You are here18 Stinky Foods From Around the World

18 Stinky Foods From Around the World

By - Posted on 06 June 2010

When it comes to smelly food, there is no middle ground - you either love it or you hate it. Here is a list of some of the stinkiest foods from around the world.


Indigenous to northern Sweden, surströmming is herring that is fermented in barrels for a couple of months, then put into tin cans for up to another year. The fermentation is so strong that the can actually bulges from pressure, and it has been banned by some airlines who say that it is an explosive safety hazard. Many people eat it outdoors because of the strong odors released when the can is opened, often compared to rotten eggs, vinegar, and rancid butter. This stinky food even has its own museum.

Photo of surströmming, Swedish rotten herring
Photo of surströmming © Lapplaender

Here is a video of a guy trying surströmming:

I've never had this one yet and can't wait to try it :)


This Greenland delicacy is made by wrapping whole small sea birds (auk), feathers and all, in sealskin and burying it for several months to ferment. When it is dug up, the insides are decayed to the point of near-liquification and are reportedly sucked out after creating an opening by breaking off the head or some other means. Enough said.


Kimchi, also spelled kimchee, is the most well-known Korean dish and has become a household name around the world. A staple food in Korea, it is made from fermented vegetables and is often eaten at every meal – yes, even for breakfast. While I love it, a good example illustrating how it's strong smell can affect people is when my dormmate in college, an exchange student from Bangladesh, ran out of the kitchen when one of the Korean students made kimchi stew.

Photo of Korean kimchi cabbage
Photo of kimchi © Nagyman

Stinky Tofu

A popular dish at night markets in China, Taiwan and Southeast Asia, stinky tofu's name speaks for itself. Fresh tofu is added to a brine made from fermented milk, meat, vegetables and sometimes seafood. The brine can be so rotten that it will be infested with maggots – even people who like it often admit it's smell resembles rotten trash or feces.

Based on a report on, some stinky tofu makers have been caught adding things like human excrement, rotten meat juice and chemical dies to the brine in order to give it the right taste in a shorter period of time. While this practice is not widespread, it gives idea of how strong this stuff can smell!

Photo of Chinese stinky tofu in brine
Photo of stinky tofu © Takoradee

The taste and smell of stinky tofu varies greatly - after eating some from a street market in Taiwan, Andrew Zimmern can't even swallow this kind here:

Vieux-Boulogne Cheese

A delicacy from Northern France, Vieux-Boulogne, aka Sablé du Boulonnais, was found to be the smelliest cheese in the world by experts and machines at a university in London. One reason for the unusually strong smell of this raw milk cheese is that it is dipped in beer during production, which then reacts with the enzymes in the cheese as it continues to ferment.


Natto is a Japanese dish of slimy, fermented soybeans. It is often eaten for breakfast with or on top of rice, in sushi or added to a bowl of noodles. A little soy-based sauce and Chinese mustard is added before the beans are mixed up in a circular motion with chopsticks, which creates lots of bubbles and gooey strings of, well, slimy fermented beans.

Photo of natto, Japanese fermented soy beans
Photo of natto © Shades0404

Natto is so slimy that after putting it in your mouth, you have to make several circles with your chopsticks to break the gooey strands hanging between your lips and the chopsticks.

Here is an instructional video on how to eat natto:

People often have very different reactions to natto and two people can describe the same batch as almost lacking in smell and flavor to being gaggingly putrid. Some people just can't get over the slimy texture.

I love natto and sometimes add things like kimchi, raw egg or wasabi, though my roommates in Hawai'i would usually leave the kitchen when I made a natto omelette....yum!


Hákarl is fermented shark meat and is a Icelandic delicacy. It is so delicate, in fact, that many people in Iceland never get around the trying it. One reason may be because it tastes like ammonia and causes humans to gag when they put it in their mouth.

Photo of hákarl, fermented Icelandic shark
Photo of hákarl © Chris 73 under the creative commons cc-by-sa 2.5 license

Hákarl took on a new level of fame after appearing on Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern. Similar to Korean skate fish (hongeo), sharks expel urine (pee) by changing it into urea and passing it through the skin. When a shark or skate fish dies, the urea in its body turns into ammonia and this is what give hákarl and hongeo their gaggingly unique tastes.

What do the pros say? Andrew Zimmern said it tastes better than it smells, Anthony Bourdain said it was the worst thing he has ever had, and Gordon Ramsay couldn't even keep it down.

Watch Andrew trying it here:

Hongeo: Rotten Korean Skate Fish

Hongeo hoe, or hongeo sashimi, is rotten raw skate fish where the uric acid (pee) stored in the fish's flesh turns to ammonia. Ammonia can set off a natural gag reflex when humans smell it and it is quite the same when you put fish seeping with it in your mouth.

