Bringing food to our nose before eating it is a habitual and irrepressible gesture. If we find it pleasant, its aroma encourages us to eat it, it tells us that it will be delicious. But if they smell bad we tend to discard them, they create rejection in us and even give us clues that they are bad and we should not take them. But for everything there are exceptions: with some foods that rule does not work at all, since their nauseating smell is not a bad sign… in fact, they are delicious.
«You cannot make a strict relationship between the smell and quality of the food. In some cases they smell good but are in bad condition, because there are bacteria that do not produce a stench, and they can also smell bad and be in perfect condition and be tasty and healthy. Others lose their unpleasant smell when cooked…”, summarizes the Food Safety technician and promoter of healthy cooking José Manuel Martínez.
Having clarified this point, throughout history a series of foods have become famous precisely for their stench. They have been made known by bloggers – such as ‘the pirate’s kitchen’, or ‘el mundoesunviaje’ –, who analyze dishes from different cultures and challenge you to try them. Would you dare? There are delicatessens and restaurants…
It is one of the most famous for its bad smell and a traditional preserve in Sweden that is made from herring. It is considered a delicacy in that Nordic country. Its smell is similar to that of rotten fish, which is why the cans are opened outdoors, never inside the houses. Of course, the herring is washed before being served. Its smell is so foul that it even attracts flies. Pasta made from fermented herring is also very popular in Sweden and competes with preserves in pestilence. If we take a look online, we will see that surströmming is the protagonist of many food tasting challenges.
A Masterchef program made it known by selecting this spice as one of the worst-smelling ingredients in the world for a test. It comes from the resin of a plant, widely used in Indian cuisine to flavor vegetables and legumes and make pickles. It is also known as ‘devil’s dung’. Food critic John O’Connell, author of ‘The Book of Spices’ (Ed. Debate), describes it: “It has a nauseating smell of brined eggs covered in manure.” In this definition there are coincidences: in France they call it ‘merde du Diable’ and in Portugal ‘esterco do Diablo’. Come on, it’s horrible, but once it’s cooked, it leaves a pleasant onion flavor.
Boiled duck eggs
They are a delicacy in Asia. They are fermented for weeks in a solution of clay, lime, jerky, rice hulls and black tea. Its smell is one of the most unpleasant in the world of cooking, between sulfur and ammonia. We should not confuse it with the smell of raw eggs in bad condition, when the sulfur in the egg is attacked by bacteria.
The intense smell of many cheeses – which consumers describe as smelling like feet – is a product of milk fermentation, a controlled and limited putrefaction process. The one from Cabrales has bluish veins due to the growth of the Penicillium fungus, which appears when the cheese is ripening, something that in Asturian tradition must always be done in the natural caves in the mountains. Its intense and pleasant flavor has nothing to do with its smell.
They are simple fermented soy beans but they are not suitable for all palates and ‘noses’. Natto, as healthy as it is stinky, is a typical Japanese breakfast that is increasingly served in Western restaurants. Its smell is reminiscent of ammonia and its appearance, with a viscous texture and brown color, turns anyone off. However, it has benefits for the cardiovascular system and prevents skin aging.
Jewel of Southeast Asian cuisine and used in smoothies and pastries, this fruit is said to be reminiscent of nutty and spicy flavors, but smells like rotten white onions. It is prohibited to travel on public transport with it due to the stench it gives off. Henri Mouhot, French naturalist, defined the stench as “the flesh of an animal in a state of putrefaction.” To others it reminds them of sewage. All this due to ethanethiol gas, which is produced when the fruit ripens.
Made with the cured meat of the basking shark or Greenland shark, it is a star of Icelandic cuisine. To cure it, the animal is washed and cut up, the internal organs and the head are removed and a hole is dug to bury it for months with stones – because of the stench it gives off. Unprepared it is toxic. Once cured to remove uric acid, hákarl gives off a strong ammonia smell similar to cleaning products.
And ‘overcooked’ potatoes and onions
They are two of the most pestilent odors that we can find in the kitchen: stale potatoes (which usually breed worms), and rotten onions. It is common that when we go on a trip we worry about emptying the refrigerator, but we forget these two foods, since they last a long time stored. «The intense and unpleasant smell of rotten potatoes is due to the formation of volatile compounds such as dimethyl sulfide (smells like rotten cabbage) or dimethyl trisulfide (intense odor, attracts flies), details the dietician and technologist of the Miguel Lurueña food.