After running the Disgusting Food Museum since 2018, we have developed a strong sense of what is disgusting and delicious. With 20 000 visitors per year to the Malmö Disgusting Food Museum, that means a lot of interactions with visitors and getting their take on what is disgusting. In the tasting bar our visitors can try out about 20 items for themselves, we have seen reactions ranging from delight to outright vomiting. In fact, at the time of this writing, 108 vomits have occurred in the Disgusting Food Museum, from people from all over the world. In addition, we always try every possible food that we come across, including some interesting items from the exhibit that few have tried. Below is the foods that we believe are among the most nasty foods, the most disgusting foods, in the world. All of these are or have been dishes on display in the Disgusting Food Museum. Below we will explore some food taboos and what some might call weird food. If you want to see them yourself, you can buy tickets to the Disgusting Food Museum.
Types of disgust
Disgust is not just a solitary aspect of food. Some might be very sensitive to strong smells, often caused by bacteria such as in fermentation, washed-rind cheeses, and other preserved foods. For others, a nasty food needs to have a bad taste, such as salty licorice, only loved by six countries in the world and detested by all others (who are wrong, by the way). For some, the texture of a food is what evokes disgust, such as the very soft and gooey durian fruit. The perhaps strongest type of disgust is moral disgust though. Seeing ducks being force-fed in order to create Foie Gras, the mental image of the monkey brain below, or fish being eaten alive, see Ikizukuri further down. This is disgusting food in very different way.
The strongest reactions are usually a combination of many types of disgust in one dish. Surströmming, the fermented fish from Sweden, smells very bad, tastes very salty and fermented, and has a gooey texture. Surströmming might just be the ultimate disgusting food.
Disgust has a very important evolutionary function, it warns us of weird foods that could be potentially dangerous or deadly. This means that anything that deviates too far from the foods of the culture we grow up in, is seen as disgusting food. As a function of disgust, fermented foods remind us of rotten foods, and are very often seen as disgusting.
The difficulty of ranking weird foods
What we find delicious food and disgusting food is inherently personal and cultural. We tend to have an easier time with foods from cultures that are close to ourselves, either culturally or geographically. A Swedish person such as myself has an easier time identifying with, and relating to, someone from France than from Peru, thus deeming the French food as less of a disgusting food compared to when ranked by a person from Thailand.
The below list is highly subjective, and based both on personal experiences and the experiences of our visitors at the Disgusting Food Museum. It is of course not a fully objective ranking and should not be taken as such. Several of the dishes listed below are also seen as nasty food by the locals living today in the cultures the dishes come from. Culinary preferences change over time, and many of the foods listed are traditional dishes that are no longer eaten today.
Traditional food becomes a part of the food heritage of the originating country. Black pudding is a natural part of a Full English breakfast, without most British consumers questioning eating a dish based on blood. Black pudding is a common food in the United Kingdom, but not in the rest of the world. It doesn’t make it disgusting food – just a bit of an acquired taste.
Lastly, a note on geographic concentration. Some of the foods included in the list come from China. It’s a vast country, with a huge population, and very large regional differences in cuisine. The virgin boy eggs eaten in Dongyang city are not even known to someone from Guangzhou. It’s only natural that such a great culinary nation as China is represented on this list of weird foods a few times, given its population.
1. Gomutra, India
Gomutra is cow urine from India. Drinking Gomutra has been practiced for thousands of years, and it is usually consumed for therapeutic purposes as Ayurvedic medicine with claimed health benefits. While all cow urine is considered beneficial, the urine of a pregnant cow is considered especially potent in hormones and minerals. Gomutra is claimed to treat psoriasis, leprosy, fevers, liver ailments, and cancer.
Cow urine can also be used to clean floors, Indian ministers have proposed that it be used in government offices. In 2015 a large technologically sophisticated cow-urine refinery was opened by the makers of the popular cleansing fluid Gocleaner.
Our museum director Andreas Ahrens first tried Gomutra during a visit by Swedish YouTubers Matkoma in 2019. The trio sat down to enjoy a glass of cow urine each, and all three had visible problems getting it down. The problems start when you open the bottle, and the aroma of a dirty barnyard fills the room instantly. The aroma and the knowledge that you are about to drink cow urine can scare the hardiest of consumers. When you drink it, the incredible harshness of the urine stings the throat and leaves a terrible aftertaste. Once consumed, the gomutra will haunt your burbs for the rest of the day.
2. Ttongsul, Ancient South Korea
Ttongsul is a traditional Korean medicine with a 9% alcohol content. The poo of a human child between 4 and 7 years old is refrigerated for 3-4 days, mixed with water, divided into smaller pieces, and fermented overnight. The vat with the poo starts to smell incredibly strongly of feces, even worse than the first day of fermentation.
