community is a drink known as Seagull Wine. Unlike other animal-based liqueurs that preserve deceased or living creatures in alcohol, Seagull Wine's key ingredient is rumored to be a decaying animal carcass. This beverage is reportedly created by Eskimos by cramming a dead seagull into a bottle, filling it with water and leaving it in the sun to decompose. The end result has a flavor that's been likened to battery acid.
According to Suzanne Donahue from Wines Times, Seagull Wine "goes down hard and settles in even worse" but gets people inebriated quickly.
"The next day’s hangover is nothing short of spectacular," writes Donahue. "You’ll feel like you've been repeatedly beaten over the head by a giant…well, seagull".
Soup Number 7
This obscure dish with a mysterious name is based on the equally vague Soup Number 5, a popular aphrodisiac that contains bull testes.
Soup Number 7 brings the quest for enhanced sexual virility, disease prevention and anti-aging to a new height of desperation by allegedly including stem cells as a key ingredient.
Health officials in the Philippines have warned the public against tasting the soup, as human stem cells are only effective in treating illness and repairing damaged tissue when administered into the body through a medical procedure.
If you think you'd get squeamish at the sight of human flesh bobbing around in your glass of wine, then you may want to stay several feet away from the Sourtoe Cocktail, traditionally made by placing a dehydrated, salt-preserved severed human toe into a beer glass full of champagne.
Today it can be any alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverage as long as the drinker's lips touch the toe, which luckily is said to have no flavor. Drinking the cocktail is rewarded with an "official Sourtoe certificate”, but swallowing the toe results in a $2,500 penalty.
The origins of this stomach-turning drink date back to 1973 when Captain Dick Stevenson found a jar of moonshine containing a severed human toe belonging to a 1920s booze runner named Louie Liken, who lost his toe from frostbite.
Since then tens of thousands of people have tried the Sourtoe cocktail at the Downtown Hotel in Yukon, Canada, though a shortage of toes has led to local advertisements for toe donors to step forward and keep this cocktail kicking.
The sight of someone eating a chunk of bread off the belly of a human corpse wouldn't just appear strange to people today, it would be straight up alarming.
But from the Middle Ages right up to the late 19th century some European Christian communities actually paid for such a service, with the belief that besides the bread, something much heavier was being ingested, both symbolically and spiritually - pure sin.
In Europe, particularly England, Scotland and Wales, 'sin-eaters' were typically non-Christian or excommunicated by the church for encroaching into its territory of saving souls. Further, sin- eaters were often poor and sometimes beggars, homeless or outcasts who for their service received a pittance pay of a few dollars.
Sin-eaters were called upon following a household death to pray and consume the recently deceased's sins, often represented by a piece of bread and a mug of ale or even just salt and water placed upon the cadaver. It was believed that by consuming this meager meal, the sin-eater also symbolically devoured the deceased's wrongdoings, thence wiping this person's moral slate clean and granting their soul access into heaven.
Other countries have been known to carry out similar rituals. In Sindh, now a province of Pakistan, a low-caste individual known as a 'Karnigor' would eat several mouthfuls of sweetmeat (as well as taking clothing and other possessions of the deceased) so as to ensure the departed's soul was not damned to haunt their house indefinitely. In Bavaria Leichen Nudeln, or 'corpse-cakes', were baked and left to rise on the body of the deceased, where it became imbued with their virtue rather than their sins, and eaten by a close relative.
What's it Taste Like?
Figuratively speaking, for most sin-eaters the whole experience would have most likely left a bitter taste in their mouths. Despite their important role in the community's spiritual customs, sin-eaters were generally hated, ostracized and viewed as unclean. Following their post-mortem rituals they were often immediately driven from the house amidst a barrage of insults and thrown projectiles by the mourners.
To eat light (as in low calorie foods) and stay healthy is a goal desired by many dieters and health-driven individuals.
Few though have taken this objective quite as literally as those who follow the Inedia movement. Practitioners, known as 'breatharians', say that they can last weeks, months, years and even decades without consuming standard food and sometimes water. Instead they opt for a "healthy" diet of "prana" (Sanksrit for "life energy"); and sunlight, through a daily ritual known as sun gazing.
While starting out, sun gazers initially stare directly at the sun for around 10 seconds a day during the first hour after sunrise and before sunset. Over a nine month period practitioners gradually increase this to 44 minutes of staring time.
