Weird Ingredients

News: You're Eating Mold & You Don't Even Know It

Koji is a culture made up of a certain fungus (mold) called Aspergillus oryzae, which has been used to ferment rice and soybeans in Japanese, Chinese, and Korean kitchens for centuries. Koji can actually have other involved fungi, but Aspergillus oryzae is the most common, and therefore the names can be used interchangeably. Its end purpose is to enhance the flavor of items like soy sauce, sake, and miso.

Weird Ingredient Wednesday: The Banana Flower

Flowers may be beautiful, but they're not usually appetizing. Sure, nasturtiums are hip in fancy restaurants, but they're primarily used as a garnish. Granted, fried squash blossoms are incredible, but the point remains: flowers are usually reserved for looking at, not masticating.

News: The Fantastical, Flavorful Fiddlehead Fern

Fiddlehead ferns look like something from Alice in Wonderland, or something that you might see when you close your eyes while listening to Pink Floyd and enjoying some herbal refreshment. What they don't look like is a tasty vegetable that's perfect for any spring or summer dish. Yet that is exactly what these bizarre spirals are. What Are They?

Weird Ingredient Wednesday: Wrap Food with Caul Fat Instead of Bacon

There are tons of greasy drippings that can be used to flavor up any dish, but none will ever be more delicious than animal fat. The bigger and fatter the animal, the juicier and tastier their fat is. For those of you who have had your fill of bacon-anything, here's your next obsession. It's called caul and its very existence will divide those that are serious about their animal fat flavoring from the pretenders.

News: The Buzz on Bee Pollen Benefits

While honey is one of the most popular ingredients on kitchen shelves the world over, honeybee pollen is still a relatively rare find in most households. It's not hard to guess why: eating pollen just sounds weird... it would probably sell a lot better if it had a more appetizing name, like honey. Furthermore, it looks unlike any other common ingredient, and the smell can be off-putting to some. But it's good, it's healthy, and it's altogether pretty awesome!

Weird Ingredient Wednesday: Zucchini Blossoms

Those ordinary green zucchini you see in the market are hiding a lovely, delicious secret: Actually, all summer squashes produce these delightful blooms, but the zucchini's are most frequently used for eating since they taste the best: fresh, clean, and zucchini-like, but with a little something extra. They used to be a rarity at supermarkets, so you had to have a garden or a gardener friend who would generously share the bounty with you.

News: This Cauliflower Is Fractal-ly Delicious

One of the best things about talking to other people who love food is that they point you to weirdly beautiful ingredients, like this: No, that's not an escapee from Middle Earth you're seeing. It's one of Mother Nature's best attempts at making fractals come alive into a golden spiral: the Romanesco (sometimes called fractal broccoli, broccoflower, or Romanesque cauliflower). Here's another view: So Just What Is It & What Does It Taste Like?

News: Fish Sauce—The Ultimate Umami Bomb

I grew up eating Korean, Japanese, and Chinese food, but it wasn't until college that I experienced Thai and Vietnamese cooking. Once I started, I couldn't get enough of these cuisines. The dishes had an incredible richness and savor that I couldn't identify, but whatever it was, it made me want to keep eating.

Weird Ingredient Wednesday: The Mushroom That Tastes Like Candy

Mushrooms are glorious: they're nutritional powerhouses, add meaty savor to just about any dish, and are cheap and plentiful (mostly). But just when you thought you knew best how to use edible fungi (in gravies, as portobello burgers, stewed and served over pasta, just to name a few uses), you learn something new: there's a mushroom out there that tastes like maple syrup. Yep, maple syrup.

News: How Chemistry Creates the Ultimate Cheese Dip

I have a weird fondness for the texture, if not the taste of Velveeta (and Kraft American cheese slices). No other cheese has quite the same amount of slip or smoothness and manages to stay that way, undoubtedly because Velveeta contains sodium alginate, an algae derivative that helps it stay so silky-smooth even as it heats up. It also contains a high level of protein-to-fat ratios, which is what makes it a champion melter.

Weird Ingredient Wednesday: Durian Stinks Like Hell but Tastes Heavenly

I've known eaters who will fearlessly bite into the hottest peppers, but even they have quailed before durian, the fruit that hails from Southeast Asia and whose smell has been compared to garbage, rotting flesh, and the bathroom post-use. However, this hefty globe with its spiny, prickly outer covering isn't called "the king of fruits" for nothing. According to its many fans, its stench does not correlate to its taste, which has been described in extremely flattering terms. Monica Tan of The...

Weird Ingredient Wednesday: Cook with Lapsang Souchong Tea

Like cigars and whiskey, Lapsang Souchong tea is an acquired taste. Some people never get over the pungent, tarry flavor and intense smell of the beverage, but using it as a rub, marinade, or other seasoning is totally smart. The tea adds a smoky yet not overwhelming flavor to dishes of all kinds. With it, you can easily get barbecue-like results for meats and vegetables, all without breaking out the grill. Lapsang Souchong tea smells like a dry campfire and tastes like a smoked sausage cooke...

News: The Many Wonders of Black Garlic

Garlic: almost every cuisine in the world considers it a staple, and for good reason. Its pungent flavor gives depth and character to food. Dishes made without it seem bland and forgettable. And on top of all that, it's been studied for its potential anti-cancer properties (and don't forget: it's been mythologized for warding off vampires).

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