Prof Travels Globe for Food Delicacies, Shares Adventures in Book

March 10, 2010 - News Release

Putrefied shark, mite-infested cheese and a drink brewed from corn that is chewed before fermentation may not sound like an appetizing meal, but food scientist Massimo Marcone says these bizarre eatables are viewed as delicacies in certain parts of the world.

The University of Guelph professor travelled the globe in search of the gourmet, and often grotesque, dishes that are highly sought-after by different cultures. His purpose was to investigate the science behind their unique tastes.

Dubbed the Indiana Jones of food science, Marcone has captured his adventures in a new book, Acquired Tastes: On the Trail of the World’s Most Sought-After Delicacies, published by Key Porter Books.

“Exotic foods are the hook that gets the readers’ attention and the vehicle I use to teach people about the science behind the foods they eat.”

Marcone's new book has captured the attention of media. The food scientist appeared on CTV's Canada AM this morning and will be appearing on Citytv's Breakfast Television on the morning of March 16. His book was also featured in the Toronto Star last month.

Driven by his fascination for how delicacies are acquired, Marcone hiked into the Amazon jungle in search of a group of Brazilian Indians known to make a special drink called chicha. This delicacy is made by chewing corn and then spitting the mush into a fermentation pot.

“This was a trip that required special government approval,” said Marcone. “I think I can safely say that I am the only food scientist who has ventured into the Amazon jungle to study what people eat and then analyze their diet.”

The adventure doesn’t stop there. He trekked through China to study Chon cha, the rarest and most bizarre luxury tea in the world. This exotic drink requires that the tea leaves be digested by night moth larvae and excreted before brewed.

He visited France and Germany to investigate highly sought-after cheeses with a unique taste attributed to a ripening process that involves mites poking holes in the surface. Marcone found that the grey powder on French Mimolette cheese and German Milbenkase cheese consists of mites dead and alive, plus their eggs, moulted skin and feces.

He also travelled to Italy, Norway and Iceland to study other rare, but perhaps less strange, foods such as saffron, truffles and putrefied shark.

“Exotic foods nourish the body as all foods do but, more importantly, they nourish the mind through the stories that come with them,” he said. “Most foods we eat today have been stripped of their stories, and we have lost that connection with what we eat. I hope I can help reconnect people with the stories behind our food.”

Prof. Massimo Marcone
Department of Food Science
519-824-4120, Ext. 58334

For media questions, Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, Ext. 53338, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982,

University of Guelph
50 Stone Road East
Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1