5 Feb 2020

Funky food at The Disgusting Food Museum in Sweden

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 3:10 pm on 5 February 2020

No one is born to love Vegemite or root beer or fermented shark.

Our taste for food is cultural says Dr Samuel West, a psychologist and curator of the Disgusting Food Museum in Sweden.

He invites visitors to close their noses and open their minds to what we eat around the world.

He says the emotion of disgust has an important evolutionary purpose.

“Regardless of what culture we come from, every human and more or less every animal can has this reaction, and this emotion of disgust in an evolutionary perspective is a very powerful emotion.

“It's kept us away from poisonous, dangerous foods for millions of years. And today, that disgust it's still there, we still have this biological reaction.”

The museum is fully immersive, visitors can see taste and smell and sick bags are provide, he says.

Casu marsu, a Sardinian cheese, is an example of what can be repellent to some is a delicacy for others, he says.

“They take a piece of pecorino cheese, slice off the top, stick it out in a barn for a couple of days or weeks until the cheese flies lay their eggs there and then when the larvae hatch, they eat the cheese and they excrete a soft cheese.”

Dr West hasn’t tried the cheese as it’s banned by the EU, he says.

“When you eat the cheese, according to the our sources, you eat both the uneaten hard cheese, you eat the maggots, but you also eat the this soft, creamy excrement of the maggots and it's supposed to be delicious.”

The guinea pig, popular barbecued in Peru, elicits disgust from some visitors, he says.

“But it raises some interesting questions. Why do we find it so disgusting and horrible to see a guinea pig roasted? But it's okay to have a regular pig or a cow or a chicken. I mean, they're all animals, they deserve the same respect or what, do we differentiate between them?”

Fermentation was once one of the only ways we had to preserve food, and it smells pretty bad, he says.

“Some of the more extreme foods are preserved through fermentation and they stink, they smell horrible, and people ate it because they had to.”

A good example is the Icelandic shark which was buried under sand on beach and left to rot, he says.

“The smell is absolutely vile, and nobody would eat that if they weren't hungry and didn't need to eat it.

“Anthony Bourdain, the late TV celebrity chef, he said that it's the single most disgusting thing he's ever tried, and that it tasted like a mix between death, ammonia, and a urine infested mattress.”

However, smell is cultural he says.

“Blue cheese especially, the chemical responsible for the characteristic blue cheese smell is the same one that's responsible for the smell of vomit and yet we eat it we think it's delicious.”

Asian visitors to the museum find cheese particularly repellent, he says.

“The cultural differences become really apparent at the cheese section because we have an altar of stinky cheese with five of the worst offenders.

“Our visitors from Asia they come there and they look through the Asian section like, you know, that is a good, that's good  and then they come to the cheese section and that's where they pull out their cameras and the vomit bags come out”.

He says they had a chef come in and devise recipes for bull penis, which is on display at the museum.

“He made some sliced bull penis, like a thinly sliced, fried bull penis, which was somewhat edible.

“The bull penis itself is absolutely disgusting to look at, the ones on display at the museum are only a third, we actually cut them into three pieces, they're so huge.”

And there were no enticing cooking smells either, he says.

“The worst thing about the bull penis is how badly it smells when it's being boiled. It smells absolutely horrible.”