What was the last thing you ate for lunch? A sandwich, maybe? Or something a bit more extravagant? Either way, there’s a good chance (we hope) you enjoyed it. The same can’t be said, however, for some of these foods. A whole range of words exist that could describe some of the things on this list, and few of them are good. Yet some people eat them nonetheless. Many of those people may tell you that they do it because this stuff tastes good, but if that seems like a bit of a stretch to you (and it does to us) then we’ve rounded up some of the other reasons human beings willingly ingest the most disgusting things on the planet. If you’re eating lunch right now, we’d suggest you move on.
Put simply, hachinoko are baby wasps. They’re considered a bit of a treat in Japan, and allegedly have the consistency of guts and a sweet, starchy and slightly smokey taste to them. Bugs are very commonly eaten around East Asia, and Japan is no different. Hachinoko, in fact, are actually a fairly expensive delicacy and are often served in fine dining restaurants.
They’re eaten for a few reasons: partly because they’re nutritious (and it’s believed they have anti-aging properties as well as health benefits) and partly because of a chef-led cultural push to revive the practice of eating insects, which had last been ‘fashionable’, if you could call it that, when they were eaten in rural Japan during World War II, when food sources became scarce.
Don’t go thinking that eating horrific things for strange reasons is a tradition reserved exclusively for the Far East, however. Representing Europe in the ‘what the hell’ game is Finland, which is the source of a tasty little treat called salmiakki — or salted liquorice. Finns put it in ice cream, in fudge, in chocolate, in vodka, in candies — if you can name it, Finland has probably ruined it. So why are they so crazy for the stuff? Well, it originated as a cough medicine in pharmacies which used ammonium chloride (they key ingredient in salmiakki) to help break down mucus in sick patients.
These days, it would seem that most Finns enjoy salmiakki because most of them have grown up with it — essentially, it acts as a sort of nostalgic trigger which reminds them of their childhoods. As a result, salmiakki is considered by some as a cultural force as vital to Finnish identity as saunas and Sibelius. Some have art, some have history, some have liquorice cough medicine. To each their own, right?
Let’s not beat around the bush, here. Balut is fertilized duck egg, grown so the fetus of the duckling — which is pretty much fully grown, and has its eyes, beak and feathers — remains inside as you bite down into it. It probably originated in China, but is enjoyed nowadays across Southeast Asia, most famously in the Philippines. Some (including Filipinos) will tell you that it actually tastes pretty great, but we’ll defer to our own anecdotal evidence here. Trust us: Balut does not taste great.
So why’s it eaten? Well, for those who do enjoy it, it’s seen as a traditional late night snack (often eaten while out drinking) and is also considered highly nutritious. Most tellingly of all, however, balut is almost always found in red-light districts across the Philippines: it’s developed quite the reputation as an aphrodisiac. Pregnant women also allegedly believe that it keeps them healthy and happy throughout their pregnancy.
No, the ‘Maggot Cheese of the Mediterranean’ isn’t the worst Johnny Depp movie you’ve ever seen. It’s Casu Marzu, a black market delicacy ‘enjoyed’ by Sardinians who apparently have nothing else to lose. To make it, cheese makers allow cheese skipper flies to lay eggs in their cheeses, often by adding a dash of oil to the cheese. The flies lay their eggs, which then hatch into maggots that cause the cheese’s fat to putrefy.
What you’re left with is a putrid maggot hotel which goes quite well with a full-bodied red and has a seriously good chance of blinding you. Despite being illegal, however, Sardinians enjoy Casu Marzu at special events and offer it as a gift to family and friends. According to Sardinian farmers, it’s believed that the maggots appear spontaneously in the cheese (a bit like transubstantiation, except worse in every single way) which apparently acts as a sort of grand metaphor for life, death and decay. Oh, and they say it’s an aphrodisiac, too. Obviously.
Ah, hákarl. Perhaps Iceland’s most famous so-called delicacy is shark that’s fermented in ammonia and hung out to dry for months on end. It looks like fudge gone wrong and tastes faintly of cleaning products. Anthony Bourdain famously remarked that it was the worst thing he had ever eaten, while Gordon Ramsay is said to have vomited after eating it. Despite all this, however, it has been part of Icelandic culture for hundreds of years.