While hongeo fans rave about the unique flavor of this acquired taste, they usually try to mask and tone it's flavor down with generous amounts of kimchi, salted pork belly and makkeolli – a kind of Korean rice wine.

Photo of hongeo - Korean rotten skate fish
Photo of hongeo © egg (Hong, Yun Seon)

Hongeo is hands-down one of the worst foods I have ever eaten. As soon as I stepped into the hongeo specialty restaurant, my nostrils were assaulted by a smell of rotting fish similar to what you may find in the dumpster behind an Asian seafood market. It was too late to back out, however, and fortunately for me I was already tipsy from the soju we had for dinner.

When I got home I was relieved to be out of the restaurant but bummed that my apartment stank like rotten food. The problem was that no matter if I stuck my nose in the refrigerator or in the trash can under the sink, I couldn't find out where the smell was coming from. I finally realized that it was my clothes and it took three good washings to get the smell out. They should follow the lead from surströmming lovers and keep this stuff outdoors.

This is one of those foods that you can't understand how it tastes unless you actually eat it. Skip to 3:15 to watch Andrew trying to keep it down here:


Best known in the west as Funazushi eaten by Andrew Zimmern from Bizarre Foods, narezushi is made from salted fish that is fermented with rice for up to 4 years. Narezushi is an ancient art that goes back over a thousand years. Fortunately, someone eventually realized that adding vinegar to rice created a more pleasant smell and mild taste than using fermented fish, and modern sushi was born.

I heard all about this from Andrew and his crew when I showed them around Okinawa, and I can't wait to try it next time I go back to mainland Japan.

Époisses de Bourgogne Cheese

One of Napolean's favorite, Époisses de Bourgogne was called "the king of all cheeses" by famed gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. This cheese is so smelly that it has been banned on public transportation in France according to the BBC.

Epoisses de Bourgogne cheese, photo
Photo of hongeo © Sominsky


Durian is the only food on this list that is not fermented and the fact that it is illegal to carry on public transportation in several countries in Southeast Asia says a lot about what to expect. Like many stinky foods, people often love it or hate it.

Here is what the meat inside looks like:

Photo of durian © Markalexander100

Here is a sign in Singapore telling people not to bring durian on public transportation:

Photo of no durian sign © Steve Bennett

Durian's texture is milky and custard-like and it's smell is distinctly recognizable. American celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain says it leaves your breath smelling like you've been frenching your dead grandma, and he likes the stuff. Another famous food critic, Richard Sterling, described it as "pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock."

How did Andrew Zimmern do with Durian? Found out here:

Durian tasted okay when I had it plain and great in a yogurt smoothie, which probably means that I will end up loving it once I've had it a few more times.

Century Egg

Known by many names, including hundred-year/thousand-year/millennium egg, a century egg is a preserved chicken, duck or quail egg. A paste made from tea water, clay, lime, ash and salt is packed around the eggs, then they are rolled in rice hulls to keep them from sticking together and left to sit for 3 years.

The result is a greening-brownish egg that smells like flatulence and urine, which is hopefully the only reason why it is called “horse urine eggs” in some Southeast Asian countries.

Photo of century egg © Svencb


Lutefisk or 'lye fish' is a Nordic dish where they soak dried whitefish in lye to give it a gelatinous texture, then cook it after soaking it in water to remove the lye. Lutefisk is renowned for it's strong smell and the fact that it destroys sterling silver upon contact. It even has it's own genre of lutefisk humor.

Photo of lutefisk - lye fish
Photo of lutefisk © Jonathunder

Enthusiasts should go straight for the stuff made from cod, while lutefisk made from pollock or haddock is much easier on the nose and palette.


Kusaya is Japanese fish that has been soaked in salted brine (salty fish juice), then dried in the sun. The catch is that the same brine is used again and again and again and again, and the best kusaya comes from brine that has been in use for hundreds of years. It is important to note that this brine is not refrigerated and has basically been fermenting in a container for centuries! The name probably comes from the first word that comes to mind when you get anywhere near this stuff – kusaya means 'that stinks'.

Here is a video of kusaya being made:

Niijima Island is famous for having the best kusaya in Japan. Families often have their own pot of kusaya brine that has been in their family for generations and is something of an heirloom. It can be so old that the oldest people in the family often have no idea who made it!

