It’s absolutely nuts that people will eat products that are rotting, bug-infested, still kicking and screaming, or just plain poisonous and call it cuisine. Some of these so-called delicacies are dangerous, while some can leave you feeling like you’ve done 10 rounds. But no matter what it does, it'll be a meal you'll never forget.
The durian fruit has been labeled the worst-smelling fruit in the world. It has been described as smelling like sewage, stale vomit, skunk spray, and used surgical swabs – and that’s being kind. Food writer Richard Sterling says “its odor is best described as pig-s***, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock,” while Anthony Bourdain likens eating the fruit to “French kissing your dead grandmother.” You’d think this would be reason enough to steer clear of this strange looking fruit. But no. For some reason this fruit, which originates from Southeast Asia, is revered and known there as “the king of fruits.” I suppose if you’re able to stomach it, you become a king of sorts.
The pungent smell of the fruit is so bad and strong that the fruit is banned in many hotels, subways, airports, and public transportation systems across the region. If you ride the subway in Singapore you’ll clearly see signs strictly forbidding consumption of the fruit. Don’t even think about trying to sneak a bite of this ghastly fruit, as the smell will undoubtedly give you away.
The fruit’s odor is so pungent that it can be detected half a mile away by animals, luring deer, elephants, and even tigers. You’d think the smell would turn the animals off, but it’s quite the opposite. They are attracted to it and will seek it out. So if you’re in Southeast Asia and crack open a durian, don’t be surprised if a tiger turns up, you get arrested, or your neighbor tries to set you on fire to get rid of the smell.
6. Miracle Fruit
The miracle fruit will play with your mind and lull you into a full sense of security. The miracle of the fruit is that it makes sour foods magically taste sweeter. On the surface, the berry from West Africa seems very normal, even bland. It’s the color of a cranberry, the size of an almond, and has a flavorless gummy taste. But it’s the pulp of the berry that produces its taste-altering powers. The berry works its magic by coating the tongue with a glycoprotein molecule called miraculin, causing sour or acidic foods to taste delightfully sweet. The effects of the berry last from 15 minutes up to an hour. The berry makes tart lemons taste sweet, gives hot sauce a honey-like flavor, and makes vinegar taste like sweet wine.
The berry was first introduced to the western world in 1725 by French explorer Chevalier des Marchais. There was a push in the 1970s to commercially mass produce the berry as a sugar substitute, but the sugar industry bitterly lobbied the FDA not to approve it as a sweetener, fearing it would severely damage their industry.
The berry has had somewhat of a renaissance in the last two years as people organize tasting parties to test out the strange fruit. The fruit costs about $2 a berry or can be bought in pill form for about $30 a packet. The parties may be fun, but after consuming endless amounts of hot sauce, vinegar, and other acidic foods your stomach can turn into an acid factory, leaving you very sick and uncomfortable. It may be a miracle, but this fruit will leave you cursing God’s name.
Hákarl is a ghastly-tasting and smelling Icelandic dish made from rotting shark -- a gourmet delicacy that dates back to Viking times. It’s made from the Greenland or Basking shark. In its natural state the shark contains high levels of uric acid and trimethylamine oxide, toxic chemicals that need to be removed from the shark to make the meat suitable for human consumption.
The removal process is simple: the shark meat is left out in the open to rot for about two months. As the meat decomposes, toxic ammonia oozes out. The meat is then hung and dried for a further four months, when it is "ready" for humans to munch on. If the shark meat was not treated in this manner it would cause serious illness or even death.
The smell of the food is so bad that first-timers are told to pinch their nose when trying it. Anthony Bourdain, who has travelled the world and tasted plenty of strange dishes, calls hákarl “the single worst, most disgusting, and terrible tasting thing" he has ever eaten. It is an acquired taste that has been described as similar to eating human urine. Bon Appetite!
4. Bhut Jolokia
It is said that eating an entire Bhut Jolokia chili is “akin to swigging a cocktail of battery acid and glass shards.” In 2007 the little known chili pepper from the backwaters of India knocked the Red Savina habaneros chili from the top spot, entering the Guinness Book of Records as the hottest chili pepper in the world.
