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The World’s Smelliest Foods 

These stinky foods should not be brought to the office for lunch.

Certain foods smell notoriously pungent and have the distinction of being called the world’s stinkiest foods.

Gardener's hands hold thorny durian fruit

Don’t let the characterization of a funky smell put you off from trying these foods. Many of these weird-smelling items actually taste quite good.

Plenty of these foods are good for you, too. Some provide low-fat protein alternatives, while others aid in digestion! 

Smelly foods are usually indicators that they will also have a strong taste.

Often, these items taste better than they smell. Others are genuinely unique dishes that have somewhat of an acquired taste.

Stinkiest Food

Try these foods at least once if you can for an unforgettable experience.


Durian

One of the most widely known stinkest foods, the Durian is a fruit from Southeast Asia with a rank odor.

If you can get past the rotten smell, the flesh inside has a unique texture with sweet and savory notes.

A popular addition to regional desserts, though some varieties are more commonly used in savory preparations. For first-timers, I recommend trying a sweet dish first!


Stinky Tofu

Traditionally this tofu is fermented for months in a brine for several months.

Modern preparations are commonly brined for just a few days. This process gives the tofu enough time to absorb the flavor and foot-like odor.

A popular Chinese street food, Stinky Tofu is often served outdoors and has a complexly meaty flavor with intriguing, funky notes. 


Natto

A traditional Japanese food often served for breakfast, Natto contains sticky soybeans fermented with specific bacteria.

Soft and salty, some compare the taste to soft cheese, and some nutty notes.

I recommend trying a little of this dish at a time, served over rice. Natto is an acquired taste; once you try it, you may start craving it. 


Surströmming

A Swedish fish allowed to ferment with enough salt to prevent decay, Surströmming uses regional Baltic herring.

The fish ferments for at least six months to develop its distinct taste and scent. Swedes usually consume canned fish outdoors to lessen the fishy odor.

My favorite part of eating Swedish Surströmming is the interesting sides that complement the fish, like red onion and fresh herbs. 


Century Egg

These eggs are another well-known stinky food, often featured for their dark color and smell.

A Century Egg is a Chinese dish that preserves eggs in a special mixture for weeks.

The resulting egg loses all of its white color, and parts of the egg break down, creating strange but complex notes.

Bold eaters can try a whole egg, but I suggest starting by eating this egg as an accompaniment to another dish. 


Hákarl

Hákarl turns a poisonous shark into an edible dish through fermentation.

In most cases, I encourage people to try the stinkiest foods, but this fermented shark has a strong ammonia smell that turns most people away.

Only try this dish if you can stomach a fishy but sweet bite with a sharp flavor reminiscent of some cheeses. 


Lutefisk

A popular dish in Nordic countries, Lutefisk is popular enough to be a part of the Christmas meal in many homes.

Many people in the United States with Scandanavian heritage also enjoy the fish.

For me, Lutefisk is one of the least stinky of the stinkiest foods on this list.

It does smell salty and almost chemically, but the tender and mild fish is delicious. 


Vieux Boulogne

Considered one of the world’s smelliest cheeses, Vieux Boulogne is a specialty product from Pas-de-Calais, France.

Made from unpasteurized cow’s milk, this French cheese is also left unpressed.

The resulting product is moist and soft with a milder flavor than the odor suggests.

Vieux Boulogne is a must-try if you’re a fan of soft cheese. 


Doenjang

Doenjang is another product made with fermented soybean of Korean origin.

Like other ferments, this dish has some health benefits, especially when eaten with rice.

In most cases, the soybean paste is used as a condiment or ingredient in the dish.

Doenjang is usually combined with other spicy elements to create a dipping sauce with only a hint of fermented smell.


Hongeo

Another Korean fermented delicacy, Hongeo, is made from fish with ammonia in their skin, which helps with preservation.

Unfortunately, the ammonia also makes this fish one of the stinkiest foods.

This fish is sharp and often served alongside strong spirits to cover the smell. Otherwise, the fish is left plain or served with other condiments. 

Many Korean dishes are fermented, like kimchi!


Limburger Cheese

The bacteria used to create this product is also what gives Limburger Cheese its distinct scent.

Limburger has a denser consistency than other smelly cheeses but still has a soft texture.

The fragrant cheese is a favorite for pairing with contrasting strong flavors like coffee or dark bread. 


Kimchi

A mix of fermented vegetables, Kimchi packs a flavorful punch and serves as a favorite side dish and condiment.

Garlic, ginger, and a chili powder blend bring traditional Korean flavor to Kimchi.

To me, Kimchi has a vinegary scent that is quite pleasant, though sharp. A perfect place to try Kimchi is your favorite Korean BBQ spot!


Iru

A fermented bean product made from locust beans, Iru is a product of Nigeria.

The beans are used fresh or dried, especially in dishes with a soup base.

This product is nutritious and full of protein but has a distinct scent some people find off-putting.

Dried Iru is less smelly and easier to store and add to soups. 


Locust Fruit

This fruit grows across the Caribbean as well as Central and South America.

Locust Fruit has a foot smell leading to numerous nicknames, like “Stinking Toe.” To be honest, I enjoy the funky odor of this fruit.

But if you want to sample the sweet fruit without the stench, look for the fruit in powdered form to add to sweet treats. 


Kiviak

A complicated ferment perfected by Inuit groups in Greenland is notable for its preservation method.

Small birds are stuffed inside a seal skin and left to ferment. Kiviak is a celebratory food consumed on special occasions, especially during the winter.

The fermented seabird takes on a cheesy flavor and odor. 


Kusaya

This fermented mackerel is a specialty from the Izu Islands in Japan.

A vitamin-rich brine preserves the fish and a punch of acid to the fish.

Salty mackerel lessens the sharpness of the ferment, so expect Kusaya to taste better than it smells.

Enjoy alongside sake for a traditional pairing. 


Stinkiest Food

  1. Durian
  2. Stinky Tofu
  3. Natto
  4. Surströmming
  5. Century Egg
  6. Hákarl
  7. Lutefisk
  8. Vieux Boulogne
  9. Doenjang
  10. Hongeo
  11. Limburger Cheese
  12. Kimchi
  13. Iru
  14. Locust Fruit
  15. Kiviak
  16. Kusaya

Final Thoughts

From fine ferments to fresh produce, the stinkiest foods come in a variety of flavors and products! In some cases, the odor has a much sharper bite than the food itself.

Others taste exactly like they smell, for better or worse! Adventurous eaters should try some of these intriguing dishes if they haven’t already. 

Check out other unusual foods you should try if you’re an adventurous eater.

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Written by Erin Elizabeth

Erin lives in East Passyunk and enjoys checking out the local restaurants in South Philly and beyond. Her favorite restaurants are those with spicy food and outdoor seating so that she can bring along her dog, Miss Piggy.