With tickets that double as barf bags, the Disgusting Food Museum in Sweden aims to inspire both nausea and curiosity about why certain foods are considered "disgusting."
The age-old axiom that things are merely a matter of taste is perhaps no truer than when it comes to food. The Disgusting Food Museum in Malmö, Sweden, aims to analyze exactly that by showing how dishes that are considered gross and inedible in some countries are viewed as delicacies in others.
For instance, is a hardboiled fertilized duck egg really disgusting — or is it just a matter of taste?
From turtle soup and maggot-infested cheese to fermented birds and well-aged shark, the Disgusting Food Museum tries to define what makes a food “disgusting” and invites adventurous eaters to taste and smell 80 of the world’s grossest delicacies. Explore 28 of those foods in the gallery below — if you think your stomach can take it.
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The century egg is a Chinese comfort food that requires a fairly lengthy preparation process. The egg is placed in a vat containing black tea, salt, lime, and wood ashes for anywhere from seven weeks to five months.Disgusting Food Museum
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Cuscuz paulista might look like a harmless cake of jello, but the Brazilian dish is made of an interesting array of ingredients, including cornmeal, tomato sauce, tomato pieces, boiled eggs, and canned ingredients like olives, corn, and sardines.Instagram
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Mongolian Sheep Eyeball Juice
This so-called "Mongolian Bloody Mary" features a hefty portion of tomato juice to complement — or distract from — a pickled sheep's eye. The drink is supposedly a foolproof hangover cure as sheep's eyes are high in antioxidants.Disgusting Food Museum
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Menudo is a popular and traditional Mexican dish. Prepared in a broth with a red chili pepper base, the soup is made with chunks of cow stomach. It's typically infused with hominy, lime, onions, and oregano. The dish is also commonly known as pancita — which literally means "little stomach" in Spanish. Disgusting Food Museum
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Durian is an alarmingly pungent fruit with over 30 recognized species, at least nine of which are edible. Referred to in some parts of Southeast Asia as the "king of fruits," durian is a popular tourist curiosity for those visiting Thailand. Its stench is so profound that it must be thoroughly wrapped to carry aboard Thai airlines, according to regulations.Disgusting Food Museum
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Made of fermented fish guts, garum has been a staple of civilizations past for millennia. From the ancient cuisines of Phoenicia and Greece to Rome and Carthage, garum has stood the test of time.Disgusting Food Museum
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This dish grew popular among rural tribes in Southern Africa due to food scarcity, and it remains a reliable source of protein in the region. The dish is made of caterpillars that are typically fried and served with garlic and tomato. They're also commonly eaten raw.Disgusting Food Museum
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First recorded in England around 1430, this traditionally Scottish meal has since become the country's national dish. The savory pudding consists of sheep's offal, or its heart, liver, and lungs, which are then minced with spices, onion, oatmeal and salt before being cooked. The result is traditionally encased in the sheep's stomach — and sold that way across Scotland to this day.Disgusting Food Museum
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Across Russia and Central Asia, fermented mare's milk infused with carbonation has been sold and consumed over meals for decades. Not unlike kombucha, the fermentation process provides the beverage with a sour taste and low alcohol content. Disgusting Food Museum
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While kopi luwak is arguably the trendiest beverage on this list, it's hard to convince most people that coffee made from animal excrement isn't disgusting. The process, however, is fascinating. After a wild cat-like animal called the Asian palm civet eats and digests regional coffee cherries, Indonesian farmers collect, wash, and sell the excreted results for roasting. Bottoms up.Disgusting Food Museum
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Kale Pache is found in numerous Middle Eastern countries and in the Mediterranean. Also known as khash, the meal consists of cow or sheep parts — like the head, feet, and stomach — which are boiled in a stew before being served. Disgusting Food Museum
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Not all the culinary curiosities at the Disgusting Food Museum are displayed in their final forms as some are featured on screens or left unmade with just the ingredients arranged on a plate, like this exhibit of unfinished turtle soup.
