We humans have a special place in our hearts for food. Sure, we could survive on boiled rice and some type of green leafy thing; but where is the fun in that? As every international traveler knows, the scope of dishes around the planet means that there are often some terrifying surprises waiting for you at your next meal. What may not be known, however, is that some of these culinary horror stories are packed with healthy goodness. So when you’re next abroad, contemplating a tasty snack of Cockroach on a Stick, remember our list of 10 healthy foods that are absolutely terrifying.
10. Blood Sausage (AKA – Black Pudding)
Ubiquitous in Europe, the Americas, and Asia, Blood Sausage recipes will vary across the planet. The simplest way of creating this dish is to take a pig’s intestine, fill it with blood (from either a pig or a cow), add a filler (such as suet or barley), and cook until the blood is able to congeal upon cooling. Voila, as the French would say; you have just created a tasty treat where the main ingredient is blood. If you happen to be a Twilight fan, you will now be able to indulge your sparkly vampire fantasies in the comfort of your own home.
In all seriousness, as appetizing as it may be to eat a food composed almost 100% of blood, this type of sausage packs a mean punch in the health foods department. If the idea of consuming what is essentially coagulated blood does not appeal to you, consider this; Blood Sausage has virtually no carbohydrates, contains relatively few calories, and due to the main ingredient (blood) is one of the best sources of Iron and Zinc in the world.
Eating blood may not be for everyone (or anyone), but if you have the stomach for it Blood Sausage can help ensure that you have a full and balanced diet.
9. Kopi Luwak (AKA – Civet Cat Coffee)
Imagine this, you are a poor coffee farmer in South East Asia and you’ve been having trouble with local wildlife eating the coffee beans that you have been working so hard to grow and harvest. In most other parts of the world the wild animals threatening your crops would be hunted to extinction, leaving you free to tend to your coffee plantation in peace. Killing the animals however, doesn’t really mesh with the South Asian mindset; so instead, you choose to follow the animals in question and reclaim your stolen beans manually – by picking through feces (shit sifting if you will). If this sounds familiar, congratulations, you are a Kopi Luwak farmer.
Arguably the most expensive coffee in the world, Kopi Luwak is coffee that has been allowed to pass through a Civet Cat’s digestive tract. After roasting it is then packaged and sold for as much as US$ 600 a pound to “discerning” (read as clinically insane) customers. Tasty, tasty bum coffee; isn’t Ass to Mouth a big no-no?
However, as is the case with all coffee, science has discovered that our favorite morning beverage can do wonders for your health. Coffee reduces the risk of an individual developing Type II Diabetes, significantly lowers the chances for developing Colon cancer, and even helps reduce the risk of Parkinson’s Disease. In this sense, Kopi Luwak is a healthy living winner, but you could probably just drink Folgers instead.
8. Snake Wine
What is better than wine? The answer is obviously wine that has been fermented with a venomous snake. Another stellar idea brought to you by the people of South East Asia. Take your garden variety King Cobra, kill it while taking care to preserve the head (where the all important venom is located), and drop the carcass in a bottle of rice wine or local whiskey. After the snake has steeped in the alcohol for at least three months it is ready to serve; a nice rosé drink of death.
Vietnamese shamans and doctors have been prescribing Snake Wine as a cure-all for centuries, claiming that it will help with medical afflictions from impotency to hair loss. The common beliefs revolving around this beverage is that the more deadly the snake used in the making, or the longer the wine has been left to ferment, the stronger the medical effects.
How is Snake Wine healthy you ask? As with all alcoholic beverages science has shown that when consumed in moderation there are a number of potential benefits; such as a reduced risk of heart disease and lowered blood pressure. The blood from the snake also provides a good source of iron.
There have been few studies done on Snake Wine by western scientists; however, local witch doctors make a surprisingly strong argument in favor of the drink, especially at 4 am after a few pints.
7. Caterpillar Fungus
A long time staple of Traditional Chinese Medicine the Caterpillar Fungus (or Cordyceps sinensis) was first mentioned in a 1694 encyclopedia of Chinese medical practices. The process of acquiring the Caterpillar Fungus starts with the larvae of the Ghost moth, most commonly found throughout the Tibetan Plateau and across the Himalayas. During it’s developmental stages, the larvae becomes infected with the fungus, which in turn kills it’s host. Once the moth larvae is dead the fungus sprouts into a distinctive twig-like shape, starts producing spores, and continues on its mission of wholesale moth genocide.