While many people say the taste is much more mild than its smell, kusaya often comes in pre-grilled packages because grilling it inside is not something most people want to do. How bad does it smell? Check out this video of unsuspecting foreign women in Japan opening up a box:

Shrimp Paste

Shrimp paste is popular in dishes from southern China and Southeast Asia. It is made from mixing salt with fermented shrimp that have been dried and grounded. However, if the shrimp are small enough they don't have to be pounded as long as they decay enough to no longer resemble shrimp. Needless to say, shrimp paste stinks and is famous for clearing out kitchens when it is thrown in the pan.

Photo of shrimp paste drying in the sun - Hong Kong
Photo of lutefisk © Tequila

Anyone who has ever used small shrimp as groundbait on a blaring hot day will have some idea of what it smells like - just take that stench and multiply it by a hundred.

Westerners fooled by its innocuous name have been known to try and return it to stores in Southeast Asia thinking they were sold something that went rotten, and technically I guess they're right.

Here is a funny video of some guy who tries it may want to fast forward to 1:35:

Limburger Cheese

Limburger is probably the most famous of the smelly cheeses. One of the bacteria that creates human body odor is that same bacteria used to make Limburger. When someone says it smells they toe jam, they are actually telling the truth.

Photo of limburger cheese on bread

The process of making Limburger is complex, though, so don't get any ideas about rubbing other kinds of cheese on dirty feet to replicate this unique flavor.

Fish Sauce

With the explosion in popularity of Southeast Asian cuisine, fish sauce has found it's way into more and more kitchens. It is made by salting small fish such as anchovy, putting them in a jar with plenty of salt below and on top of the fish, and covering them with a straw mat with rocks on it to help squeeze the juice out of. The fish jars are then placed outside to ferment in its own juices for up to a year.

Photo of fish sauce being made
Photo of fish sauce being made © poida.smith

To get the full aromatic effect, fry some rice noodles in a pan with fish sauce, rice vinegar and sriracha hot sauce.


Rakfisk is a Norwegian dish usually made from fresh trout or char that is salted, then fermented for two the three months in the juice that comes out of the fish. The rotten fish is then eaten raw and washed down with beer and potato liquor to help kill the deadly bacteria - and probably your taste buds.

Photo of Norwegian rakfisk
Photo of rakfisk © Wikipedia

500 tonnes of rakfisk is eaten in Norway every year, though many Norwegians reportedly don't like the stuff and a fair amount of it is consumed by tourists looking for an authentic meal.

I think I'd try Kimchi but that's it. I'm not a fish eater. I did have the Haggis while I was in Scotland. It may not be 'stinky' but there are some interesting ingredients in the dish.

Why would you try kimchi.

Because kimchi is yummy, that's why. I have also eaten durian (tasty), century egg (interesting), stinky tofu (it grows on you, it really does) and fish sauce (my husband puts it in everything).

I don't know about the other stinky fish on the list ... but fish sauce (aka fish pickle) really is delicious in many Western dishes, meatloaf for example. Food is adventure!

How on earth can you put lutefish on a list of smelly food?

Lutefish has a given place at the Christmas table in Sweden and some parts of Finland. (In Norway it's eaten more often.) It's infamous because it doesn't smell or taste anything at all, but with a quite slimy structure. It's just like eating tasteless slimy goo with boiled potatoes. The only thing bringing taste to the dish is a delicious white sauce with lots of allspice and white pepper.

I was wondering the same. I have eaten it both in sweden and in norway. Moms swedish and dads norweigan.

And in norway they eat it with mashed peas, potatoes, and diced bacon.

I have also tried surströmming, centruy eggs, stinky tofu and its all horrible. I smelled durian and purchased it but i forgot it outside in the heat for a day and didnt dare to eat it.

Most american's can't stand the lye smell. & if the fish is fresh, most americans also hate the smell of raw seafood. We're prissy like that. We also don't like the idea of eating fish soaked in drain cleaner.

I recently tried Lutefisk and, while I agree it does not smell, it had a very pleasant taste. I confess, though, I couldn't get over that texture.

I've eaten 6/18.....

It's interesting that Andrew Zimmem couldn't eat durian. Despite its overpowering smell, a lot of Westerners actually like the taste. I, however, grew up with it so the smell is quite nice for me. And century egg... I'm surprised it's described as pungent. I like to have it with rice porridge and it doesn't really smell. I wonder if it's because it's just little portions.

Maybe the durian he ate was unripe. :)) haha

Quality Natto and Kimchi taste pretty good.......

but with stinky tofu I just dont have the hyperbole to describe how revoltingly impossible it smells, everytime i walk past stinky tofu at an outdoor market I speed up because I just want to puke, it smells like a large trash bin with a lot of off food and sewerage in it.