Breatharian guru Hira Ritan Manek claims that people can nourish their body and mind by absorbing "micro-food" from sunlight via the eyes and pores and that after nine months of sun gazing, hunger and reliance on standard food and drink can be significantly reduced or entirely overcome.
According to proponents, the advantages of subsisting on sunlight include an increased Vitamin D intake due to greater sun exposure; a boost in the production of the serotonin and melatonin, the body's "feel good" hormones; and enhanced energy levels.
Controversies surrounding sun gazing are beyond the scope of this hub, though it can be said that the supposed benefits of this practice have yet to be solidly proven or reliably tested. Most existing research supporting claims that a person can survive on sunlight alone (e.g. studies by Dr. Sudhir Shah on the claims of 85-year old Prahlad Jani, who claims to have lived without food for over 70 years) have also been widely panned by the scientific and medical communities.
There have been numerous instances of practitioners dying from starvation and/or dehydration after giving up food and water for sunlight; while the actual act of staring into the sun can be damaging for the eyes, so doctors strongly warn against it.
What's it taste like?
It's hard to believe that staring at the sun for sustenance could actually be accompanied with a distinct taste. And yet, according to many practitioners, sun gazing sometimes invokes an extremely sweet flavor.
According to Wayne Purdin, former president of the International Sun Imbiber's Society, this flavor is apparently produced during sun eating when the brain's pineal gland secretes peptides and a psychoactive substance known as Dimethyltryptamine (DHT), which come together to create a "divine", nourishing and sweet-tasting elixir called amrita (Sanskrit for 'immortality').
Amrita has been described as comparable to "nectar, honey and gold dust" while inducing a "euphoric, ecstatic and intoxicating" sensation and giving a "feeling of being imbued with holiness". Proponents claim that this nectar can also be produced through deep meditation and the Khecarī mudrā yoga technique.
Tiết Canh (Vịt)
The use of animal blood in cooking isn't uncommon and in some cases it's actually the base for an entire cultural dish, such as black pudding or Poland's blood soup, 'czernina'.
Though cooking a dish made largely from blood may sound a little off-putting, it pales in comparison to eating a bowl of uncooked blood, which can potentially leave its consumer sick... seriously sick.
Vietnam's Tiết canh is one such dish, made from raw animal blood that's drawn from a pig, duck, deer, goose, lobster, snake or dog. The most well known variation is tiết canh vịt, a pudding that consists of congealed raw duck blood seasoned with herbs and nuts and served with meat. A little fish sauce or salt walter may also be added in its preparation to stop the blood from coagulating too prematurely.
Tiết canh vịt is potentially fatal to eat however, as some cases of H5N1 influenza or bird flu have been directly linked to the consumption of this protein rich cuisine. There has also been some concern that eating Tiết canh made with pig blood can potentially infect consumers with Streptococcus suis, a pathogen that can cause meningitis, deafness, inflammation and occasionally death.
What's it taste like?
One guide to Vietnamese food recipes describes Tiết canh as generally having a "sweet, fresh, and crisp taste". Tiết canh vịt specifically is said to have a meaty and slightly metallic flavor that's particularly popular among poor rural communities and during celebrations, such as weddings and Tết, or Vietnamese New Year.
NOTE: Outside of Vietnam, raw cattle blood is regularly extracted and consumed by the Maasai, an ethnic group that reside in Kenya and Tanzania. Sometimes this is supplemented with Mursik– a concoction of curdled milk, ash and cow's urine which is believed to reduce cholesterol. Other groups known for their consumption of fresh cattle blood include the Kenyan Samburu and Rendille Tribes; as well as Ethiopia's Surma Tribe.
The Thakali people of Nepal host a bi-annual cultural festival that involves consuming fresh, warm blood drawn from the neck of a live yak, in the belief that it prevents gastric problems and malaria as well increasing sexual vigor and improving general health. Canadian Inuits, who eat most of their meat raw, are also known for receiving nutrients through drinking raw seal blood.
Residing in various oceanic locations but largely cultivated in Southeast Asia, Blood Clams are a species of shellfish that are known for being rich in hemoglobin and for absorbing bacteria from polluted water, potentially resulting in hepatitis, typhoid and dysentery. Blood Clams were banned in Shanghai after causing a Hepatitis An outbreak in 1988. Despite health concerns, one food critic described blood clams' flavor as having a "deliciously crisp succulence".