According to researchers from New Mexico State University, the institute who discovered the pepper in an academic sense, the Bhut Jolokia literally burns its nearest competitor when it comes to hotness. On the Scoville scale, which measures the heat or piquancy of a chili pepper by measuring the amount of capsaicin it contains, the Bhut Jolokia pepper scored an impressive 1,001,304 Scoville Heat units (SHUs). This is almost double the SHUs of Red Savina, which measures a mere 577,000. That makes the pepper nearly twice as hot as the Red Savina habanero and more that 200 times hotter than the jalapeno.
Bhut Jolokia is not for the faint-hearted. It literally translates to "ghost pepper" and is said to have gotten this name because it’s so hot that “you give up the ghost when you eat it." It’s also known as the “King Cobra Chile” because its fierce "bite" is similar to the venom of a king cobra.
The pepper is so strong and intense that workers who farm it must wear goggles, face masks, head cover, and protective clothing. Earlier this year India's Defense Research and Development Organization announced its plans to include the chili in hand grenades as a way to control rioters. Yikes!
It’s rare to eat a dish that is literally still kicking and screaming when served. Sannakji (or "wriggling octopus") is a Korean raw dish that consists of a live Nakji octopus whose tentacles have been sliced, diced, and immediately served. The octopus arrives literally trying to wriggle and jump off the plate. If you did know any better you’d think you were about to dig into a plate of live, squirming worms.
The grossout factor of the dish is enough to turn most people off. However there is another, more deadly, side to the dish. The danger arises from the still functioning, moving tentacles. If not properly chewed the active suction cups on the tentacles can stick to your throat and cause choking. Every year six people in South Korea reportedly die from eating the dish. People are advised to full masticate each tentacle and drink plenty of fluids. Once each tentacle has made its way past the throat, it’s safe to attack the next slurpy little sucker.
2. Casu Marzu
Most people would run screaming if they discovered live maggots crawling in their food. Connoisseurs of Casu Marzu, a.k.a. Maggot Cheese, would not. For them the maggot is the crucial ingredient.
The specialty Italian cheese is made in Sardinia from sheep’s milk and is literally a rotten form of Pecorino cheese. The cheese is purposely exposed to Piophila casei flies, also known as the cheese fly. The flies lay their eggs in the cheese, which hatch into white larvae that wriggle around the cheese digesting it. This process helps break down the fat in the cheese, advancing the fermentation process.
By the time the cheese is ready for consumption it will contain thousands of living maggots. If the maggots are not alive, then the cheese is said to be toxic and unfit for human consumption. Critics of the cheese say it is unfit for consumption in any state. The cheese has been banned in Brussels for over 30 years and was also banned, for a short period of time, in the European Union.
You don’t have to eat the live larvae and many don’t, but be careful if you do. The larvae are resistant to stomach acid and have been known to take up residency in the stomach. In extreme cases the maggots can tear holes in the intestine, causing vomiting, diarrhea, and bleeding. The larvae can also mount aerial assaults. If disturbed, the larvae is known to jump up to six inches in the air and leap into people’s eyes.
It apparently tastes like normal fish, but if not prepared properly it will k*ll you. Blowfish, or fugu, is a dangerous but highly sought after delicacy in Japan. The fish is deadly because its organs contain tetrodotoxin, a lethal poison. The poison is most concentrated in the liver and ovaries and if consumed, paralyzes the body’s muscles. If you eat a bad piece of fugu, you’ll remain fully conscious and unable to move until you die of asphyxiation. Death usually comes a-knockin' in six to 24 hours after consumption. Currently there is no antidote to the poison and the only chance of survival is to keep the respiratory and a circulatory system functioning until the poison wears off.
There are approximately 40 different kinds of fugu and the fish must be prepared by a specially licensed chef. Chefs must complete a three-year apprenticeship before taking a rigorous test of which only 35% of applicants pass. Chefs must then continue their training before being able to tackle more poisonous types of fugu.
It is generally safe to consume fugu prepared in a restaurant or supermarket. Most fatalities caused by the fish are the result of unqualified people preparing the fish at home. Approximately 20–44 incidents of fugu poisoning per year were recorded between 1996 and 2006 in all of Japan, with five or six people dying each year from fugu-related poisoning.
New breeds of non-toxic fugu are being created, which means one day the danger and novelty of eating a food that could k*ll you could be a thing of the past. Now where’s the fun in that?