The only thing I'm most afraid of is surströmming. Everything else doesn't seem that bad...

The fish itself tastes very little, but the smell is bloody awful.

I have spent a great (and very enjoyable) part of my life in Sweden, I speak the language and 'feel' Swedish to some degree, however surströmming should be outlawed by the International Court and UN inspectors sent in to clean up and dispose of the toxic material as soon as possible. Why does such a clean, respectful, attractive and affluent society stoop to eating such foul smelling and tasting bio matter is beyond comprehension. Perhaps it is part of the Lutheran, self-flagellating, history of the Nordic countries... similar in ways to Catholic guilt, however, if you opened a can of these little beauties in a Confessional be prepared for a serious dose of 'Hail Marys' or even excommunication. The smell is absolutely awful and the taste is horrendous. In other countries if it smells bad stay clear: not here.
Like flies to.....

Footnote: Surströmming is popular in the north of Sweden and not at all in the south where Swedes are more 'European' and have taste buds, most of the southerners refuse to touch or be exposed to the Grendel of the Northern Wastes. I have even heard said by Danish friends that Denmark has installed special smell sensors on the Öresund bridge to monitor the spread of this WMD.

This video clip of people preparing and eating kiviaq might be of interest:

"The delicacy is created by first preparing a seal skin: all the meat is removed and only a thick layer of fat remains. The skin is then sewn into a bag shape, which is stuffed with 300-500 little auk birds. Once full and airtight, the skin is sewn up and seal fat is smeared over all over the join, which acts as a repellent to flies. The seal skin is then left under a pile of rocks to ferment for a minimum of three months to a maximum of 18 months."

What surprises me about about these foods is that, not only do people eat them. But they can manage to live to talk about it. I just have to wonder how many people die as a result of eating, say, fish that has been left to decay for several months at ambient temperature. That sounds like perfect conditions for growing all kinds of harmful bacteria and parasites. I think I'll pass.

The whole point about fermenting food is to cultivate "good" microorganisms and supplant the "bad" ones. Mankind has known lots of "good" ones for thousands of years, but only recently have they been accurately identified, classified and their metabolisms studied.

Yogurt for example is the product of several strains of lactobacilli, which produce enzymes to transform lactose and milk protein into lactic acid and other substances. Since these bacteria are very powerful, they can easily rule out dangerous microbes, which are left without food and simply starve to death. I recently learned that Kefir cultures are even more powerful than regular yogurt ones.

You should think of organic fermentation as form of symbiosis between us and microbes. Just like those gazillions that grow on our bodies and intestine...

FOA, I've been pure Korean for 25 years.

Dead body soup : It's kinda smelly but it's definitely nuturious and it tastes good. Some Koreans can't eat but most of people enjoy it. I give it half of star.

Hongeo : It's the king of the stinky food in Korea. When you eat it with kimchi, garlic and pork belly, you can only 'sense' the ammonia. But if you eat it alone, It's kinda acid showering in your tongue and it really stinks your nose too. You will act exactly the youtube man did, flopping your arms, grabbing your nose, some kind of stuff. I give it a one star when it's combined with others, and three stars for only.

Hongeo tang : it's Hongeo soup. I even got a chill even I just imagine about this thing. It's ammonia soup with chump of ammonia. Taste it if you dare. It's the god of the stinky Korean food. Give it five stars.

I'm Taiwanese and I can tell you that when I was a kid, none of the children would go near stinky tofu. One time we had some at a restaurant and my cousins and I asked if we could eat outside. But now, eighteen years later, I love it! It tastes so great fried, with a bit of soy sauce and garlic. Mmmmm. :) Thousand-year-old egg is so delicious as well, the brown part doesn't smell at all, it's the yolk that can get a little iffy. The taste of the yolk is hard to describe, but it's not bad either. I love it with porridge just like 10/10/2010!

My boyfriend is Korean and he has kimchi at basically every meal. I've always loved it and have never found it to smell like anything but spicy chilies. I asked him about hongeo and he had never heard of it, though.

The one food on the list that freaks me out the most is kiviak. I love eating fish brains and cow stomach and pig intestines and I've even tried cow tongue and heart, but never raw or fermented! I guess those Inuits have some strong stomachs. The fact that lutefisk destroys sterling silver is pretty freaky too. O_O

@Matt, there's a reason a lot of these foods are considered delicacies. Yogurt is fermented, too, but few people question that. Clearly the bacteria that result from fermenting these foods has proven to not be harmful to humans, and that's how they've made it onto dining table after dining table!

I initially refused to eat yoghurt & cheese until I saw how they were made. American factories don't ferment things traditionally but as quickly as possible, even by chemical means, then when the product is the right consistency, product is then sanitized, killing off the bacteria. Though most yogurt makers do introduce some live cultures.

