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In Bad Taste?: The Adventures and Science Behind Food Delicacies

by Massimo Francesco Marcone

If ever there were an Ace Ventura: Food Detective, it would be University of Guelph food scientist Massimo Marcone, who has, in this compact book, collected some of his globetrotting adventures in search of some of the more eccentric high-priced food delicacies.

About a quarter of the book is dedicated to tracking the origin of Kopi Luwak, the world’s rarest and, as you might expect, most expensive coffee, made from beans that have been extracted from the feces of the civet, a catlike creature found in the wild. Marcone travels to the rainforests of Indonesia to poke around in various dung piles looking for Kopi Luwak and does the same in Ethiopia, looking for a suitable cheaper alternative.

Other delicacies being chased include bird’s nest soup, Moroccan argan oil (from the “nuts” found in the feces of tree-climbing goats), Casu Frazigu (maggot-filled Italian cheese), and escamoles, a “caviar” made from the pupae of Mexican fire ants.

Marcone brings a lightness and humour to the proceedings, relating tense encounters with officious bureaucrats and sublime moments of communal meals with local villagers. He also brings science to bear on his food samples to suss out their chemical and nutritional composition.

The more interesting questions are cultural, however, and while Marcone touches on these points, he does so only superficially. He chooses not to sink his teeth into the discussion of whether, with the United Nations telling us that a quarter of the world lives on less than two dollars a day, some of our gastronomical pleasures aren’t just another form of competitive consumerism. Food for thought.