The poo/water mixture is poured through a sieve and is mixed with 70% boiled non-glutinous rice, 30% glutinous rice, and yeast. The non-glutinous rice contains a lot of protein, important for the fermentation process. The glutinous rice is there for its supposed anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties, as well as to improve the taste. The fermentation process activates the good bacteria and kills the bad bacteria.
The resulting mixture is left to ferment for at least seven days in a clay pot, wrapped in a blanket to maintain a temperature of 30 to 37 degrees Celsius. If not fermented enough, it’s dangerous to drink, but when perfectly ripe, this alcoholic drink is claimed to cure pain, broken bones, bruises, inflammation, and even epilepsy. The yellow-brownish liquid is strained and looks like a combination of sewer slime and vomit, potentially with small pieces of poo still floating around.
The taste is a bit sour and similar to rice wine. This Korean wine has a faint poo smell and can leave a poo smell on your breath. It contains about 9% alcohol. The smell and the visual appearance of this alcoholic drink are worse than the actual taste of it. It’s important to highlight that Ttongsul is in no way something that is used in modern day South Korea. It was an unusual cure one hundred years ago, and even more so today.
3. Baby Mouse Wine, Guangzhou, China
At least a dozen baby mice are drowned in rice wine. The mice used must be still blind and hairless. The brew is matured for at least a year before drinking. Mouse wine is drunk as a health tonic for asthma and liver diseases, rather than as an apéritif. The claimed health benefits have, as far as we know, not been verified by double-blind testing.
Mouse wine tastes like gasoline with an aftertaste of rotting animals and the smell is described as incredibly strong and putrid. Mouse wine is mostly drunk in Southern China (Guangzhou) but has also been consumed in ancient Korea.
This is among the liquids that we have had the misfortune of trying ourselves, several times. When you first consume it, the putrid taste fills your mouth and stings your palate. Parts of baby mouse skin often float around in the wine, so we usually sift the liquid before consuming it.
4. Monkey brain, Ancient China
In the book Born Red, A Chronicle of the Cultural Revolution author Gao Yuan describes looking inside restaurant windows of Guangzhou that “offered the famous monkey brains, served at a special table that locked the monkey’s head in place; the waiter would open the skull and the diners would eat while the body wriggled under the table.”
There have been mentions of monkey brains during the Manchu Han Imperial banquet of the Qing empire. There is however dispute whether this indeed means actual monkey brains, or the hericium mushroom. It’s known as hóu tóu gū (simplified: 猴头菇; traditional: 猴頭菇; lit. “monkey head mushroom”) in Chinese and there is a possibility that this is what was referred to. Monkey brain is referred to specifically though. Many other dishes that today would be considered strange such as bear claw, bean curd simmered in chicken, duck & cuckoo brains, Monkey king and shark/goat brain, and birds nest soup are also mentioned as some of the 300 dishes.
According to the legend of the late Ming and early Qing dynasty, Wu Sangui introduced the Qing soldiers into the customs. In order to celebrate the victory of the war, the military commanders kept live monkeys in their cages and hit the monkey head with a small hammer, feeding on their brains.
The book ManTuoLuo Xuan XianHua (‘Casual Chat on Mantuolou’s Veranda’) written by Zhang HaiOu in the mid-19th century refers to an account by a general who traveled around China, possibly as early as the 16th century. He recounts a feast that he attended that included live monkey brain, which he described as being quite tasty.
While this horrific serving method is mentioned in many sources it remains unclear whether it is a legend or something that is actually still served. The existence of monkey brain restaurants has been confirmed by visitors to the Disgusting Food Museum several times, either people having eaten it themselves, having family members work in such an establishment, or having witnessed the consumption on the black market. This is anecdotal evidence at best, and should not be seen as proof of this claimed custom.
5. Virgin boy eggs, Dongyang city, China
Young boy’s urine is collected in schools and markets around the city in buckets placed there by street vendors. Eggs are boiled in the urine until hard. The eggs are then cracked and continue to boil for several hours to let the urine soak into the egg. The golden eggs smell strongly of urine but the taste has been described as delicate, salty, and addictive.
The eggs boiled in the urine of young boys, mostly peasants, under the age of ten. It’s named “tong zi dan” (Chinese: 童子蛋; pinyin: Tóngzǐdàn), translated to boy eggs. The preparation is a spring tradition and is listed as part of the Dongyang, Zhejiang local intangible cultural heritage.