Tong Zi Dan
A popular traditional snack eaten in Dongyang (a coastal region in China's Zheijang Province) said to “welcome spring” and “promote good health”. At the beginning of each spring, egg vendors visit elementary schools and collect buckets of young boys' urine, preferably from those who are no older than 10 years old.
They then boil eggs in a pot of this urine for some time, before taking them out and cracking their shells. The eggs are placed back in the pot and fresh urine is poured over the top.
The cooking process can be repeated several times and the eggs may require a full day of simmering before they are ready to eat. They are then sold by vendors for approximately 1.50 yuan.
Also known as 'Virgin Boy Eggs', the dish is so popular that in 2008 Dongyang classified this springtime delicacy as an intangible cultural heritage.
What's it taste like?:
While not all Dongyang residents appreciate tong zi dan, those that do claim that the eggs taste like “spring” with a “fresh”, “salty” flavor and the ability to reinvigorate the body by supporting better blood circulation, decreasing body heat and increasing energy.
A blogger on Chinese street food took the taste test and says that he detected only a mild hint of urine. He further described the taste of the egg white as being salty with a rubbery texture and the yolk as being more-or-less the same as ordinary hard boiled eggs.
Reuters explores Tong Zi Dan
Torisashi & Other Raw Meat Cuisine
Anyone who has ever watched the TV reality-series Hell's Kitchen is probably familiar with Gordon Ramsay's regular verbal lashings against contestants who try to serve raw chicken, furiously questioning guilty chefs on whether it was their intention to nearly kill a customer. So Ramsay probably wouldn't think too highly of torisashi - raw chicken sashimi that's sometimes served at Yakitori restaurants, occasionally with a verbal warning about the risk of salmonella poisoning.
A common belief is that raw or rare chicken is safe to eat if it's fresh and sourced from a clean farm. It's usually served with wasabi and soy sauce and reportedly tastes like albacore.
Eating fresh, raw meat is not exlusive to Japan however, with dozens of cultures worldwide having their own specialties. To name just a few these cultural delicacies include the classic 'steak tartare'; the Levantine 'kibbeh nayyeh' (raw beef or lamb); Ethiopia's 'kitfo' (uncooked beef); Germany's 'Mett' (raw pork); Italy's ever popular 'Carpaccio'; and 'Çiğ Köfte' (raw beef or lamb) eaten among Turkish, Armenian and Kurdish communities.
One of the advantages of cooking meat is that it destroys a variety of foodborne illnesses and bacteria including salmonella, listeria, e.coli, campyolobacter, taeniasis, and trichinellosis.
Supporters of raw meat diets claim that cooking not only kills these bacteria and germs, but also destroys much of the meats' original nutrients.
Proponents further believe that the risk of food poisoning can be avoided by sourcing meat from a reputable butcher and keeping it refrigerated prior to consumption. Some studies suggest that organic and grass-fed meat further reduces the chance of falling ill.
Uncooked meats have also been incorporated into the Primal and Raw Paleolithic diets, with the founder of the former, the late nutritionist Aajonus Vonderplanitz, also being a proponent of strict diets made up of rotten and decomposed food. Before his untimely death in August 2013 Vonderplanitz claimed that he was able to overcome and beat his terminal lymphoma by adhering to a regimen of moldy meat, introduced to him by an Alaskan Inuit tribe.
Turducken (and Other Multi-Animal Roasts)
According to legend, in 1985 a mysterious farmer, whose name and identity have been lost to history, graced the doorstep of Herbert's Specialty Meats in Louisiana, USA carrying nothing but a turkey, a duck and chicken. This mysterious visionary of Cajun cuisine then instructed the butcher to fuse all three birds together, creating an ultra-meaty dish known as 'Turducken' – a portmanteau of the three birds used in its creation.
Turducken involves stuffing a deboned chicken into a deboned duck and then shoving it into a deboned turkey like a Matryoshka doll, often combined with cornbread and sausage stuffing. It can take up to 7 hours to roast in a conventional oven and its taste has been described as a unique fusion of the three birds. This dish is most popular in the US, especially around Christmas and Thanksgiving.
Some haven taken the dish even further by wrapping all three birds with bacon strips to create Turbaconducken or by stuffing the entire turducken into an ostrich to make 'Osturducken', which can apparently take over 12 hours to cook.
