Top 5 Disgusting Delicacies

Don't judge a food by its looks, chefs and diet experts say.

ByABC News
May 3, 2010, 6:19 PM

May 4, 2010— -- Delicacies in other countries may seem disgusting at first glance, but chefs and dietitians say they can be delicious and nutritious.

Just imagine the protein and minerals in an appetizing course of balut, followed by warm Casu Marzu, sizzling boodog and a refreshing bite of hasma for dessert.

Technically that's boiled duck fetus, maggot-ridden cheese, a beheaded goat stuffed with stones and frog fallopian tubes. The whole meal is a good source of protein.

Below is a list of foods you may find disgusting, delicious and perhaps nutritious -- if you can only bring yourself to try them.

For years farmers in the U.S. tried to avoid the fungal infection called corn smut. But Americans are discovering the tasty treat people in central and southern Mexico never stopped eating.

"It looks like a stalk of corn that looks like a brain, it's all lumpy but it's grey," said Dr. Christine Gerbstadt, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

Once the fungus infects the corn, the kernels expand and change color to various shades of grey and black. As the fungus grows it also changes the corn's flavor and adds nutrients.

"It has tons of fiber, it also has beta-glucans which it's a kind of carbohydrate, and it's got a lot of other free sugars, which is very unusual for a mushroom," said Gerbstadt.

Corn smut, called huitlacoche in Latin America, also adds cancer protecting antimutigens and lysine to the corn, Gerbstadt said.

"Corn doesn't have lysine in it, but when it [corn smut] is growing on it, it increases lysine," said Gerbstadt. Lysine is one of the eight essential amino acids, meaning its one of the amino acids the body cannot make itself and needs to get from food.

"Funny, in the States we historically treat it as a blight -- but now it is popping up more and more in your local farmers markets as a delicacy," said Chicago-area chef Rick Bayless.

While people eat insects all over the world, escamoles are the larvae from a genus of ant called Liometopum. The larvae are a great source of protein, and usually a cheaper and more sustainable form than meat.

However, according to a 2006 research article in the Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, the ants that provide escamoles are now threatened species in some regions.

But unlike corn smut, the transformation from a boring coffee bean to Kopi Luwak coffee beans doesn't come with an infusion of nutrients.

"Nutritionally it would be the same as coffee beans," said Gerbstadt.

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, the jury is still out on whether coffee is good or bad for people.

While long-term studies have shown a lower risk for Parkinson's disease and liver cancer among people who regularly drink coffee, drinking coffee during a meal may also interfere with the body's ability to absorb iron.

Coffee brewed without a filter, such as coffee from a percolator or French press, also contains a substance called cafestol that can increase cholesterol, according to Dr. Rob van Dam of the Harvard School of Public Health.

"The edible bird's nests are among the most expensive animal products used by humans," said Gerbstadt "One bowl of soup is about $30-100 American dollars. One kilogram of the nests can cost $2,000 and there's another form of a red nest than can cost up to $10,000 per kilogram."

Gerbstadt said that traditionally, bird's nest soup was thought to improve the voice, to strengthen the immune system or aid digestion.

Modern science found that the bird's nests used in bird's nest soup are chock full of minerals.

"The nests do have a lot of calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium," said Gerbstadt.

Gerbstadt said the nutritional value will be similar to other dishes of mutton or goat. However, the organs might add a little boost -- or danger.

"The liver is kind of like the toxic waste dump of the body," said Gerbstadt. "There could be heavy metals in it; there could be a lot of cholesterol because that's the site of cholesterol synthesis."

Gerbstadt said kidneys, however, would provide quite a bit of protein and iron.

"You want to make sure they [boodogs] are cooked to 160 degrees to kill any parasites," said Gerbstadt.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.