This traditional dish is centuries old and was originally a food preservation method. The urine of boys is collected at the schools around the city where buckets are placed for the youngsters to pee into. Each vendor source their own pee. There is no good explanation as to why it has to be the urine of young boys – it’s just part of the tradition.
The myth says that the eggs are good for your health, protecting against heat strokes, decrease body heat, promote blood circulation and reinvigorate the body. The urine smell is unmistakable in the stalls of the street vendors that sell them. It takes about a full day to make the eggs, starting with soaking the eggs in urine and then boiling them in the pee, cracking the shells after the boils are hard, and keep them boiling for hours to get the urine into the eggs. Vendors keep filling up the pot with urine to make sure the eggs are not overheated and overcooked. The price for the boy eggs is about twice what regular eggs sell for, and it’s a very appreciated part of the local cuisine. The urine of boys with Maple Syrup Urine Disease is especially prized for the sweet taste.
6. Casu Marzu, Sardinia, Italy
A block of pecorino cheese is cut open and left outside to attract cheese flies, Piophila casei, that lay up to 500 eggs in it. The larvae of cheese flies then feast on the cheese, and their enzymes break down the fats in the Sardinian sheep’s milk cheese. The larvae excrement is a partially digested soft cheese, almost liquid.
The maggot cheese (also known as casu modde, casu cundídu, and casu fràzigu) is eaten with the living larvae, so diners need to protect their eyes from the jumping larvae. Eating live maggots is risky as they can survive inside their new host and can bore through intestinal walls. The worm cheese has a pungent smell and it burns your tongue, and it leaves a strong aftertaste that lasts for hours. Casu Marzu is banned in the EU and carries a fine of €40 000 for both the seller and the buyer. The local Sardinian government has along with the local worm cheese producers tried to get an exemption from the laws since it’s been made the same way for over 25 years.
Casu Marzu means “Rotten or putrid cheese” A similar worm cheese exists in Corsica, Casgiu Merzu, and in Egypt, there is a version called Mish. The Disgusting Food Museum director was lucky enough to get to try Mish in the summer of 2019. The maggots can jump up to 15 cm and can attach to your eyeballs when you try to eat them, causing retinal detachment.
The worm cheese should only be eaten when the larvae are still alive, dead maggots are considered a sign the worm cheese has gone bad. Exceptions can be made if the cheese has been refrigerated since that can kill the maggots. Some choose to not eat the larvae in the worm cheese, placing the cheese in a sealed paper bag where the larvae are starved for oxygen, moving and jumping around in the bag trying to survive causing a popping sound. When the sound has stopped, the larvae are dead and can be removed before eating the creamy substance.
The smell has been described as highly pungent and eating it burns the tongue. Some say it tastes like a very ripe Gorgonzola with the blue mold replaced by living larvae, it has a very distinct ammonia tasted. The after-taste stays in the mouth for hours.
Versions of Casu Marzu:
- Casgiu merzu in Corsica
- Bross ch’a marcia in Piedmont;
- Cacie’ Punt (“formaggio punto”) in Molise;
- Casu puntu in Salento (Apulia);
- Casu du quagghiu in Calabria;
- Gorgonzola coi grilli in Liguria;
- Frmag punt in Apulia;
- Furmai nis (“formaggio nisso”) in Emilia-Romagna;
- Marcetto or cace fraceche in Abruzzo;
- Mish in Egypt;
- Salterello in Friuli-Venezia Giulia.
7. Kiviak, South-Western Greenland
A freshly disemboweled seal is stuffed with up to 500 small arctic birds called Little Auk or Alle Alle. It is then sewn shut and sealed with seal fat to prevent flies from getting in. The birds are buried and left to ferment in the carcass for 3 to 18 months. Kiviak is eaten by biting off the bird’s head and then sucking out the juices inside, but the birds can also be eaten whole, bones and all. It is especially popular during the arctic winter celebrations. The taste of Kiviak has been described as similar to Gorgonzola cheese. This unusual preservation method helped Greenlanders survive harsh winters and food shortages.
Only Auks can be used for Kiviak, other birds do not ferment as well, as evidenced by the usage of Eider in 2013. The eiders didn’t ferment as well as the auks, giving an elderly man botulism and later killing him. At the time, it was not known that the Eiders were the cause of his death, so the Kiviak was served at his funeral. It was eaten by many of the grieving visitors and they became sick as well. The dead man’s daughter also died from the kiviak eaten at her father’s funeral and many others got botulism.