If the idea of eating something which has killed its previous host sounds good to you, you’re not alone. Caterpillar Fungus is growing in international popularity and now commands the impressive price of US$ 900 an ounce. Claiming its current fame following the 1993 world athletic championships (after three record breaking Chinese athletes were found to have been taking a course of the fungus), the Caterpillar Fungus is thought to have cellular health properties, provide protection to bone marrow, and may offer protection against liver damage. Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners claim that the fungus is an effective cure for everything from back ache to tuberculosis, though they say the same thing about tiger penis.
If you are a fan of invasion of the body snatchers, and have a thing for munching on the carcasses of dead moths, then the Caterpillar Fungus may be right for you.
6. King Salmon Heads (AKA – Stink Heads)
Salmon is an incredibly tasty fish, but we bet that you didn’t know that you can increase the tastiness of your fresh caught salmon by burying the head in the ground and leaving it to rot for a week or two. Alaskan natives get the credit for this tasty morsel, few cultures anywhere in the world would have thought to let their fish rot prior to eating and it is hard to believe that this occurs in real life, and not just in Neal Stephenson novels.
During the time that the salmon head is in the ground, the very natural process of decay begins to occur. Most western diners would pitch an absolute fit at being served fish less than a day old, so the idea of being given a dish containing fermented fish head paste is distinctly unappetizing. It is extremely hard to imagine eating something that smells like two week old fish. Modern preparation of this dish has meant that traditional holes in the ground have been replaced by plastic bags and containers which in turn lead to an increased chance of botulism in the rotten fish head.
Taste and texture aside, Stink Heads are still fish, and as such contain important omega fatty acids. Omega 3 has been shown to have possible anti-cancer effects, and may reduce the occurrence of cardiovascular death in individuals who have as little as one gram of Omega 3 per day. Further studies have indicated that fish are able to improve an individuals mental abilities and may help children who have learning or developmental issues to lead a normal and healthy life.
The bottom line is that fish are good for you, but you’d probably be better off getting the catch of the day rather than eating a week old salmon head.
5. Fermented Tofu
What smells worse than a sewer on a hot day, has the consistency of rancid jello, and looks like blue cheese gone wrong? The answer, of course, is Fermented Tofu, also known as Chinese Cheese. One of the Chinese names for Fermented tofu is Chou Doufu. The word chou can be literally translated as “foul smelling, stinking, or putrid”.
This appetizing dish is made by allowing cubes of Tofu, placed under hay, to dry and ferment in the open air. The fermenting aspect is actually a result of aerial bacteria and fungal spores raining down on the tofu during the drying process. Once a suitable level of bacteria and fungi have settled on the tofu the cubes are then placed in brine to pickle. Add some flavoring, such as Chinese rice wine, or some pickles, and you have yourself some delicious Fermented Tofu.
If you can actually manage to eat this delightful food you may be interested in learning that Tofu is one of the healthiest foods around. Tofu is an excellent dietary source of protein, and it is recommended that people trying to avoid diabetic heart disease or atherosclerosis try to have a serving of tofu everyday. In addition to this soy (the key ingredient in Tofu) has shown to have beneficial effects on women experiencing menopause as well as having numerous minerals good for antioxidant protection and increased energy levels.
Try some Fermented Tofu, the stuff is good for you; or you could always lick a sewer pipe, there shouldn’t be too much of a difference as far as your mouth is concerned.
4. Chumiles (AKA – Stink Bugs)
In Taxco, Mexico, the first Monday after the Day of the Dead (El Día de los Muertos) the local populace gathers together and hunts down the most fearsome animal in the land. Well, not really. They actually attempt to collect tiny 6 legged insects that are affectionately called “stink bugs”.
These stink bugs come in two distinct types, the larger are called Jumiles and their slightly smaller counterparts are Chumiles; both are considered delicacies among the local populace. Once the Jumiles/Chumiles have been found they will be consumed live. This is the Taxco version of picking a cockroach up on the ground and chowing down. Larger Jumiles are said to have an almost overpowering taste of iodine; a taste which connoisseurs assure us needs to be acquired. Although the savings potential could be huge; just imagine, instead of going grocery shopping all you’d have to do is camp out in the kitchen with a flash light – much more convenient.
