food

Forbidden food: unusual outlawed eats from around the world

food, forbidden food: unusual outlawed eats from around the world

Forbidden foods

Some foods are more controversial than you might expect. From candy to kebabs, these are just a few of the unusual products, ingredients and drinks that have been banned or restricted over the years and the stories behind them.

food, forbidden food: unusual outlawed eats from around the world

Raw almonds

‘Raw almonds’ in the US are, in fact, not actually raw – instead, they’re pasteurized. It’s illegal to sell truly raw almonds as they’re thought to carry a risk of salmonella, which can cause fever, diarrhoea and abdominal cramps. Happily, the way they’re treated – usually through steaming or roasting – doesn’t affect the taste.

a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables on display

Jello candy

Candies containing a gelling agent called konjac are banned in the European Union, Australia and numerous other countries, as their texture is thought to make them a choking hazard, especially for children. The most commonly banned konjac-containing products are miniature jello cups with peel-off lids.

a plastic container

Chewing gum

The Singaporean government took keeping the streets clean to a new level when it decided to ban chewing gum in 1992. The only exception – brought in through changes to the law in 2004 – is “therapeutic” gum (including nicotine gum or gum prescribed for medical purposes), which can be found in pharmacies.

a wooden table topped with different types of food

Poppy seeds

Chewing gum isn’t the only food that can land you in hot water in Singapore. While poppy seeds are unlikely to get you high, they can contain traces of opiates and as such are classified as prohibited goods by the country’s Central Narcotics Bureau. You can import them, but only once they’ve been cleared by the country’s Health Sciences Authority.

a close up of a fruit tree

Durian fruit

This unique fruit is much-loved across Southeast Asia and eaten on a regular basis, despite its incredible smell. The odor has been described as everything from rotting onions or gym socks to sewage or decaying flesh – and it lingers. So much so that an Australian university was evacuated due to the smell of the pungent fruit in 2019, since it was mistaken for a gas leak. It’s no surprise, then, that the fruit has been banned in some public spaces and on public transport in countries including Singapore.

a close up of a person holding a sandwich in his hand

Kebabs

In an effort to celebrate Italy’s rich food culture, Verona’s government imposed a controversial ruling that food sold in the UNESCO-listed city should be authentically Italian – that means the opening of new kebab shops and other similar fast-food joints was banned. Other Italian cities, including Venice, have since introduced similar rules too.

a cup of coffee on a table

Ketchup

Ketchup has been at the center of food controversy for years. France once banned it from elementary school meals, while several restaurants across the country have made headlines for forbidding it on their premises. Perhaps the highest profile international ruckus, however, was when Israel banned Heinz from selling “ketchup” because its recipe didn’t contain enough tomatoes.

a sandwich sitting on top of a wooden table

Foie gras

The production of French delicacy foie gras, made from the fatty livers of ducks and geese, is widely criticized. The birds are force fed via a metal tube until their liver has enlarged to up to 10 times its usual size. Several countries have banned production, and in some cases imports of the product, due to concerns over animal cruelty.

a person cooking food in a pan

Raw milk

Raw or unpasteurized milk might be widely consumed in Europe, with proponents raving about its richer taste, but it’s banned in more than 20 US states and in Canada. Why? Unpasteurized dairy products can spread listeria, salmonella, E.coli and campylobacter.

a slice of cake on a plate

Fugu

The poisonous blowfish fugu is considered a delicacy in Japan and Korea – but eating it has been compared to playing Russian roulette. Fugu contains a dangerous neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin and unless the fish is prepared correctly it can cause death by paralyzing the muscles leading to asphyxiation. It’s banned in Europe and for a long time could only be prepared by specially licensed chefs in Japan.

a close up of food

Casu marzu

A traditional Sardinian delicacy, casu marzu translates to “rotten cheese”, and is prepared by injecting fly larvae inside Pecorino cheese. The larvae digest the cheese, bringing it to a new level of fermentation. Most of the time it’s eaten with larvae still inside, which is dangerous. Gastric acid does not destroy the larvae, which can end up in the intestines, attacking the organs. Despite its roots, the smelly and dangerous dish is banned in the European Union, as well as in the USA.

food, forbidden food: unusual outlawed eats from around the world

Kinder Surprise eggs

Don’t worry, there aren’t any dangerous ingredients in Kinder chocolate – the reason this popular sweet treat is banned in the US is because the placement of the toy inside the chocolate egg is considered dangerous. A non-edible object inside an edible one is classed as a choking hazard by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). An alternative product, Kinder Joy, which is considered safer, is now available, however.