The little auks are migratory within the arctic region, moving between eastern Baffin Island (Canada), Greenland, Jan Mayen, Svalbard (including Bjørnøya), Franz Josef Land, Novaya Zemlya, and Severnaya Zemlya. For a few weeks in the spring, millions of these tiny birds are found on the cliffs of South-Western Greenland, and the locals catch and eat as many as they can. In order to preserve the birds for consumption during the rest of the year, fermentation was a natural method of conserving the birds.
8. Surströmming, Northern Sweden
Baltic Sea herring is caught in the spring just before spawning in the brackish waters of the Baltic Sea and fermented in brine for six months, and it continues to ferment in the can. Surströmming is one of the worst-smelling foods in the world, beating other fermented fish such as Korean Hongeohoe and the Japanese Kusaya. This Swedish delicacy is eaten with flatbread, potatoes, and onions. It is washed down with generous amounts of schnapps. Because of the strong smell, surströmming is ordinarily eaten outdoors.
A German landlord evicted a tenant without notice after he opened a can of surströmming in the apartment building’s stairwell. When the landlord was taken to court, the court ruled that the termination was justified when the landlord’s attorney demonstrated their case by opening a can inside the courtroom.
Surströmming has old roots, going as far back as at least the 16th century. Signs of fermented fish as old as 9 200 years has been found in Blekinge, Sweden. Fish fermentation in Sweden predates even the ancient Roman Garum.
The fermentation is done in a two-part process. The first strong brine draws out the blood for 20 hours, then the herrings are beheaded and gutted. Then it’s placed in a weaker brine that ferments the herring using autolysis at a temperature of 15-20 °C. The lactic acid enzyme in the spine of the fish together with bacteria form acids such as propionic acid, butyric acid, and acetic acid. The salt in the brine brings the osmotic pressure up to a level where the bacteria that cause rotting can’t exist, preventing decomposition. The osmotic level is instead perfect for Haloanaerobium bacteria that decompose the fish glycogen into organic acids.
Disgusting Food Museum-related trivia – this is the dish that has produced the most vomits in the museum, it’s responsible for roughly 50% of all vomits. The smell, the gooey texture, and the incredibly salty taste all contribute to Surströmming taking the crown. It fills us with a combination of shame and pride that a Swedish dish is the most vomit-producing item on display, but I guess it means it has earned its spot as a disgusting food.
9. Balut, The Philippines
The developing embryo of a bird, usually a duck, is commonly incubated for 14 to 21 days and then boiled inside, and served from, the shell. Balut is common street food in the Philippines and throughout Southeast Asia, known as an aphrodisiac and hangover cure. The amniotic fluid is drunk straight from the shell and the yolk, as well as the duck embryo, are then eaten straight from the shell, the bones and beak still being soft enough to be eaten. The warm, gooey, gamey liquid is referred to as the soup of the duck egg. The incubation time determines the maturation of the duckling, from the five-day Penoy in the Philippines to the 19 to 21 day Hot Vit Lon of Vietnam. Neural tubes and thus the ability to feel pain are developed at 50% of the maturation time.
Most balut is made with the eggs of Mallard ducks. The fertilized eggs are buried in baskets in the sun and left to incubate. The temperature has to be just right, not too warm to destroy the egg, and not too cold so the duckling doesn’t mature. Nine days into the incubation, the egg is checked by holding it up to the sun to see the duckling developing inside.
When cooked, the water molecules of the amniotic fluid undergoes Colloidal Dispersion with the solids from the duckling. The fat from the duckling is emulsified in the embryo and the protein turns into protein gel. The protein is fully or partially denatured and trap large amounts of liquid when the three-dimensional protein matrix is created. This is similar to whipping cream that traps air inside the 3D matrix. The stone-like white is formed by irreversibly denaturing the proteins in the white. Adding salt while boiling the balut increases the weight of the white and changes the hardness and taste of the yolk as well as affecting the texture.
In the UK, embryotic birds that have gone over two-thirds of their term are protected animals. Depending on the type of duck egg, it would be boiled within this protected term. The Australian authorities recommend not boiling an embryo after 18 days of incubation.
The temperature and storage conditions needed for proper development of the duckling is also ideal for bacteria including Salmonella enterica. Fecal particles can also be embedded within the shell during laying. This has caused Canada to label Balut as hazardous food.
Balut is to date still the only item that has made the Disgusting Food Museum Director vomit, despite having tasted hundreds of dishes. It was in this case not the taste, nor the smell, but rather the visual component of placing the duck embryo on a spoon and eating it, followed by the duckling bursting in the mouth with blood and guts filling the mouth that caused the rejection of balut.