As tempting as live insects may be to some of us, the Taxco natives may have stumbled onto the animal equivalent of Red Bull – Chumiles contain high amounts of riboflavin vitamins, more commonly found in modern energy drinks. In addition to this, Chumiles also have incredibly high levels of Niacin (key in preventing the disease Pellagra) and iodine (you’d just have to taste one to come to that conclusion). Plus, you can always use dead Chumiles to make an awesome taco sauce; OLE!
3. 100 Year Old Egg (AKA – Century Egg)
Despite the name a Century egg is not, in fact. 100 years old. Take an egg, coat the exterior in an alkaline clay (using wood ash, quicklime, and salt), roll in a mass of rice chaff and leave to dry. Wait three to four months and remove the alkaline paste covering your delectable treat. The putrid, opaque green, object that you have just uncovered is a Century Egg.
A Century Egg is really only an egg that has had its internal PH raised and been allowed to petrify. As such, it is no surprise that the yolk becomes a very dark shade of green and elicits a strong odor of ammonia and sulfur – always a natural occurrence when leaving perishable items to rot. 100 Year old Eggs are big business around the South-East Asia region, with local variants of the recipe being found in Vietnam, Thailand (where the name means “horse urine egg”), Hong Kong and China. In recent years there have been reports of “fake” Century Eggs being produced throughout China which have high lead and zinc concentrations. Always make sure your rotten food is from a reputable source.
Eggs are always a good source of essential minerals and vitamins, they contain the good types of fat, and studies done by the Harvard School of Medicine have indicated that regular consumption of eggs may protect against blood clots, strokes, and heart attacks. 100 Year old eggs have been a staple in Chinese cuisine for hundreds of years, and as such all signs point to Century Eggs as being seriously good for your health; if you can get one in your mouth.
Consisting of a fertilized poultry egg (usually duck or chicken) with a semi developed fetus, Balut is a common street food in the Philippines, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. The egg is boiled and then sold to customers, who will typically sip the broth from around the embryo, prior to eating the bird fetus with a pinch of salt or some chili vinegar. The taste is best described as “acquired” and we have been told that it is one of those dishes that you either love or hate.
The age of the egg to be cooked is something of a local preference. In the Philippines, for instance, it is preferable to only boil Balut which are 17 days old. At this stage the fetus has not developed any feathers and the bones are virtually non-existent. In Vietnam, however, the ideal age for a Balut is between 19 and 21 days – the Vietnamese prefer to wait until the fetus can be readily identified as a bird. In Vietnam the Balut is crunchy, not so much in the Philippines.
Half Egg, half bird, Balut has protein and goodness aplenty. Filipinos believe that the Balut is good for arthritis of the knees, and is useful as an aphrodisiac. Funnily enough, western science has come to the conclusion that eating chicken (no mention on Chicken fetuses though) is good protection against bone loss in older people. Poultry in general is also an excellent source of B vitamins, and makes Balut a good food for helping keep your metabolism running.
Child birth is an often messy affair; there is lots of screaming, cursing, blood and pain. The act ultimately ends with the birth of a child, and once the umbilical cord is cut most parents will call it a day and proceed with the necessary paperwork of making sure the newly arrived infant will be an upstanding, and properly documented, member of society. However, there has been an emerging trend in recent years whereby the traditional rituals and practices associated with child birth do not end with the delivery of a baby, but rather with the mother requesting to consume her own placenta.
Placenta, or afterbirth, is the sack which connects the developing fetus to the uterine wall of the mother (essentially keeping the fetus firmly in place) and provides the unborn child with oxygen, food, and waste disposal services. After a child is born, the mother’s body will eject the placenta as the final act of the delivery. For those of you who have not experienced child birth first hand, imagine being confronted with a bloody alien blob which slightly resembles a dead jellyfish; this will then be eaten.
Traditional to the Chinese, placentophagy (the fancy word for “eating a placenta”) is becoming increasingly popular in modern Europe and the Americas. There are a number of recipes for placenta, some of the more popular include; having the placenta preserved and placed into capsules to be taken as a pill, served as a smoothie, added to a nutritious stew, or even incorporated into a red sauce pasta dish.
Many cultures believe that consuming ones own placenta is incredibly beneficial to the mother. This is due to the fact that the placenta contains many good minerals, vitamins, and hormones, which modern society believes are good for helping against post partum depression, stimulating milk production in the mother, and which will help the mum regain some of the vital nutritional supplements which she has been diverting to her unborn child in the 9 months prior to birth.
We highly recommend steak and placenta pie, you know, if you’re going to be eating it anyway.