While eating human flesh may be the ultimate taboo, human microbes, saliva, and even hair have been integral to the making of certain food and beverages. From traditional brews to culinary concept art, here are seven edibles that started, in part, inside the human body.
Top image from the microbe-themed anime Moyashimon.
The use of human saliva in fermentation actually predates the advent of rice farming in Japan. During the Jōmon period, folks would chew starchy foods like acorns, millet, and buckwheat to create fermentation starters.
The amylase enzymes in human saliva breaks down the complex sugars in these foods, after which wild yeasts could feed on the sugars and convert them into alcohol. With the introduction of wet rice farming came the earliest forms of sake; the brewer would have someone (preferably a female virgin, according to some sources) chew a few mouthfuls of rice and spit them into a larger vat of rice and leave the mixture to ferment into kuchikami-zake, “mouth-chewed sake.”
However, by the time the Imperial brewing department was established in the city of Nara in the late 7th century, other methods of sake brewing had risen to prominence, making kuchikami sake largely a thing of the past.
Chicha: Much like sake, the largely maize-derived beverages known as chicha can be prepared by first germinating the starches or chewing them to break down the complex sugars into maltose. Chicha also goes back millennia; in the Inca Empire, women who served the cloistered Aqlla Wasi (“House of the Chosen Women”) learned to brew chicha for rituals.
The beverage is still brewed in parts of modern Central and South America, and in some places, human saliva is still an integral part of the process. Another traditional chicha-like beverage is called nihamanchi and is prepared by chewing and fermenting manioc tubers.
Breast Milk Dairy Products:
Of course, there is one complete food that some humans produce straight from their own bodies: breast milk. Breast milk provides all of the nutrition a growing human needs, and it may be possible even for adult humans to survive entirely on a diet of the stuff. And recently, some culinary adventurers have been experimenting with making foodstuffs from human milk the same way we typically make them from cow, sheep, and goat’s milk.
In 2011, a London ice cream shop known as The Icecreamists made a human milk ice cream called “Baby Gaga.” (The first batch sold out in a few days at £14 per serving.) Manhattan chef Daniel Angerer incurred the wrath of the New York Health Department in 2010 after serving cheese made from his wife’s breast milk at his Klee Brasserie. And in 2011, Miriam Simun launched the Lady Cheese Shop, a temporary art installation at a New York gallery where she invited patrons to taste various breast milk cheeses.
Plus, nursing mothers have experimented with breast milk recipes in the privacy of their own homes. Earlier this year, Inhabitots rounded up ten breast milk recipes, from Your Milk Yogurt to Breast Milk Butter to Lactation Lasagna.
Human Microbe Cheese:
You can contribute to the making of cheese even if you don’t lactate. Biologist Christina Agapakis recently teamed up with odor artist Sissel Tolaas to craft 11 cheeses cultured using human microbes.
They swabbed between toes, inside mouths, and even in food writer Michael Pollan’s bellybutton to create cheeses that are the antithesis of the antiseptic foods so common in Western cuisine. However, the emphasis of the project was on the odor, rather than the flavor, of the resulting cheeses.
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