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15 NSFW, Gross Food Facts Your History Teachers Didn't Want You To Know About

Anyone for whale shit ice cream? No? How about a bread dildo?

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1. Mashed yams doubled as lube in 17th-century Japan.

It was called tororo, and was made by grating yams into a slippery paste. The long, thin yams were sometimes used as dildos too. Going further back, the Romans used olive oil as lube. We know that thanks to an novel called The Satyricon by Gaius Petronius, which states: "Oenothea held up a leather dildo which she oiled and covered in pepper and crushed nettle seeds and began pushing it up my arsehole, inch by inch." Ouch.

2. Romans would season their food with rotten fish.


One of the Romans strangest, grossest food experiments was garum, a stinking, fermented fish sauce made by leaving fish intestines and blood to sit in the sun for three months, packed with salt and spices. It was hugely popular – like Roman sriracha – but it smelled so bad that people were only allowed to manufacture it outside the cities. Romans would put it on everything, including dessert.

3. The Victorians were fond of calf's ear fritters in a buttery sauce...made with brains.


Nothing went to waste in the gluttonous yet strangely frugal Victorian era. Entire calves' heads were boiled for supper and their brains were made into a buttery sauce. It must have been like going for dinner at Hannibal Lecter's house. The calves' ears were shaved, boiled and then fried as a rubbery side dish. Argh.

4. And pig's tongues were served at Regency balls.


Jane Austen wrote that "to be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love," and certainly country balls were seen as an excellent way for single Regency women to hook a good husband. The food on offer was "fancy" finger food that could be eaten without too much mess. Like, er, chicken stuffed with hogs' tongues. So sexy.


5. People ate whale shit ice cream in the 17th-century. / Creative Commons

One recipe calls for "three pints of cream, (boiled) with Mace, or else flavour it with orange flower water or ambergreece, sweeten the cream, with sugar[.] let it stand until it is quite cold, then put it into Boxes." Ambergris is a fecal build up that originates in the digestive tracts of sperm whales, breaks free, and floats ashore in big grey lumps. Hardly the sort of thing you'd want to buy from a van on a hot summer's day.

6. And viper soup was on the menu too. / Creative Commons

One of the earliest English recipes for snake (yes, there's more than one) comes from Professor Richard Bradley’s concisely named 1736 cookbook, The Country Housewife and Lady’s Director in the Management of a House, and the Delights and Profits of a Farm. "Take Vipers, alive and cut off their Heads; then cut them in pieces, about two Inches in length, and boil them, with their Hearts. Garnish with slices of Lemon." Because without the lemon this would be unpleasant.

7. Our ancestors would eat roasted udders on purpose.


Humans have been eating udders ever since cows were first invented. Romans used to eat sow's udder, which tasted a bit like vomit flavoured leather. 18th century English diarist Parson James Woodforde agreed, writing: "I dined at the Chaplain's table with Pickering and Waring, upon a roasted Tongue and Udder. N.B. I shall not dine on an Udder again soon". If you happen to have a spare cow's udder lying around and don't mind the thought of eating something that tastes like rubber gloves filled with old cheese, there's a 1683 recipe here.

8. Lettuce was a sacred sex symbol in Ancient Egypt. / Creative Commons

The Ancient Egyptians believed that lettuce was the holy food of the fertility god, Min, and they used it as an aphrodisiac. Min was usually shown surrounded by perky bushels of lettuce, which allegedly allowed him to "perform the sex act untiringly." Egyptian lettuce grew straight and tall, like a penis, and when you broke off a leaf it oozed a white substance. Basically, lettuce semen. Nice.


9. Medieval bread could get you high, or kill you.


Summer was a difficult time for medieval villagers as the new crop of grain wasn't ready to be harvested, so they'd often have to use old rye to make bread. Unfortunately, stored rye was frequently infected with ergot, a fungus with LSD-like qualities that caused hallucinations and – in extreme cases – death. Which is why medieval bread has never been a challenge on The Great British Bake Off.

10. Tudor cooks would put live animals in dishes.


Mainly to liven up parties and surprise the guests. The most popular choices were frogs and birds, but as time went on the practice got more OTT. One cook filled a pie with dogs, while another hid an entire musical group (and a poet) inside a giant crust. Someone should really do that on Come Dine With Me.

11. You might have been served a "cockentrice" too.


This cheerfully OTT medieval recipe called for a castrated rooster (capon) to be boiled, cut in half, and sewn to the rear end of a young pig. It was then stuffed, roasted, gilded with saffron and gold leaf before being served to the king and queen as a 'ryal mete' (that's royal meat, to you and me. They couldn't afford vowels in medieval times).

12. The Emperor Elegabalus fed camel toes to his guests.

Peter Erik Forsberg/Markets / Alamy Stock Photo

Elagabalus was a Roman emperor from the decadent late stages of the Roman empire, who spent nearly all of his time planning insanely lavish, elaborate dinner parties. His orgiastic feasts featured 22 or more courses, including "delicacies" like camel’s feet, peacock tongues, and ostrich brains. He's also said to have mixed gold into peas, and pearls into rice. Sounds tooth-breakingly unnecessary.


13. Cheese was often writhing with insects and maggots.


During his tour around Britain in the 1720s, the English writer Daniel Defoe stopped off in the town of Stilton and was served a plate of cheese with maggots around it so thick that "a spoon had to be brought for him to eat them with". The cheese also contained smaller bugs called cheese mites. As Sue Perkins puts it: "this kind of insect fun park isn't my idea of a great dining experience." Agreed.

14. Ancient Greeks were turned on by sparrow brains.

Flickr: roland / Creative Commons

The Greek goddess of love and sexuality, Aphrodite, was supposed to hold sparrows sacred because of their "lustful" nature, so Ancient Greek women would eat sparrows – their brains in particular – to get themselves in the mood.

15. And ancient Greek women used bread as dildos.

Before rubber dildos came along, women had to improvise. The Greeks did this by baking olisbokollix: dildos made entirely out of hard-baked bread. Images of breadstick dildos have been found in various sources, but there's no mention of how women got the crumbs out of their unmentionables afterward.