NOTE: Variations of multi-animal roasts have existed throughout history, but the ultimate is 'rôti sans pareil' (or "roast without equal"). Detailed by French gastronomist Alexandre Balthazar Laurent Grimod de La Reynière in the early 1800s, this “incomparable roast” consists of a warbler, a bunting, a lark, a thrush, a quail, a lapwing, a plover, a partridge, a woodcock, a teal, a guinea fowl, a duck, a chicken, a pheasant, a goose, a turkey and a bustard (a total of 17 birds) stuffed one-inside-another, in that order from the smallest bird to the largest.
This gastronomic masterpiece is further enhanced by stuffing layers of lucca nut, forcemeat and bread between each bird and stewing it in a hermetically sealed pot with onion, clove, carrots, chopped ham, celery, thyme, parsley, mignonette, salted pork fat, salt, pepper, coriander, garlic before slowly roasting it for about 24 hours. Going with the theme of shoving food within other food, the warbler (the smallest bird) is stuffed with an olive, containing a caper, which is filled with an anchovy.
Another obscure but extreme multi-animal roast known as 'Stuffed Camel' is said to consist of cooked eggs stuffed into fish which are crammed into chickens that are then shoved into a roasted sheep before all being served, one-inside-another within a roast camel carcass.
In 1997 Guinness World Records described stuffed camel as the largest menu item in the world, sometimes served at Bedouin wedding celebrations. Variations have appeared in cook books and their extravagance have led to the dish receiving a lot of attention across the internet - though there don't seem to be any recorded instances of stuffed camel ever being served.
The idea of a drinking a cold beer on a hot summer afternoon or downing a hard shot of bourbon to take the edge off after a long day's work seems to be an increasingly boring prospect for some folk.
How else could you explain a growing trend that sees people consume liquor by any other means than drinking it? The quest of finding new, exciting and alternative means of reaching intoxication has led some to take in vodka via their eye sockets, snort spirits through a straw, insert liquer-soaked tampons into bodily orifices and use an alcoholic mouth spray.
One method that's surpassing others in growing popularity and media attention is the concept of serving drinks in the form of mist or cloud. The leading minds behind this concept are culinary innovators, Sam Bompas and Harry Parr, whose experimentation led them to launching Alcoholic Architecture. This London based bar has patrons don a plastic poncho and enter a 'misting chamber', where they inhale a swirling mist of vapor imbued with a range of spirits; Chartreuse, Benedictine and Trappist beer; or even Buckfast Tonic Wine.
It's been suggested that inhaling alcoholic clouds as opposed to drinking liquid beverages can eradicate hangovers, reduce calories by 40% and completely bypass the liver as alcohol instead enters the body via the eyeballs, mucus membranes and lungs.
In a newly launched bizarre, but creative, endeavor, Bompas and Parr have also recently been running workshops on how to create bitters from pasteurized human tears.
Note: Inhaling vaporized alcohol isn't an entirely new concept. Particularly over the last decade there have been a range of contraptions (such as the AWOL, Vaportini and Vapshot) that allow people to evaporate alcohol for ingestion via a straw, in the comfort of their own homes. Controversy around these devices has centered on the potential for dangerous levels of alcohol to directly enter the bloodstream via the lungs.
Yàn Wō (also known as 'Bird's Nest Soup')
One of China's priciest delicacies, it's an honor and a compliment to be served Yàn Wō while a guest in someone's home. The key ingredient to this soup is a swiftlets's nest, made from strands of the bird's saliva and can also consist of pre-digested seaweed, twigs, moss, hair and feathers.
Valued between $2,000 to $10,000 USD a kilogram (depending on the nest type) and often referred to as 'The Caviar of the East', these bird nests are harvested from the walls and roofs of sea caves in Southeast Asia by skilled climbers on flimsy bamboo trellises, who risk their lives to acquire a precious chunk of petrified swiftlet saliva. In fact the nests are so valued that some businesses secure caves with booby-traps (e.g. anti-personnel mines) and armed guards who are authorized to shoot at trespassers.
Nests are prepared in a number of dishes, but most commonly they're eaten in soup after simmering for several hours, often in chicken broth (and sometimes rock sugar), until their texture becomes gelatinous. A single bowl of bird nest soup can cost up to $100 USD.
What's it taste like:
Chinese have enjoyed eating birds' nests for possibly up to 1,200 years, though its popularity is not usually for its flavor, which on its own is said to be quite bland and tasteless. The value of swiftlets' nests is mainly due to their purported health benefits such as inhibiting influenza, enhancing skin complexion, erasing wrinkles, boosting blood circulation and increasing libido.
