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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.

Enjoy!

(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)

Pruno

Bacteriophages

Huitlacoche

Salo & Lardo

Balut

Human Bacteria Cheese

Sannakji

Beating Hearts

Insect Confectioneries

San Zhi Er

Bhut Jolokia (& Other Potent Peppers)

In Vitro

Shellac, Carmine & Gaz

Castoreum, Civet Absolute & Other Sumptuous Secretions (Ambergris and Musk)

Jugo de Rana

Snake Wine (& Other Animal-Based Liqueurs)

Casu Marzu

Kæstur Hákarl & Other Buried, Putrefied Provisions (Tepa, Kiviak and Igunaq)

Soup Number 7

Chicha

Kombucha

Sourtoe Cocktail

Citizen's Gold Pills

Kopi Luwak (& Other Fecal-Based Beverages)

Sin Eating

Durian & Other Fragrant Foods (Fermented Fishes, Surströmming & Chòu dòufu)

Kutti Pi

Sun Eating

Fish and Chip Gelato (& other far-out ice-cream flavors)

Lutefisk

Tiết Canh (Vịt)

Freeganism (& Roadkill)

Milt

Tong Zi Dan

Fugu

Miraculin & Curculin

Torisashi (& Other Raw Meat Cuisine)

Gau Jal & Urophagia

Mithridatism (& Palatable Poisons)

Turducken (and Other Multi-Animal Roasts)

Genitalia

Nattō

Vapor Bars

Geophagy

Ortolan

Yàn Wō

Head Cheese

Paan

Yartsa Gunbu (& Other Piquant Parasites)

Heart Attack Burgers

Phloem

Yeast Extract Spreads

Helium Ballooons

Pidan

Yin Yang Fish and Other Living Seafood (Ikizukuri, Odorigui, Odori Ebi, Drunken Shrimp & Dojo Tofu)

Hoihoi Tatea

Placenta

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.


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An electron micrograph of a swarm of bacteriophage particles.

An electron micrograph of a swarm of bacteriophage particles.

Bacteriophages

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 Egg

Balut Egg

According to superstition eating balut has the power to transform a person into an aswang, a supernatural creature from Filipino folklore often described as being a cross between a vampire and a werewolf.

According to superstition eating balut has the power to transform a person into an aswang, a supernatural creature from Filipino folklore often described as being a cross between a vampire and a werewolf.

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

Taking out the heart of a cobra before serving it a customer.

Taking out the heart of a cobra before serving it a customer.

A shot glass containing the cobra's heart and blood with vodka.

A shot glass containing the cobra's heart and blood with vodka.

Beating Hearts

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.


A North American beaver, which produces castoreum.

A North American beaver, which produces castoreum.

Dried beaver castor sacs.

Dried beaver castor sacs.

A civet cat, kept as a pet in The Phillipines.

A civet cat, kept as a pet in The Phillipines.

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'.

A musk pod from a male musk deer. Deer musk remains one of the most expensive natural resources in the world, fetching a price of around US$45,000 per kilo, outstripping the cost for gold, cocaine or rhinoceros horns in 2007.

A musk pod from a male musk deer. Deer musk remains one of the most expensive natural resources in the world, fetching a price of around US$45,000 per kilo, outstripping the cost for gold, cocaine or rhinoceros horns in 2007.

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.

A bowl of ambergris. Some people refer to this whale secretion as 'floating gold' as its rarity and high demand pushes its value up to around $10,000 a pound (or just under half a kilo).

A bowl of ambergris. Some people refer to this whale secretion as 'floating gold' as its rarity and high demand pushes its value up to around $10,000 a pound (or just under half a kilo).

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.


A platter of Casu Marzu, with its top cut off, exposing the maggot-infused cheese within.

A platter of Casu Marzu, with its top cut off, exposing the maggot-infused cheese within.

Casu Marzu

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.


Chicha

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.


For the hefty sum of $425, a person can acquire three of the most unnecessary capsules they'll ever ingest. Currently selling at justanotherrichkid.com

For the hefty sum of $425, a person can acquire three of the most unnecessary capsules they'll ever ingest. Currently selling at justanotherrichkid.com

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.


