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    Friday, 2 December 2016

    Blood, Brains & Bugs on the Menu at the Nordic Food Lab

    How would you feel about embracing your inner zombie and chowing down on a nice warm bowl of brains? That’s exactly what researchers at the Nordic Food Lab want you to do, along with some decidedly unappealing options including insects, blood and, if one keen member in particular gets his wish, faeces.

    A Roe Deer's brain, just one of many unconventional foodstuffs used at the lab   - Img source: Roberto Flore
    The Nordic Food Lab was founded by Michelin-starred chef René Redzepi and culinary entrepreneur Claus Mayer in 2008, setting up shop aboard a boat in the Danish Capital of Copenhagen. Describing themselves as ‘a non-profit, open-source organisation that investigates food diversity and deliciousness’, the lab team focuses their efforts on creating healthy and, perhaps most importantly, sustainable food sources for the future.

    Eight years on from their humble beginnings, the Nordic Food Lab has since moved base to a laboratory at the University of Copenhagen, and continues to push the boundaries of what we consider to be food. Roberto Flore, Head of Culinary Research and Development at the lab, argues that cultural aversion and a disconnection from manufacturing processes are the biggest hurdles they face:

    “Embracing other cultures is one of our main aims. Recognising other cultures and someone else’s values teaches us something and changes our approach to food. We are living now in an international system and we should really recognise ourselves as world citizens.

    “We try to work with every type of produce. Insects, blood, jelly fish, fermented products that sometimes smell and develop mould, and the products look rotten. It’s about giving people more confidence with different produce and reconnecting with process of producing food.

    “One of the main problems with sustainability is we are completely disconnected to food, we don’t know how it is produced or to how handle certain products. That is a huge problem, and we risk losing knowledge collected over thousands of years in the next few decades. It’s important for us to document this knowledge and make it available to the world.” 

    Img source: Nordic Food Lab
    In truth, the consumption of blood is nothing new. Whether it be for nutritional or ceremonial purposes, countless cultures throughout history have engaged in the practice (although it should be noted that the literal consumption of blood is forbidden by some cultures, such as Abrahamic religions); even here in the UK we have black pudding, a surprisingly popular dish made from blood and filler grains. It is a similar situation with insects and animal brains, both of which are considered to be delicacies in many parts of the world.

    The main use of blood in recipes created by the Nordic Food Lab has it serving as an egg substitute due to its coagulating properties. Considering the fact that egg intolerance is one of the major food allergies affecting European children, finding a viable alternative is important. Recipes created by the lab include; sourdough-blood pancakes, blood ice cream, blood meringues, and ‘chocolate’ blood sponge cake.

    Black Forest becomes Blood Forest in this interesting take on the classic cake  - Img source: Nordic Food Lab
    At this point I feel I must address something I mentioned in the opening paragraph to this article; the theorised consumption of faeces. This stems from an article in Munchies, in which one member of the lab argued that faecal matter should be considered as a food source. It is common practice in the animal kingdom, where young animals including elephants, hippos, koalas and rabbits have all been known to eat their mother’s faeces in order to introduce useful microbes into their digestive system. In terms of human diets, it is fairly well known that caterpillar faeces is used to flavour rice in Japan, and the world’s most expensive coffee, kopi luwak, has already taken a trip down the digestive tract of an Asian palm civet.

    The lab’s current line of research, you will be glad to hear, is stepping away from faeces- and blood-based recipes, instead looking at ways to make edible insects, including everything from ants to grasshoppers, somewhat more appealing to those not accustomed to eating such foods. Apparently, simply covering everything in chocolate isn’t quite working…

    Sam Bonson

    Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor in an attempt to expand his horizons.
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