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Twinkies, Jell-O and root beer deemed 'world's most disgusting' foods — here's why

Fruit bat, fermented herring … and some Twinkies for dessert, please.
Disgusting Museum
Courtesy of Anja Barte Telin
/ Source: TODAY

To some, maggot-filled cheese and fermented shark are absolutely delicious.

But a Twinkie? Yuck!

Challenging personal taste is the big idea behind a new project called the Disgusting Food Museum in Malmö, Sweden. The museum, which is set to open Oct. 31, will display 80 of the world's most "disgusting" foods — and they're all from different cultures around the world.

Casu marzu, a maggot-filled cheese from Sardinia, Italy.
Casu marzu, a maggot-filled cheese from Sardinia, Italy.Anja Barte Telin / Disgusting Food Museum

"We like the foods we have grown up with. Disgust is highly individual," museum director Andreas Ahrens, whose favorite exhibit is the casu marzu, a sheep's milk cheese that contains living insect larvae, told TODAY Food via an emailed statement. That particular dish usually needs to be eaten with one's eyes closed so the fly larvae don't jump into them.

"The thought of eating a spider makes some people hungry but makes others want to vomit ... the presentation is also part of that context," he added. "Now that some of the world's best chefs are experimenting with insects on their menus, eating insects may go from 'yuck' to fine dining."

Foods on display include fermented herring called Surströmming from Sweden, Peruvian roasted guinea pigs, a Chinese wine filled with mice bodies, fruit bat and Icelandic shark — the last of which the museum's curator, Samuel West, said smells like "death and ammonia."


Fruit bat is a popular ingredient in Guam savored in a delicious fruit bat soup.
Fruit bat is a popular ingredient in Guam savored in a delicious fruit bat soup.Anja Barte Telin

There is also a section entirely devoted to stinky cheese that's been deemed "The Altar of Stinky Cheese."

Among these foods that may seem unusual to most Western diets are popular American delicacies, too.

Foods representing the country's grossest bites and beverages include Twinkies, root beer, caviar, Spam, Pop-Tarts and Jell-O salad.

"While I personally love Twinkies," West told TODAY Food, "they are included in the exhibit, along with Pop-Tarts, to represent American junk food. Many Europeans are disgusted by the artificial high sugar and fat junk foods of the U.S.A., while seemingly unaware that similar foods are popular in their country."

West told TODAY Food that root beer made the list because it's common for Swedes to say it tastes like toothpaste!

Already, some individuals have found the museum offensive citing its fetishizing of otherness.

On Twitter, one person called the exhibit "utterly racist."

Others figured the name was "tongue in cheek," to which the museum replied in a tweet: "Yes, it sure is."

West told TODAY that he thinks those detractors probably judged the exhibit without reading why the museum exists or taking a closer look into how many different types of foods are included.

"There is no reason for anyone to be offended. We include foods from just about everywhere, and treat all cultures and preferences with the same respect. The big food nations are well represented, for example China, France, Peru," West told TODAY Food. "There is a very fine line between disgust and deliciousness — some of the most exquisite foods are also considered by many to be disgusting."

Ultimately, West would like the "simple, fun exhibit" to help show people that it's possible to shift what we perceive as disgusting and transition to eating "more sustainable" protein sources.

After all, insects certainly have a nice, protein-rich crunch!