a bowl of water

Absinthe

The so-called “green fairy” might have inspired many artists, poets and writers, but for years it was outlawed in the USA. For a long time it was thought that the chemical thujone, derived from the wormwood used to infuse the spirit, had highly hallucinogenic properties. It turns out these mind-altering effects were most likely over-estimated and, as such, regulations on absinthe have been revised. Still only absinthe that contains less than 10 parts per million of thujone is now legal, and this is closely controlled.

a glass of wine sitting on top of a wooden table

Caviar

With the Beluga sturgeon now critically endangered, the sale of its roe – more commonly known as Beluga caviar – has been made illegal in some countries. The US banned all imports in 2005 but has since slightly relaxed the rules, allowing caviar from farmed sturgeon and those caught within strict fishing quotas now in place in the Caspian Sea.

a plate of food on a table

Haggis

If you want an authentic taste of the national dish of Scotland, your best bet might be to visit the country itself. While variants abound, true haggis contains pluck (the liver, lungs and heart of a sheep) ground and mixed with oats, onions, suet, salt, pepper and spices, cooked in the animal’s stomach. It’s been banned in the US for nearly 50 years as the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) deems sheep lungs unfit for human consumption.

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a small bird perched on a rock

Ortolan

This small songbird was once considered a delicacy in France, sometimes fattened to twice its normal size before being drowned then cooked in brandy and served whole. The French government and the European Union have imposed various bans over the years, but the black market continues to thrive.

an empty bottle on a table

Irn-Bru

Not familiar with Scotland’s neon-orange fizzy drink (and much-famed hangover cure)? That could be because it’s banned from your local store. Canada is among the countries to restrict its sale, linking the food coloring Ponceau 4R (present in the classic formulation of the product) to hyperactivity. The country does, however, allow “compliant formulations” of the product that do not contain this ingredient.

a cup of soup on a table

Marmite

Known under the tagline “love it or hate it”, the yeast spread Marmite is so embedded in British culture that it’s one of the most confiscated items at airport security. Usually it’s allowed abroad (as long as the pot complies with airport security regulations), but in Denmark it’s another story. The country banned Marmite due to the fact it’s fortified with additional vitamins and minerals.

a cup of coffee on a table

Coffee

A caffeine hit wasn’t always accepted as the only way to start the day. Not only did the Catholic church initially try to ban coffee drinking from getting a foothold in Europe in the 16th century, but in 1675, the English king Charles II banned coffee shops altogether. He feared they were acting as a meeting place for activists and brewing as much discontent as they were coffee. Which they were…

a bowl of fruit sitting on top of a wooden table

Mangoes

It was bad news for fruit-lovers when Alphonso mangoes were banned from the EU in 2014, due to fruit fly infestations. While concerns were quickly allayed and imports resumed the next year, this created huge problems for farmers in India. A Washington Post headline from the time read: “The real crisis facing Europe? A shortage of Indian mangoes”.

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a bowl of food on a plate

Shark fins

Although shark fins are widely used in parts of Asia for shark fin soup, they were banned in 12 US states in 2000. This is not just due to the shrinking shark population, but also the cruelty of the practice by which the fins are removed. Shark fins are typically cut off while the shark is still alive, and the animal is then thrown back into the water to die. Canada became one of the latest countries to ban trade of shark fins in June 2019, and one of Hong Kong’s major restaurant chains vowed to have all shark fins off their menus by 1 January 2020.

a box filled with different types of food

Avocados

They might be a millennial food staple but some restaurants are calling time on the ubiquitous inclusion of avocados in everyday dishes. The first to actually ban the ingredient was London restaurant Firedog, whose head chef declared: “Our mission is to reinvigorate the morning dining scene in London, which has done avocado to death, and we’re frankly bored of seeing it on every breakfast and brunch menu.”

a sandwich sitting on top of a cutting board

Rare burgers

If you like your burgers rare, you might be out of luck in some places. From some British councils to the Ministry for Primary Industries in New Zealand, various professional bodies have laid down regulations about how well-cooked burgers must be. Unlike a steak – which usually only has bacteria on the outside, so searing it and leaving the center rare is safe – beef burgers may have bugs on the inside of the patty. Left uncooked they could potentially cause illness.

food, forbidden food: unusual outlawed eats from around the world

Sugar sprinkles

Believe it or not, these harmless-looking rainbow sprinkles are banned in the UK and EU. The reason? The sugar shards, which are made in the US, contain E127, which is only approved in certain products as it’s been linked to hyperactivity in children. The ban was highlighted in October 2021 after a Leeds bakery, Get Baked, was entangled in an unexpected drama over its use of the decoration on one of its donuts.

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