10. Stinky tofu, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan
Tofu (bean curd) is fermented in a strong brine of fermented milk, vegetables, and meat. Stinky tofu dates back to the Qing dynasty. It is still a very popular deep-fried street food. It’s eaten more as a snack than a full meal. The smell has been described as rotten garbage, stinky feet, rotten meat, raw sewage and baby poo. The taste is a bit eggy and not nearly as bad as the smell. The aftertaste is that of urine. The stinkier the tofu, the better the taste. Many street food vendors gain a formidable reputation for producing the smelliest tofu.
This Chinese delicacy can be eaten cold, stewed, steamed, in a hot pot, but most of the time it’s deep-fried. Spicy sauces are often served with tofu. Deep-fried it’s crunchy on the outside and soft and juice on the inside.
Some vendors have tried to fake stinky tofu by adding gunpowder, rotten fish or other illegal ingredients to the brine and have been arrested for it. It’s a common dish in China, but can also be found in Hong Kong and Taiwan as well as in Asian stores around the world.
Stinky tofu, like many other types of fermented foods, started as a mistake. Wang Zhi He (王致和) failed the imperial examinations in 16th century Beijing. He chose to become a tofu merchant instead and one day he had way too much fresh tofu. Rather than throwing it away, he cut it into cubes and stored it in clay jugs. A couple of days later, he opened the jug and saw a green, slimy goo with a horribly rancid smell. He decided to throw it out, but before he did, he tasted the scary substance and found that he loved it. Wang Zhi He soon started selling fermented tofu in his store, and it was a success. One of the best-selling brands of stinky tofu still bears his name, Wangzhihe.
11. Su Callu Sardu, Sardinia, Italy
Also known as Callu de cabreddu literally means goat kid’s rennet. The baby goat is slaughtered right after drinking milk. The milk is filtered and poured back into the abomasum, the fourth stomach that contains rennet. The stomach is rubbed with salt and hung to dry for some months. After maturation, the stomach is sliced open and the cheese is eaten on bread. It’s called Sardinian Viagra and the taste is described as gasoline and ammonia mixed with wax. The diet of the mother affects the milk and thus the cheese.
It’s only produced in Ogliastra on the east coast of Sardinia. According to local customs, it is eaten sliced on bread (including the stomach walls) or sliced and fried in lard. It is made directly in the fourth and final stomach, or abomasum, of a suckling goat, because it contains many enzymes responsible for the digestion – or in this case the coagulation – of milk. The flavor is rich and complex and is reminiscent of cave-aged cheeses.
When you eat it, it starts of as tasting like a combination of nice goat cheese and Gorgonzola, a rather nice experience. A few seconds later though, the after-taste starts, a very acidic taste, like stomach acid, acid reflux, or straight out vomit. If you eat enough of it, the vomit after-taste lasts for several days.
Many find su callu to be cruel and inhumane, but we easily forget the traditional cheese-making process of adding rennet to milk. The key component, called Chymosin, is an enzyme that curdles the casein in milk and is responsible for starting the cheese-making process. It separates the milk into solid curds and liquid whey. Calf rennet is most commonly used, and it is extracted from the fourth stomach of young, nursing calves when they are butchered for veal production.
12. Frog juice, Peru
Jugo de Rana, or Frog juice. A frog smoothie. The frog is killed, usually, by banging its head against the counter, the frog is then skinned and cleaned, and put in a blender with water and other ingredients such as quail eggs, honey, spices, and local plants. The blended frothy green goo is then strained to remove any bone fragments. Street vendors tote the drink as a healthy aphrodisiac energy drink. It’s considered almost a spiritual beverage, the recipes having been passed down through the generations. The Titicaca frog it’s made from is critically endangered.
It’s commonly given to children and adults alike as a health boost, claimed to cure anemia, bronchitis, asthma, impotence, osteoporosis, and many other ailments. It is, of course, an aphrodisiac.
The strongest part of the taste is that of maca, a native root from the Andes of Peru. It’s earthy, malty, and rather pleasant tasting. You can not really taste the frog, but the color of the juice is distinctly blended frog-like. It’s not fully smooth but closer to a thick shake.
13. Sheep eyeball juice, Mongolia
This concoction, also known as Mongolian Mary, is the pickled eyeballs of sheep placed in tomato juice. It’s known as a hangover cure and dates back to the times of Genghis Khan. Eyeballs are very high in antioxidants, Vitamin C and Vitamin A. The tomato juice is of course a modern addition since tomatoes did not exist during the times of Genghis Khan. Pickled eyeballs are the best and safest to eat, but they can also be added raw or boiled. The eyeball itself doesn’t have much taste to it, but when bitten it bursts in your mouth and the gel-like vitreous humor of the eye fills your mouth. Yes, we have tried it.