Yartsa Gunbu (and Other Piquant Parasites)
For most Westerners, the grotesque sight of a mushroom growing out of a caterpillar's head is probably enough to garner some morbid fascination and maybe even earn a couple of photos, though few would consider it as having much monetary value and even fewer would consider eating it.
Within parts of Asia though such a discovery is a highly sought after health food, so valuable that in 2012 a single pound of these disturbing delicacies could set a customer back $50,000. Harvesting rights for this much demanded caterpillar fungus can sometimes be such a contested and contentious matter that occasionally it's justified civil unrest, conflict between rural communities and even driven some to murder.
Yartsa gunbu is the Tibetan name for a parasitic fungus that overtakes the body of subterranean ghost moth caterpillars, consuming their nutrients from within and filling their body with mycelium.
During the summer the parasite convinces the moth larvae to crawl closer to the soil surface, where a thin club-shaped stalk bursts out of its head, growing up to 4 inches. With the dead caterpillar still attached this sinister fungus burrows up out of the ground and in springtime releases spores to infect more ghost moth larvae. This process occurs on the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayas at elevations up to 16,500 feet.
Harvesting mushrooms from the inside of caterpillars may sound a little unconventional, but the practice plays an important role in the economy of rural communities in Tibet and Nepal. During the harvesting period some Tibetan towns shutdown, with schools closing and residents abandoning their every day life so that they can search for yartsa gunbu.
Harvesters, which are often children, search for the caterpillar fungus on their hands-and-knees, traversing the difficult terrain of Tibetan and Nepalese fields in sometimes sub-zero temperatures. Clashes between harvesters over the right to collect it can sometimes become deadly, with two deaths recently being reported.
This caterpillar fungus is known to scientists as Cordyceps Sinensis.
Thousands of Cordyceps variants are known to exist, with each one targeting a different species of insect hosts, influencing their behavior and ultimately resulting in similar fungi bursting from their bodies, spreading parasitic spores that can potentially infect and wipe out entire colonies. To prevent this disturbing parasite from spreading through their communities, some insects susceptible to the fungus, such as ants, take preventative measures that include banishing colony members displaying strange behavior or other signs of infection.
What's it taste like:
Some people describe the taste and aroma as 'fishy' and slightly bitter while others find it to have a sweeter, nuttier flavor. It's popular in China where it can be eaten raw, mixed in tea, stewed in soup or served with duck, chicken and pork.
Many believe yartsa gunbu to be a miracle food capable of increasing energy and stamina; enhancing libido; and treating cancer, diabetes, asthma and cardiovascular disease amongst other health benefits.
Note: Though there are no cordycep variants known to target humans, the human body may still be susceptible to another type of mushroom: Hebeloma syriense. Also known as 'The Corpse Finder', this fungus is known to grow around human corpses, with some theories suggesting that people become infected by these spores during their lives.
Other Piquant Parasites: Unfortunately cordyceps is not the only instance of people deliberately consuming parasites for purported health benefits, with pea crabs (which inhabit oysters, mussels and clams), dodder (a parasitic plant), warble fly maggots (which live within reindeer) and Pennella balaenopterae (a crustacean-like species that reside in the fat of baleen whales) all finding themselves on dinner plates in various parts of the world.
The most disturbing though is a dieting fad that's been reported in Hong Kong, the United States and other locations in recent years involving deliberately infecting oneself with roundworms and tapeworms by either swallowing their eggs or eating them live.
Parasitic tapeworms are capable of growing up to over 50 feet in length in the host's intestines, laying hundreds of thousands of eggs over a lifespan of up to 20 years while consuming nutrients from a person's digestive system. Though not always detectable within the body and often not even harmful, in rare instances tapeworm infections have been known to cause serious health conditions that in extreme cases may result in death.
Even more disturbing is that sometimes tapeworms have been known to lodge themselves in their host's eye or even their brain, potentially causing neurocysticercosis, a common cause of epilepsy.
Yeast Extract Spreads
This one really hits me where I live.
Growing up in Australia, I have always rather enjoyed Vegemite - a dark, thick, pungent paste, traditionally spread thinly on plain bread or toast with a layer of butter and sometimes a slice of cheese (though some people use it in cooking as well).
There are a couple of similar products around the world the most well known being Marmite (popular in the United Kingdom and New Zealand) and Cenovis (a Swedish product).
