A Stinky Proposition

Surströmming, a type of pickled Swedish fish, has come under some scrutiny lately. The Wall Street Journal reports that the EU has tried to ban the delicacy, claiming it may be poisonous. It is apparently so off-putting that there are countless YouTube videos of people just trying to eat it.

Advocates of Surströmming, however, have begun a campaign to give the dish a type of national recognition—placing it on the same level as champagne or caviar. The Swedes claim that this fermented, briny concoction is simply misunderstood (and besides the fact that it may be poisonous), it deserves a second look from culinarians who may have snubbed their noses at it before.

Sweden may have a point, however, as certain national gastronomical standbys were surely considered outrageous by outsiders in the past. (Even Europeans thought the humble tomato was poisonous up until a few centuries ago.) So here are some offerings that now seem so normal to our educated palettes. Maybe Surströmming will join their ranks shortly.

Blue Cheese

Blue cheeses, such as Roquefort and Gorgonzola, are considered prime hunks of dairy nowadays. Many people know that the “blue” component is mold, but many a mother has claimed that it is a different kind of mold than that grows on old bread. Surprisingly, that is not the case. Mark Kurlansky outlines the original method for making Roquefort back in the days of Charlemagne. According to Kurlansky, farmers would place bread in caves along with the aging cheese, until it got moldy, and then proceed to grate the mold directly into the immature cheese. Yum.

Stinky Tofu

This Chinese and Taiwanese specialty famously defeated Andrew Zimmern on Bizarre Foods. It’s made by soaking tofu in a variety of fermented mixtures—things like sour milk and dried shrimp. However, many people don’t find the “stink” too offensive, as it’s one of the most popular street foods in Hong Kong, and can be found in variations in many Chinese restaurants in the States.


This Korean staple of spicy fermented cabbage is traditionally eaten as a side dish with nearly every meal. While it is Korea’s national dish, kimchi’s spicy flavor came from the new world import of red chili. It is so popular that there is actually a Kimchi Museum in South Korea.


Coming from Indonesia (but gaining popularity all over the world in recent years), this fermented packed soybean cake sounds a lot like tofu. However, because it retains the contents of the entire bean, Tempeh has some astounding nutritional information. It contains vitamin B12, manganese, phosphorus, and outrageous amounts of protein—pretty impressive for some tightly packed fermented beans.