This stew is made from the turtle's skin and innards, and is considered a delicacy in China, Malaysia, Japan, and Singapore. Surprisingly, it was also United States President William Taft's favorite meal.Disgusting Food Museum
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Nsenene remains a popular bar snack in Uganda. Made of bush crickets, this dish is sometimes even smeared on morning toasts or wedged into afternoon sandwiches. Not unlike mopane worms, the popularity of nsenene originally stemmed from food scarcity in the region — and the fact that these insects are an efficient source of protein.Disgusting Food Museum
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Tripe is essentially made from the stomach lining of various farm animals. Typically, the first or second stomach of a cow or a sheep is used to prepare this dish. Eaten all over the world, it's used to fashion sausages, herbal soups, stews, and curries.Facebook
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While rotten cheese is a commonly welcome charcuterie snack, casu marzu is filled with live insect larvae that squirm around its interior.
The traditional Sardinian dish is made by cutting the rind off of sheeps-milk cheese in order to let the maggots inside. This allows for a softer center, though it is imperative that you chew the maggots to death before swallowing. The cheese, which translates to "rotten cheese," is illegal in the European Union.Disgusting Food Museum
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Universally hailed as an aphrodisiac, bull penis is eaten around the world. From Korean barbecue stews to Chinese cures for impotence, the preparations and purported benefits of this disgusting food range wildly. If you're still not sold, don't worry — the Disgusting Food Museum cuts its bull penises down the urethra to wash away the urine smell before serving.Facebook
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Fruit Bat Soup
Fruit bats are a singular source of protein found in a lot of Indonesian cooking. Described by the Oxford Food Companion as "tasting like chicken," this particular variant of fruit bat soup from Guam is typically fried in spicy curries.Instagram
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Spicy Rabbit Heads
These spice-crusted rabbit heads make for a pretty popular lunch in Chengdu, the capital city of China's Sichuan province. The heads are covered in so much spice that restaurant-goers typically wear gloves to handle their food. Many might also consider sucking out the brains.Disgusting Food Museum
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This traditional Japanese dish is made of fermented soybeans. While that sounds rather pleasant for Natto novices, the beans are fermented in Bacillus subtilis — a bacterium found in the gastrointestinal tracts of ruminants like cattle. It remains a staple of Japanese breakfasts.Disgusting Food Museum
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Popular across Ecuador and Peru, cuy is a traditional dish made of guinea pigs that is beloved by Indigenous Andeans in South America. Many even raised these guinea pigs as pets before eating — though the introduction of cattle to the region has slightly curbed their appeal.Disgusting Food Museum
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Kiviak hails from Greenland, and is made and eaten by Inuits during the winter season. The meal is prepared by gutting a seal and filling its body with hundreds of auk birds. The seal is then sewn back up and buried in permafrost for at least three months, as the birds ferment within the seal carcass. While people claim it tastes like licorice or strong cheese, the meal has to be eaten outside due to its overwhelming stench.Facebook
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End of history beer
The End of History beer originates from Soviet Russia and packs a whopping 55 percent alcohol level. The name itself derives from philosopher Francis Fukuyama, who posited that history is defined as the evolution of a political system until its final end-point. As such, fashioning high-alcohol liquor and serving it from a taxidermy squirrel seems not only nihilistic, but also revolting.Facebook
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Su Callu Sardu
While cheese may not seem worthy of a "most disgusting food" title, Su Callu Sardu is made from the stomach of a baby goat filled with its mother's milk. The Sardinian delicacy is traditionally tied with twine and aged for up to four months.Instagram
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Colloquially dubbed the "Mexican caviar," escamoles are the edible larvae and pupae of ants. Most commonly sold and consumed in Mexico City, the dish has been popular since the reign of the Aztecs — and is now found in a variety of meals ranging from buttery dishes to street tacos.Instagram
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Fried tarantulas can be found pretty much anywhere in Cambodia. The regional snack has become a bit of a tourist attraction in the town of Skuon, where vendors cheekily challenge visitors to prove their intestinal fortitude. These furry fried arachnids are typically as big as the palm of your hand.Instagram
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Balut is commonly sold as street food in Southeast Asia. It is the fertilized and developing embryo of a chicken or duck. These eggs are traditionally incubated in the sun or buried in sand to retain their warmth before they are boiled.Instagram
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Mouse wine is made by infusing rice wine with live two-day-old mice. It is then left to ferment for roughly a year, and is then commonly sold in China as a health tonic.Instagram
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Though its appearance is quite unattractive, stinky tofu is a popular snack food across China. The tofu is fermented and has an overpowering stench, which nonetheless draws in customers from Hong Kong and Taiwan to Beijing. It's traditionally made in a mixture of fermented milk and a vegetable, fish, and meat brine (or a combination of the three) for weeks — or even months.Disgusting Food Museum
28 Pictures From Sweden’s Disgusting Food Museum That Will Make You Gag
The Disgusting Food Museum Was Made To Explore Taste
The Disgusting Food Museum's director Andreas Ahrens grew curious about the subject of gross food after he found huge success with his previous project, the Museum of Failure.