Natto can be difficult for some people, but it was my favorite breakfast for the year I worked in Japan. Not only is it incredibly easy and quite fun to prepare, the taste is very mild, particularly in the morning before I brushed my teeth. I don't like sweet tastes in the morning, so its flavor was perfect. Not only that, but it is a superfood. Fermented soy like Natto and Miso contain omega3 fatty acids like fish and are great for your health. Probably why Japanese people enjoy the longest average lifespan (or did, this new generation is pretty hooked on junky 'western style' foods).

Fermented is it! With a lot of second borne vitamin and enzymes...
I recommend europeans to eat it every meal with salad or spagehtti.
I like that odor unworldly.

Besides Fish sauce, Kimchi is Super number one!!
Garlic Smelly but taste wonderful.
Very addictive diet!!

I have eaten 7 out of 18 and enjoyed than all. Durian is the prince of the fruit kingdom and its flavor and sweetness are unequaled.

I was in Iceland many years ago but had an immature palate at the time, I was only 19, and passed on the shark meat. I would love to give it a try now.

Natto and kimchi together with a bowl of miso soup and some rice make a marvelously tasty and very healthful breakfast. I even make my own natto.

Fish sauce is an ancient condiment and was even made by the Romans a few thousand years ago where it was called Garum. I use Thai, Vietnamese, or Filipino fish sauce often instead of soy sauce. It adds lots of flavor.

My goal for this year is to finally try Surströmming, I had balked at the high price in the past but I don't want to go into the afterlife as an incomplete man.

You should have included oolichan oil, derived from a small fish also known as candlefish; Aboriginal peoples on canada's west coast take these very oily fish (so oily that a dried one can be lit and used as a candle hence the English name) they are rotted in vats and rendered down for their oil. Oolichan oil is hard to get if you not Native but I have been lucky enough to aquire some; i love it even though it tastes just like rotten fish, some Native people can't even stand it.

you know what, please do not write about it when you don't know specifically. hongeo is not put in uric acid,but just placed at room temperature

Thank you!! I was wondering about that. I mean the last time I checked Hongeo was fermented in rice wine (though I guess that's wrong too).

She/he never said it was "put" in uric acid, but that certain sea creatures pee through their skin & since they have no bladders to remove, the amonia takes over the body.

Wah it such a waste if someone doesn't like durian..durian is the best fruit ever and it even known as king of fruit..every durian's season i will never miss to eat it..

I can't see a non sweet fruit being thought of as a fruit from a culinary perspective. I can however see it being labeled as a vegetable or dried & ground, then used as a substitute for caramelized onions in meat dishes.

Rating cheeses by the distance from which you can smell them in open air Olomoucké syrečky is definitely "over ten metre cheese". Please add to your rating, if possible. For a comparison Harzer roller has (to my estimate) max. 5 metre rating. BTW 1 metre = 3.28084 feet.

Oh actually, nevermind. I read that wrong. Sorry....

I HATE fermented foods & drinks, the only exceptions being strained sweetened yoghurt, 3 types of of hard cheeses, & vinegars.

I was brought up eating a traditional English diet.....meat, potatoes and vegetables. As an adult, I dislike 'English' foods.

I love Kimchi, shrimp paste with plain rice, and fish sauce on anything, but I don't think I'd enjoy any of the other foods on this list.

Actually, Kimchi is delicious, really good for you, and I just made my first batch this week!

I really like kimchi now, but my first exposure to it was somewhat frightening. When I was an undergrad, there were two Korean students on my floor who used to make kimchi in the dorm kitchen, It invariably cleared the room when anyone opened the crock.

I've eaten both haggis and durian and wasn't crazy about either. No great desire to try most of the other foods on this list, even though I consider myself moderately adventurous about food.

My neighboring house once tried to broil Kusaya on the street in Tokyo.It was smelled too bad and someone called the police to check it.However,the policeman told them that it was OK to cook Kusaya and necessary to pay attention to confirm the extinction of fire.

They served out after finishing to cook. To finish it needs extra scorching with sugar, soybean sauce and sesame.It took two hours.

I ate a considerable amount of Kusaya and tasted very good like scorched bacon.Recently the price goes up to twenty dollar around. It was sad for US ladies not to eat cooked one.

I absolutely adore durian. The hybrids these days have no smell or hardly any, and is sold in supermarkets like Coles and Woolworths in Cairns, Australia. Does not taste the same. I say, the stinkier tones have better taste. The texture is creamy and absolutely wonderful in ice cream.


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