A sign prohibiting people from carrying durian.

A sign prohibiting people from carrying durian.

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.

A tin of Surströmming, which is infamous for it's pungent and offensive odour.

A tin of Surströmming, which is infamous for it's pungent and offensive odour.

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.
Stewed chòu dòufu

Stewed chòu dòufu

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.


A few "questionable" ice cream flavors, including garlic, beer and pit viper.

A few "questionable" ice cream flavors, including garlic, beer and pit viper.

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, often seen as an Inuit take on ice cream, incorporates whipped animal fat with berries.

Akutaq, often seen as an Inuit take on ice cream, incorporates whipped animal fat with berries.

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.


Garbage for dinner, anyone? To be fair it's not as bad as it sounds and goes far beyond vegetable peels, off-cuts & decayed food. "Freegans" often find unopened packaged goods in the trash outside stores and shopping centers.

Garbage for dinner, anyone? To be fair it's not as bad as it sounds and goes far beyond vegetable peels, off-cuts & decayed food. "Freegans" often find unopened packaged goods in the trash outside stores and shopping centers.

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.


A bloated pufferfish, considered one of the most poisonous creatures in the world.

A bloated pufferfish, considered one of the most poisonous creatures in the world.

An artistic depiction of a Haitian zombie, which some believe are regular people drugged into a death-like state with a powder containing fugu's tetrodotoxin.

An artistic depiction of a Haitian zombie, which some believe are regular people drugged into a death-like state with a powder containing fugu's tetrodotoxin.

Fugu

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.


Criadillas de Choto (goat testicles) on sale in Madrid, Spain.

Criadillas de Choto (goat testicles) on sale in Madrid, Spain.

Genitalia

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".


A piece of kaolin, a widely eaten type of clay.

A piece of kaolin, a widely eaten type of clay.

Geophagy

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”.


Head Cheese

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.


Despite their less-than flattering advertising, The Heart Attack Grill continues to grow in popularity and controversy

Despite their less-than flattering advertising, The Heart Attack Grill continues to grow in popularity and controversy

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.

The burger created by Juicys Foods & Ovations Foodservices currently holds the record for the world' s largest commercially available hamburger at 352.44 kg. It would take a single person 22-months to finish if adhering to a 2,000 calorie-a-day diet

The burger created by Juicys Foods & Ovations Foodservices currently holds the record for the world' s largest commercially available hamburger at 352.44 kg. It would take a single person 22-months to finish if adhering to a 2,000 calorie-a-day diet

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.


Edible helium balloons floating above a customer's table in the Alinea dining room.

Edible helium balloons floating above a customer's table in the Alinea dining room.

Helium Balloons

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.

Nope. That ain't milk he's pouring.

Nope. That ain't milk he's pouring.

Hoihoi Tatea

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”.


strange-food-from-around-the-world

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.

How would you enjoy a plate of tofu with the flavor of human flesh? Hufu gained quite a bit of attention in 2005, before the business went defunct the following year.

How would you enjoy a plate of tofu with the flavor of human flesh? Hufu gained quite a bit of attention in 2005, before the business went defunct the following year.

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.


Huitlacoche

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.


strange-food-from-around-the-world

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.


A scorpion sucker, in which a whole scorpion is entombed within the center of a lollipop.

A scorpion sucker, in which a whole scorpion is entombed within the center of a lollipop.

Tequilla-flavored lollipop with an actual worm trapped within.

Tequilla-flavored lollipop with an actual worm trapped within.

An assortment of several insect-based confectioneries & snacks, including salt n' vinegar crickets, cheddar cheese larvae, chocolate covered insects & of course a terrifying scorpion sucker.

An assortment of several insect-based confectioneries & snacks, including salt n' vinegar crickets, cheddar cheese larvae, chocolate covered insects & of course a terrifying scorpion sucker.

Insect Confectioneries

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.


Introducing the 'Test Tube Burger'.

Introducing the 'Test Tube Burger'.

In Vitro

Does a twitching strip of beef grown in a petri dish and soaking in a nutrient bath sound appetizing?

Yes?

No?

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.