- Bartender, pour us a tall glass of “how about no”, thank you.
When most people think of museums, they think of places of art and culture. Museums are where you go to see famous paintings and sculptures, or maybe interesting trinkets from human history.
But then there are more off-beat museums that also draw a crowd. For example, in Tallinn, Estonia, you can visit the Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments, while in Iceland they have the Icelandic Phallological Museum that exhibits…
Well, phalluses. Penises. They have more than 200 dongs on display.
In this weirder bunch of museums is also the Disgusting Food Museum in Malmö, Sweden. Since 2018, the museum has done exactly what it promises – displaying puke-worthy foods from all over the world.
Of course, what people consider “disgusting food” depends completely on cultural context. What others find nauseating is a great delicacy in other parts of the world.
Case in point, this author is originally from Finland. When I offered my wife a taste of salmiakki – a famous Finnish salty licorice – she quickly spat it out and has refused to try it again since. I think it’s delicious.
It’s these differences in the human culinary experience that the museum’s co-founder and director Andreas Ahrens wants to highlight. He is fascinated by how things we find distasteful can vary so much between people.
“There is a purpose for disgust. It is a universal emotion that exists to warn us of potentially dangerous, poisonous foods,” Ahrens told LiveScience in 2018.
Of course, that’s not exactly how it works in reality. Many “gross” foods are perfectly edible. You just might not be used to them.
“I want people to leave the Disgusting Food Museum with a more open mind. Disgust is culturally conditioned,” said the museum’s other co-founder Dr Samuel West.
Tradition and Experimentation
The museum’s exploration of disgust is continuing this year. In the beginning of September, the managing duo launched a new exhibit focusing on alcoholic drinks.
“We have found the strangest, most interesting and challenging alcohol types from the world,” Ahrens said.
“Some of the exhibited alcohols showcase different types of homemade alcohols going back thousands of years, while others are experimental, made by local brewers.”
Most of the displayed brews are consumed on a regular basis somewhere in the world. Some are special cases, but for the most part Ahrens wants to showcase the depths we’re ready to dive for that sweet, sweet buzz.
One highlight of the exhibit is the Icelandic whale testicle beer. The manufacturer, Brewery Steðji, says the testicles are cured and smoked according to an old traditional recipe.
While a good portion of the drinks are gross because of what’s in them, some are revolting for their presentation. For example, the exhibition houses a bottle of the Scottish End of History beer.
The End of History has an alcohol content of 55% ABV and is touted as the strongest beer in the world, but that’s not all that weird. But if we told you that it’s served inside a dead squirrel?
That’s right, the beer bottle is snugly tucked into a taxidermy squirrel corpse. Don’t click that link if you don’t want to see a dead squirrel. Seriously, that’s what it is.
But the pièce de résistance, the crème de la crème, is a Korean wine that was in ages past used as a folk remedy for bruises and broken bones. It’s made out of rice and… Can you guess the secret ingredient?
It’s poop. Human poop, to be precise. Talk about a crappy concoction.
Why Do We Drink?
There are many more drinks on exhibit, from Peruvian spit-fermented corn beer to a good old-fashioned toilet-produced prison booze. Another display explores what happens when people can’t get alcohol, like how Soviet citizens started drinking varnish when the state cracked down on alcohol abuse.
Apart from the sense of disgust, this exhibit was brought on by Ahrens’ interest in the reasons that make people drink. In an interview with Associated Press, Ahrens said that the exhibit is intended to get people to re-evaluate their relationship with alcohol and consider the extremes we’re ready to go to get sauced.
“People are very desperate to get drunk around the world, so whenever we find ourselves in a situation where there is no alcohol, we get quite inventive. We’ve been doing this for millennia,” Ahrens explained.
Many alcoholic beverages around the world require what people call “acquired taste”. It’s this phrase that made Ahrens ask the question: why do we force ourselves to get used to something we don’t like just so we can drink it more easily?
We don’t know. Probably neither does Ahrens. But with the alcohol exhibition, he wants to get more people to ask that question themselves.
Would you be ready to have a frothy mug of whale ball beer, or a nice glass of crap wine? Have you maybe had the questionable pleasure of tasting one of the exhibit’s drinks? Let us know in the comments!