Noting how an exhibit could change the way people reacted to their dashed hopes and dreams, Ahrens wondered if uncovering the psychology behind why we believe certain foods are disgusting could alter people's perspective on taste. Thus, the museum was born.
Chef Gordon Ramsey and journalist James May eat bull penis and rotten shark.
For lead curator Dr. Samuel West, a psychologist and longtime collaborator of Ahren's, it was the cultural hypocrisy of meat consumption that drew him in. He was interested in probing people to ponder why they salivate over pork but recoil at sustainable protein options like insects.
"I want people to question what they find disgusting," said West.
Dr. Samuel West and Andreas Ahrens talk to AP about creating the Disgusting Food Museum.
In order to determine which foods were considered most "disgusting" and deserving of a spot in the museum, West and Ahren formed a panel that combed through 250 foods based on four imperative criteria: taste, smell, texture, and background. The latter regards how an animal is typically treated in the making of the dish.
For instance, pork had high marks in terms of taste, texture, and smell, but failed miserably regarding background. The horrors of factory farming became an essential factor for Ahrens in selecting which foods to display in his Disgusting Food Museum. Of course, he himself was initially biased against choosing pork.
"I had the same reaction when we were talking about my favorites like pork and beef," said Ahrens. "My initial reaction was that we can't put this in here. When we talked about it, it was obvious that we had to have it in the museum because of the factory farming and the environmental impact."
Screens within the museum display revolting footage of geese being force-fed to make foie gras and cobra hearts being beaten in Vietnam. There are also videos of fish being served and munched into while still flopping in Japan.
However, when it comes to the essence of disgusting food, things are a little more nuanced than animal cruelty.
What Makes A Food Disgusting?
Wikimedia CommonsA fertilized balut egg in traditional broth.
"Disgust is the result of a combination of biological and cultural factors," said Hakan Jonsson, a food anthropologist at Sweden's Lund University.
"And when it comes to food, it is most often impossible to define what is biology and what is culture. You can say that something is disgusting — but only from the individual's point of view."
In that case, it's no wonder why balut, a Southeast Asian delicacy consisting of an unhatched baby duck swimming in its embryonic fluids, was chosen by the museum's curators. Bull penis, meanwhile, doesn't need any explanation as to why it's made it into the exhibit, although every single dish on display has its defenders.
"It's interesting to see how everyone comes to the defense of their own food," said Ahrens. "People can't believe that we take their favorite foods and put them in the museum."
While Thailand's pungent durian fruit shocks unfamiliar museum-goers and the cooked Andean guinea pig dish cuy makes others hurl, American fast food staples like Twinkies, Pop-Tarts, and root beer have also made the cut.
"We shouldn't be so quick to judge the foods of other cultures as disgusting because our foods are just as disgusting when seen through the lens of another culture," said Ahrens.
Deutsche Welle reporter Axel Primavesi giving some of the most disgusting food a try.
Indeed, while an American might gag at balut, West and Ahren assert that Western culture has little right to harp on the rest of the world's culinary tastes.
"Our current meat production is terribly environmentally unsustainable, and we urgently need to start considering alternatives," added West. "But many people are disgusted by the idea of eating insects and skeptical about lab-grown meat... If we can change our notions of what food is disgusting or not, it could potentially help us transition to more sustainable protein sources."
A staff writer for All That’s Interesting, Marco Margaritoff has also published work at outlets including People, VICE, and Complex, covering everything from film to finance to technology. He holds dual bachelor's degrees from Pace University and a master's degree from New York University.