Weird food science

From how to make a pickle glow to why we break wind, the internet is awash with the science behind food.

When you think about it, we’re all mucking about with scientific principles whenever we cook. Simply frying an egg creates the most extraordinary series of chemical changes as egg proteins unfold and shift from their frogspawn-like clumps into a tangled mesh. You may simply see an egg turning white, but you’re playing with chemistry, physics and pan thermodynamics there, Sonny Jim.

Here I present a few of my favourite weird and (sometimes) wonderful food research projects, facts and oddities.

Interesting foods and flavours

The Worst Food in the World

I won’t beat about the bush: a lot of scrofulous old tat masquerading as food has passed my lips. You see, I’m happy to taste pretty much anything whether rotten, radioactive or simply unlikely. You may think that this is an unwise way to live your life, but I honestly relish the adventure of tasting something new and unusual - mainly because I have dedicated my life to discovering the next potato. Not literally the next potato, you understand – I believe they sell them down Tesco’s – but rather the next foodstuff that might support generations of people to come. I’m fascinated by the fact that when the potato first arrived in Europe it was viewed with great suspicion, but that some nutter persevered with it, and since then it has sustained billions of lives. I’d like to be that potato-discovering nutter, and that’s why I will taste anything – just in case it turns out to be the next potato. Or the next pasta. Or the next Wotsit, for that matter. Who knows what culinary revelations await the curious?

In my experience the worst foods on earth fall into several categories, and I’d like to share this important knowledge with you:

Badly named recipes
This is by far the most amusing category of ‘orrible food. Often the meal is pretty decent, but its name (lost in the murk of etymological dead-ends) makes it sounds repulsive: cow heel pie; bacon and cow heel pudding (actually, this one tastes pretty grim too); fitless cock (an oatmeal pudding made chicken-shaped); the dean’s cream (a sponge fool); wet nelly (suet roly-poly made with stale bread); slot (cod roe dumplings); Pope's posset (someone told me that this sounds a little gynaecological, but as female Popes are few and far between, I’m not sure I agree), clapshot (a delicious mash of potatoes and turnips).

Horrifying foods
These are foods that I often enjoy, but which I accept that others find bizarre or offensive (by the way, there’s a fair amount of video around of me eating these, much of it mildly amusing): yak’s penis, cane rat, palm weevils, radioactive soup, human cake, lambs’ testicles, fish bladders, desiccated frog tea and silk worm pupae…

Disgusting-tasting foods
Much as I love the adventure of ANY mouthful, I’d be obtuse if I didn’t acknowledge that sometimes the odd mouthful is horrendous - such as surströmming (Swedish rotten herring), liquorice (how you people can eat that filth, I don’t know), igunak (rotten walrus) and deer penis juice (that is, deer penis steeped in rice liquor).

Bad recipes
These are foods that often contain decent ingredients yet have been so badly and blindly constructed that they have been rendered disastrous in combination. Hasty pudding is THE WORST RECIPE EVER – made of all the odds and ends of starchy foods and stale rubbish swept from the bottom of your cupboards. I’ve tried to make this taste good and it’s impossible. I served it once to my friend Ewan, and he pronounced it ******* *********. He’s right.

Hopeful combinations
I accept that the path to culinary greatness is fraught with the corpses of recipes that have flown too close to the sun and cooks who have mixed their metaphors as badly as their ingredients. The following DO NOT WORK. I have tried them so you don’t have to: chocolate-covered olives (which is odd, seeing as chocolate-covered gherkins are actually pretty good), fizzy milk (as in milk with carbon dioxide added using a Sodastream), and garlic and corned beef ice cream.

This is simply rubbish food made gruesome by laziness, ineptitude, economic greed and ignorance. You know the offenders: flabby pizzas that are basically snotty melted cheese on toast, tasteless burgers containing onions fried too quickly, under-crusted bread, cold pasta salads, over-grilled fish, and above all green peppers. I know that they are the cornerstone of Creole cuisine but, like exclamation marks and herpes, no-one ever thanks you for giving them a green pepper.