When it comes to animal byproducts, one man’s trash truly is another man’s treasure.
1. Snail Caviar
Price Tag: $139.00 per 75-gram jar
Pair With: Beets, black pudding, and beef.
Free-range “happy snails” at the Aylesbury Escargots outdoor Snail Park go where they like, enjoying daily sprinkler showers and a diet of fresh leaves and biscuits. Come mating time, the hermaphroditic snails pair up, swap sperm, and lay about 100 tiny, pearly eggs each. Snail farmer Sophie Wharton then collects, sorts, and cleans the eggs by hand. The Escargot Pearls, as the Whartons call them, have a “slightly earthy, ferny taste.”
2. Elephant Poop Coffee
Price Tag: $50.00 per cup
Pair With: Chocolate, carrot cake, and raisins.
Some people look at a pile of elephant dung and see a pile of elephant dung. The folks at the Black Ivory Coffee Company see a fortune. Building on the well-established and super-gross model of civet poop coffee, Black Ivory coffee is “naturally refined” in the digestive tracts of rescued elephants in Thailand. According to Black Ivory developer Blake Dinkin, the elephants’ digestive processes break down the proteins that make coffee so bitter, and the fermentation in their stomachs imparts “flavors you wouldn’t get in other coffee.” No kidding.
3. Fish Sperm
The culinary term for fish sperm sacs is “milt.” In Japan, this delicacy is known as shirako, or “white children”—a pretty poetic euphemism for something kinda gross. Shirako is eaten for its creamy, custard-like consistency, its light, delicate taste, and its supposed powers as an aphrodisiac.
Most shirako comes from cod, anglerfish, or salmon, and is pretty inexpensive. Then there’s fugu no shirako, the milt from the ridiculously deadly pufferfish. Chefs have to undergo a rigorous training and certification program to even prepare fugu, and even then, accidents happen. Safely serving fugu shirako is a tricky job, which means that even finding a chef who will serve you “white children” is incredibly rare and very expensive.
4. Donkey Cheese
Price Tag: $1000.00 per pound
Best Served: Alone, in thin slices.
High in the mountains of Serbia, deep in the Zasavica nature reserve, 100 endangered Balkan donkeys and a few humans are hard at work making the most expensive cheese in the world. The jennies (female donkeys) are milked by hand three times a day, because, astonishingly, there is no such thing as a donkey-milking machine. It’s hardly an efficient process: From three gallons of hard-won donkey milk, the cheesemakers will get about a pound of pule, or smoked donkey cheese.
Pule’s appeal is due in part to its rarity, in part to its reputation as a superfood, and in part to national pride. In 2012, claims surfaced that tennis superstar Novak Djokovic had purchased the entire world supply of pule for his chain of restaurants. The story was later debunked, but Djokovic was inspired. “As I understand it,” he told the press, “it is incredible quality. I have not tried it yet, but I am looking forward to it."
5. Sea Urchin Gonads
They’re eaten all around the world. At the sushi bar, they’re called uni, which is usually translated as “sea urchin roe.” This is not quite accurate. Uni’s vibrant saffron color and rich, creamy texture belong not to the urchin’s eggs, but to its gonads. And what magical ‘nads they are.
Some diners are repulsed by the urchin’s smooshiness. For many others, a mouthful of sea urchin junk is a ticket to bliss-town. Texture and flavor can only claim part of the credit: Urchin gonads also naturally contain the euphoria-producing cannabinoid anandamide.