The key ingredient in these sandwich spreads is actually brewer's yeast extract, a by-product largely created by brewing beer.
Despite their unusual origins, these spreads are actually quite healthy and known to be chock full of B vitamins among other nutrients.
What's it taste like?
Yeast extract spreads are an acquired taste that are well known for their unique salty and umami flavors, which become more mild when balanced with butter.
They're also known for having a massive and unwaveringly loyal fan base, particularly in their countries of origin, as well as many critics who find the spreads' strong flavours totally unappealing and question how anyone could like the product (one dissenter described Vegemite as having the taste of “anchovies, fermented to bring out the taste of salt”).
The internet is literally buzzing with articles and videos either praising or condemning these products. They also regularly feature in online taste tests, usually featuring someone unfamiliar with these spreads naively gulping down spoonfuls or devouring unrealistically thick servings, often without butter.
Note: In 2010 retailers began selling Marmite flavoured chocolate. Australia followed suit in 2015 when Cadbury Chocolate capitalized on Australians' love for concentrated yeast extract by selling Vegemite-flavored chocolate.
Yin Yang Fish & Other Living Seafood (Ikizukuri, Odorigui, Odori Ebi, Drunken Shrimp & Dojo Tofu)
What's the best way to guarantee that your seafood dinner is 100% fresh: catch it yourself; buy it chilled or frozen from the store; or eat it while it's still alive and moving? Some chefs have opted for the latter, presenting diners with platters of living and squirming produce.
For example, the Yin Yang Fish, also known as the “dead-and-alive fish”, is a Taiwanese specialty that's also popular in China and holds a rare distinction of serving up a fish that's partially deep-fried and not entirely dead. It's prepared by frying the body of a live fish, with its head wrapped in a wet towel to ensure that it remains breathing.
When it's served to customers with sweet-and-sour source the head remains alive and twitching for several minutes, suffocating on a platter while diners pull apart and consume its flesh. Many restaurants in China and Taiwan have taken it off their menu due to a massive backlash from critics who argue that the dish is inhumane as it prolongs the fish's suffering.
Oysters as well are only consumed or cooked while they're alive, making them arguably the most commonly eaten living food worldwide. Sea Urchins are also often cooked or eaten alive in France, Spain and Italy, where they're savored for their roe or gonads.
In Japan the process of preparing sashimi from raw seafood that is still alive is known as 'ikizukuri'. Skilled chefs have been known to slice the meat from the sides of fish without stopping its vital organs, arranging the meat on a plate and serving it to customers. Meanwhile the fish is placed back in the tank to swim around before the next course; or is displayed on an ice bed with its exposed heart still beating.
Consuming seafood that's "dancing while being eaten" is known as odorigui, with popular dishes including live whitebait and shirouo, which are small semi-transparent fish doused in vinegar or alcohol and consumed whole, raw and living.
Odori ebi or 'dancing shrimp' are also eaten alive and moving, sometimes with lemon juice squeezed on to their flesh, which provokes them into hopping and flopping about the plate.
A similar dish is the Chinese specialty known as 'drunken shrimp' where shrimp are doused in rice wine or baijiu and and eaten flipping and squirming. This energetic shrimp meat has a crunchy and chewy texture with a buttery and sweet flavor.
UPDATE: Infant Fecal Bacteria - a future ingredient in sausages?
In February 2014 a report in the Journal of Meat Sciences described an experiment where researchers fermented six batches of sausages with three potential probiotic lactobacilli bacteria strains extracted from babies' feces.
The sausages were said to be far healthier than regular sausages, with the probiotics benefiting digestion and the sausages containing a lower fat and salt content.
Researcher's described its flavor as "delicious" and most closely resembling a fuet sausage. However, an opportunity for the public to judge these fecal-sausages for themselves may still be along way off (if it happens at all), as the researchers have admitted a lack of commercial interest by businesses to sell them.
Note: While this is perhaps the first time that researchers have used bacteria from babies' feces to make sausages, the idea of using human excrement to produce meat for public consumption has previously been considered.
Most notably in 2011 the international press attempted to verify the authenticity of a mysterious News report that claimed scientist Mitsuyuki Ikeda had created a meat-substitute largely from proteins contained in human feces. The report stated that Ikeda had refined the flavor of the 'turdburger' by adding soy protein and that initial taste tests found that the artificial meat actually carried a beef-like flavor.
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