14. Hákarl, Iceland
To eat the toxic meat of the Greenland shark, Icelanders let it rot in the ground for several months, it is then hung to dry for another five months. Small cubes of the white rubbery delicacy are served on toothpicks and washed down with Black Death akvavit. The pungent smell of death and ammonia is worse than the taste, which has been described as ‘chewing a urine-infested mattress’. Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain described this Icelandic food as “the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing” he has ever eaten.
The Greenland shark lives to be over 200 years old (perhaps as old as 500 years old) and it’s thought that they start reproducing at age 80. Their pups gestate within the female for a period of 8-18 years before being released. Today, Icelanders do not actively fish for Greenland shark, all Hákarl sold is bycatch.
Greenland sharks do not have a urinary tract but rather urinated through their skin, making their flesh toxic. The fermentation process involved in making Hákarl breaks down the urine and makes it safe to consume. Hákarl is a traditional Icelandic food and is eaten both during special occasions and as part of the everyday diet, although it’s losing popularity in younger generations. Fermentation is not that in other types of Icelandic food, the closest being Súrir Hrútspungar (Sour Ram’s Testicles).
15. Sannakji, South Korea
The octopus is killed just before serving and immediately served sliced into smaller pieces. Since the nerves still have activity after death, the arms continue to move on the plate when eaten. Two-thirds of the nerves of the San-nakji are located in the arms so they are capable of coordinating complex movements even after being severed from the brain. If not properly sliced, the octopus suction cups can stick to the inside of the person’s throat. On average, six deaths per year occur due to suffocation. Eating live octopus is rumored to be good for your blood sugar levels and contains high levels of energizing taurine.
A woman stopped breathing after eating live octopus and died 16 days later. Her boyfriend had bought and served the octopus and was convicted for murder to life in prison, allegedly for insurance money. He was later acquitted by the supreme court.
16. Ikizukuri, Japan
Ikizukuri (生き作り) means prepared alive; it is sashimi made from living seafood, mostly fish but sometimes lobster, frog, octopus or shrimp is used. Most commonly the fish is served on top of ice on a plate with the cut-off meat placed on top of the body. Some of the flesh is cut into thin sashimi pieces and placed on the side. The Ikizukuri is made with only three cuts of the knife. The eyes, gills, tail, and mouth still move as it is consumed.
It’s known as the freshest fish in the world and the fish is usually kept in a tank where the diner can pick their favorite to be prepared. Either the head end or the tail end is usually raised by piercing it with a stick and suspending it mid-air.
The dish is commonly served with pickled ginger root, wasabi, lemon juice, and soy sauce with a side of Sake. The taste is described as very fresh and intense. Ikizukuri is illegal in Germany and Australia.
17. Durian, Southeast Asia
Durian is considered the king of fruits and is known for its strong pungent odor that penetrates even the thorny husk. Some consider it pleasantly sweet, while others describe the smell as a mix of rotten onions, and raw sewage. Or foul unwashed socks. Or a bunch of dead cats. Some have described it as rotten fish, dragon’s breath, unwashed socks, carrion in custard or red onions left in a cellar for years and marinated in acetone.
Eating durian is banned on public transportation and hotels in many areas of the world. The Thai scientist Songpol Somsri crossbred 90 varieties of Durian to produce the odorless Chantaburi No. 1. For the consumers that love the smell, he produced the Chantaburi No. 3 that stays odorless during transportation and only develops the smell 3 days after being picked. A Malaysian Durian farmer commented on the odorless fruit; “If the durian doesn’t have a strong smell the customer only pays one-third the price”.
The durian is said to be an aphrodisiac: when the durians fall down, the sarongs fly up, goes a Malay saying.
A number of deaths have been reported from consuming durian with alcohol, so unlike other stinky foods durian is best washed down with water rather than schnapps. It seems the high sulfur contents knocked out most of the ALDH enzyme, inhibiting it by 70%. ALDH, aldehyde dehydrogenase, is the enzyme that functions as the liver’s main weapon against the toxic byproducts of alcohol metabolism, probably causing the deaths caused by the Durian and Alcohol combination.
Durian is the fruit of trees belonging to the Durio family. There are 30 species of Durio trees and hundreds of varieties. The Durio trees are commonly grown in Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Durio zibethinus is the only type that is sold internationally, the rest are only sold locally. Durian flowers are pollinated by bats. It’s a common food in most of Southeast Asia.