It’s the natural product of the Icelandic way of life, where the population is low, the sun is scarce and natural sources for meat were once almost impossible to find. As a symbol of Icelandic innovation and endurance, it’s beloved among almost all proud Icelanders. That doesn’t mean, however, that they have to eat it. Nowadays, it acts more of a draw to brave tourists, becoming more and more notorious as Iceland becomes more famous. Some Icelanders believe, in fact, that hákarl is better for making tourists eat (and then joyfully watching them squirm as they do) than it is a genuine cultural icon.
Lucky you: we’re back on insects. Like many other types of invertebrate, fried scorpions are eaten as a street snack all over Asia. They’re not just eaten fried, either, and you’ll often find scorpions are street stalls that have been roasted, grilled or are simply eaten live. They’re particularly popular with tourists, who are often after the novelty or rush of eating something quite so strange and exotic, but it’s also said in some Asian traditions that eating scorpion tails will make you strong (and luckily, the heat under which they’re cooked will negate the effects of any of the nasty stuff inside their stingers).
There are also, however, nutritional benefits to eating scorpions. They’re richer in protein, fat and carbohydrates than most meats, and are often touted as a potential solution to global hunger.
To make lutefisk, you take a fish (such as cod) that would be far better off simply battered, and proceed to soak it in cold water for just under a week, before treating it with lye. It’s then soaked in water again and cooked. The dish has Scandinavian origins, and it’s widely associated with Norse culture.
Strangely enough, however, it’s barely eaten in Scandinavia at all. Instead, lutefisk has a following among Americans who identify as having Scandinavian roots. Madison, Minnesota claims to be the lutefisk capital of the world, and hosts dinners made with the dish throughout the fall and winter. As a result, lutefisk is a Scandinavian tradition that is more enjoyed by immigrants and their children than by native Scandis. For them, it’s a connection to the motherland, and a cultural link to their heritage.
Kombucha is a form of fermented tea which is made using a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, in a process known as SCOBY. It tastes sour and sharp, apparently quite like cough syrup. Not only that, but, if improperly prepared, drinking kombucha can lead to a series of adverse effects, including death. Despite this, however, it’s consumed around the world for its supposed health benefits. Believers claim it prevents cancer, keeps arthritis at bay and aids with digestion while boosting your immune system.
Unfortunately, however, research into kombucha suggests that the supposed benefits of kombucha are more or less non-existent, and that drinking it (even while correctly prepared) could possibly lead to liver damage, metabolic acidosis and even anthrax infection. Stick to the green teas.
Ask someone who’s never been, and they’ll give you quite the romantic depiction of London. It’s all damp mornings and cobbled streets; gaslights shining through the fog while commuters walk to-and-fro in the shadow of Big Ben. Someone, somewhere is also eating a jellied eel. Well, this might all have been true once: jellied eels, at the very least, were a primitive form of fast food, eaten because they were one of the few things that could be fished alive from the Thames.
These days, however, they’re a rarity on the streets of London. So who’s eating them? Well, the elderly, for starters — most of the folk who still remember them as a treat still preserve their legacy by running the few shops that still sell them. They are, however, making a slow comeback, being stocked in supermarkets as British people have begun turning to them as a source of cheap protein.
Escamoles, generously referred to as ‘Mexican caviar’, is a dish made up for the larvae of ants. They’re harvested from agave plants and cacti which are found in Mexico and the southern US, and are often pan-fried or included in other foods, such as tacos. The strangest thing about escamoles isn’t just that they’re eaten — it’s that they’re one of Mexico’s most prized and expensive foods.
There’s a historical and cultural precedent to this, of course, since they were considered a delicacy among the Aztecs long before Mexico was a thing. Nowadays, like caviar, it’s a bit of a status symbol, partially because they’re only available between February and May each year. They’re also frequently eaten as an Easter celebration food. Visit at the right time of year and you’ll find escamoles on menus all around the country, though, if you’re tempted, it’s probably worth asking yourself: are you really that tired of burritos?