JUN 25, 2017 5:33 AM PDT

Why we like to eat "spoiled" food


Have you ever thought about how some of our favorite things to eat are foods that have technically gone bad? Chocolate, coffee, cheese, bread, and beer are all home to millions of tiny microbes who give these foods their special tastes. Now, don't worry, the microbes living in your morning coffee aren't harmful, on the contrary! Yet we tend to think of "spoiled" food as bad for you because the majority of it is dangerous to our health; that's why our ancestors developed genes to make us squeamish about rotten food. But yeast, the microbe that's responsible for making bread rise, and other "good" microbes can actually protect us from dangerous microbes by out-competing them in foods. That's what happens when we salt cure meats, like salami. By adding salt we're able to give a leg up to salt-loving microbes that can keep salt-sensitive microbes (like salmonella) out!

Another curious did-you-know fact is that some certain smelly microbial foods can grow on us, both literally and figuratively. In the figurative sense, the more we're exposed to certain smells caused by microbes, the more we tend to like them. Which is why it might take a while to really get in the kimchi groove or really crave prosciutto. Nevertheless, almost all cultures around the world use fermentation in cooking, whether it's in the form of soy sause, pickles, kefir, or kombucha or wine!
About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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