18. Ortolan, France
Killing and cooking this delicate little songbird is banned across the EU, however, french chefs are lobbying for its reintroduction into french cuisine. Those who have eaten the tiny birds applaud the hazelnut flavors and rich gameness of the meat, and famous chefs have described the eating experience as “close to ecstasy.” The captured Ortolans are kept in cages and tricked into thinking it’s night by removing their eyes or darkening the cage, leading them to overeat and fatten. They are then drowned alive in a vat of Armagnac and cooked. The ritual of eating this french delicacy includes covering one’s head with a napkin to hide from God while eating the bird whole, feet first.
François Mitterrand’s last meal included ortolans. France banned hunting in 1999 but the law is rarely enforced. Killing and cooking ortolans is now banned across the EU. A single 28-gram bird (the size of a baby’s fist or a large thumb) can go for £100 on the black market, about the same per kg price as white truffles. French chefs defend the Armagnac drowning with “It’s not a bad way to die”. The ortolan is mentioned in Proust and Gigi. An estimated 30,000 birds are captured and sold illegally every year. Despite a €6,000 fine for hunting the birds, the population is still decreasing.
19. Fruit bat soup, Guam
During cooking the bats smell strongly of urine, however, the meat is described as sweet and similar to chicken. The soup was so popular that the Guam Fruit Bat was hunted to extinction. The bats in Guam eat large amounts of cycad seeds and accumulates large amounts of toxins that when consumed by humans caused Lytico-bodig disease, a deadly neurodegenerative disease similar to ALS, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. It was first reported in 1904 and included paralysis in the death certificates. In the Chamorro people of Guam, it was the leading cause of death between 1945 and 1956. The Cycad seeds build up large amounts of toxins in the fatty tissue, causing the disease in humans that eat their flesh.
Bats are eaten in the Pacific rim and Asia including Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Guam. Fruit bats are a commonly eaten bat, eating only fruit and their taste is described as similar to chicken. In Guam, the flying fox bat is a common dish and was eaten so often that it became endangered. Bats can be barbecued, grilled, or deep-fried (making the whole bat possible to eat).
20. Snake wine, Japan, Vietnam
Distilled rice wine is mixed with honey and herbs. The snake is chilled until it passes out, gutted and sewn back together, and inserted into the bottle. When thawed, the snake briefly awakens before quickly dying in an aggressive striking pose. The alcohol neutralizes the venom making the liquor safe to drink. Habu snakes are believed to have medicinal properties and is considered an aphrodisiac. If the intestines are not removed, the drink has a very pungent smell.
Habashu is Awamori, a liqueur made from long-grained Indica rice, distilled rather than brewed. All Awamori is local to Okinawa, Japan, but the Habushu is different in that it contains a Habu snake inside. It’s also called Habu Sake or Okinawan Snake Wine. The Habu snake is poisonous, it’s a pit viper closely related to the rattlesnake and the copperhead snake.
A bite from a Habu snake can cause vomiting, hypotension, and possible death. Some bitten patients report losing mobility in their arms and legs. The snake is local to Southeast Asia and Japan.
There are plenty of other snake wine versions throughout Southeast Asia. All use venomous snakes, and the more venomous the better. It’s said to treat rheumatism, lumbago, and other health problems and pain.
Snake wine is thought to originate from China during the Western Zhou dynasty, 1040 – 770 BC. It’s believed to be reinvigorating according to traditional Chinese medicine. Snake wine is rumored to cure everything from farsightedness to hair loss, as well as to increase sexual performance. It’s sold in China, India, Vietnam, and many other parts of Southeast Asia. Many of the snakes used for snake wine are endangered and thus can not be imported into most countries.
21. Kopi Luwak Coffee, Indonesia
Civet coffee is the most expensive coffee in the world. In the wild, the small cat-like animals called Asian palm civet eat ripe coffee cherries, and the partially digested coffee beans are harvested from their feces. The animal’s digestive enzymes are thought to give the coffee its exquisite aroma and flavor. For industrial production, the animals are kept in horrific conditions and force-fed coffee cherries. This coffee is nothing short of liquid suffering, and it is completely unnecessary as it tastes no better than any other coffee.
22. Tarantula, Cambodia
Fried spider is a regional delicacy in Cambodia, especially in the town of Skuon in the Kampong Cham province, about 90 km north of Phnom Pen. The spiders are a species of tarantula called “a-ping” in Khmer and are about the size of a human palm. They are bred in holes in the ground outside Skuon or captured in the forests. The type of spider typically used is Thai zebra tarantula (Haplopelma albostriatum) also known as “edible spider”. This type of tarantula has a more potent venom than many other tarantulas and has no urticating hair (irritating hair) so it can only defend itself with biting or running away.
The abdomen and head are crispy on the outside and gooey in the middle with delicate white meat. The abdomen also has a brown paste of organs and excrements and sometimes eggs. The legs contain very little meat but are pleasantly crunchy.
Tarantulas became part of the Cambodian diet by necessity during the rule of the Khmer Rouge when food was scarce. People were eating anything possible to eat, and the things that were actually tasty, like tarantulas, stayed a part of the Cambodian diet.
23. Nattō, Japan
Soybeans are fermented with the bacterium bacillus subtilis, which is found in soil and the gastrointestinal tract of humans and other plant-eating animals. It is a popular breakfast dish. The sticky beans are first stirred with chopsticks to create gooey strings of slime. Nattō has a savory aroma of old cheese, old socks, and some say the smell reminds them of hot garbage. The texture is decidedly slimy. Natto has a reputation as a probiotic superfood.
24. Stinking Bishop cheese, United Kingdom
Britain’s smelliest cheese, made from the milk of rare Gloucestershire cows. The rind is washed in an alcohol named perry derived from Stinking bishop pear, hence the name Stinking Bishop cheese. The perry-washing gives the cheese its distinct putrid aroma. The smell has been described as “a rugby club changing room,” and many police and mortician visitors to the Disgusting Food Museum have mentioned that it smells like a dead body that has been lying around for two weeks. The taste is pungent and meaty, and the texture is soft and creamy.
This famous cheese even made an appearance in the 2005 Oscar-winning movie Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit where the stinky smell was used to revive Wallace from the dead.
The maker, Martell, bought many of the only 68 living Gloucester cows in the world and started making this cheese. The small herd size means Gloucester milk is combined with Friesian milk to make the Stinking Bishop. Only about 20 tonnes per year is produced. The cheese is immersed in perry made from Stinking Bishop pears and is a washed rind cheese.
The pears and thus the cheese got their name from Percy Bishop, the owner of Moorcroft Farm, a very nasty man that once shot his kettle for not heating the water fast enough. In 2017 Stinking Bishop launched a failed bid to become the Easter cheese.
Beavers mark their territory with urine and castoreum, a yellowish fluid produced by the animal’s anal glands. The smell is powerful and complex, it has been used in perfumes and to make a natural vanilla substitute. Swedish Bävergäll – “Beaver Shout” – is made by infusing the anal gland in alcohol for several weeks. The resulting schnapps is bitter with an overpowering strong taste of pine trees, tar, leather, and urine. In the 1800s, these glands could cost two month’s salary, and the Swedish beavers were hunted to near extinction. Happily, today Sweden has a healthy beaver population.
Castoreum has many claimed health benefits such as curing mental disorders, toothaches, epilepsy, and the plague. Bävergäll, also known as Bäverhojt, has a bitter and strong taste, and a smokey and unpleasant smell of pine, wet fur, and tar.
Bull penis, China
Bull penis is eaten for its health benefits and its alleged aphrodisiac effect. It is cut down the urethra and washed to remove the urine smell, then blanched in hot water and the tough outer membrane is removed like a condom. Bull penises need to be boiled for a long time to become edible. Enjoying penis is more about texture than taste, it is described as fatty and a little slimy. According to the experts, women should eat the whiter meat, whereas the darker penis meat should be eaten by men.
Rocky Mountain Oysters, USA
Bull testicles are eaten in the cattle farming regions of North America; in Canada, they are called Prairie Oysters. For Rocky Mountain Oysters, the large testicles are peeled, pounded flat, coated in flour and spices, and deep-fried. The texture is said to be similar to fried calamari, and the taste is overpowered by the crispy fried batter and the dipping sauces. The Testy Festy Festival in Montana attracts 15 000 visitors each year, and each visitor eats about 1,5 kg of testicles. Disgusting food to some – a delicacy to others.
Fish sperm sac filled with seminal fluid is a delicacy during the winter months in Japan. Shirako literally translates to ‘white children.’ The sperm of cod is the most commonly available and it is usually gently steamed or eaten raw with rice. It is described as sweet and custardy with a subtle fishiness that melts in your mouth. Herring sperm is eaten in Russia and is known as Moloka.
Century eggs, China
Even if they look and smell like it, Century eggs are not actually a hundred years old. The Hundred-year eggs are preserved in a mix of clay, ash, quicklime, and salt, then covered in rice hulls for several months. The egg white turns into a black translucent jelly, and the yolk turns into a dark green-grey slime. The eggs have a very strong smell and taste of sulfur and ammonia. The eggs are commonly eaten cold with ginger and soy dipping sauce.
Book tickets for the Disgusting Food Museum
If you have read this far, you are no doubt interested in disgusting food. Below you can book tickets for the Disgusting Food Museum to see all of these items, and many more, as well as try some of them in the tasting bar.