The United States of America is the home of the free — unless you’re a foodie with some very particular tastes. Though you may not know it, there are certain culinary delights that the government won’t even let inside its borders. Some of these dishes look tasty, while others are downright disgusting, but the reasons why they’re outlawed just might ruin your appetite.
Hangovers just haven’t been the same since the original Four Loko was yanked from the shelves. Besides concerns about its alarmingly high levels of caffeine and alcohol, the brand came under fire to marketing to teenagers. Since 2010, Four Loko has removed some of the more powerful stimulants from its recipe and scaled back its identity as an energy drink.
Sure, you might have seen Kinder candies sold in the check-out aisle — but those aren’t the real deal. Authentic Kinder Surprise Eggs, made by the Italian chocolatier Ferrero, are filled with non-edible plastic toys. The U.S. deemed these treats a choking hazard, so any Kinder products sold west of the Prime Meridian are hollow inside.
Also known as “fugu,” the pufferfish is off the menu for your own good. Some of its internal organs contain the deadly poison tetrodotoxin, which can easily spread to the meat if not prepared with the utmost caution. For better or worse, fugu is a delicacy among sushi aficionados in Japan, so some think it’s worth the risk.
Easy, boy! Whoa! Don’t mind us — we’re just calming down our horses. They’re understandably finicky about being eaten, but the good news is that the FDA has made it impossible to buy or produce horse meat. For the most part, horse meat is only taboo because of our attachment to these animals; many who’ve sampled it actually found it quite tasty.
Many traditional Chinese chefs stand by bird’s nest soup as not only a delectable meal, but also a bringer of good health. That’s all well and good until you consider what’s in it. The soup is made from the byproduct of the swiftlet, an endangered bird that constructs nests out of its solidified saliva. On top of being gross and environmentally unfriendly, the soup costs a pretty penny too.
Sure, you might be able to find haggis — that’s spiced beef, suet, and oatmeal boiled inside a sheep’s stomach — on the menu of a Scottish pub in America, but the FDA has outlawed the import of the Scottish dish. Their take on the dish often includes livestock lung meat, which is illegal on this side of the pond.
Need a hint as to why this dairy product is illegal? In Sardinia, its name literally means “rotten or putrid cheese.” Manufacturers actually allow casu martzu to decompose as it ferments, to the point where flies lay their eggs in it. Once the cheese becomes very soft and those babies hatch, it’s ready to eat — live maggots and all.
Americans love to devour all kinds of chicken and turkeys, so what makes swans so special? It’s not just that they’re pretty. Many varieties of these birds are endangered, including the trumpeter swan. This is also the case in the United Kingdom, where all swans are legally the Queen’s property.
Soda isn’t good for you, but certain varieties used to be much worse. Root beer was originally made from the sassafras vine, but no longer. Scientists have determined that the spicy-sweet plant is a carcinogen, which is hard news to swallow.
This already sounds like something you shouldn’t eat, but just to make sure, bushmeat is categorically illegal in the U.S. The term refers to just about any animal killed for sustenance in the African wild. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, bushmeat hunters often target “gorillas, chimpanzees and other primates, elephants, antelopes, crocodiles, fruit bats, porcupines, and other rodents, and several species of pangolin.”
Dun dun. Dun dun. The shark from Jaws might eat anyone he comes across, but that doesn’t mean you’re allowed to chow down on any of his pals. In 2019, Congress introduced a bill to ban the sale of shark fins nationwide. While some diners enjoy the fin, they’re often obtained by poachers who remove the extremity and dispose of the rest of the animal.
These fruits are delicious and don’t carry any medical risks, so why can’t you find them in the United States? Well, the government simply doesn’t want you to have them. The plums are cultivated exclusively in Lorraine, France, and domestic and foreign officials have agreed to make the mirabelle a protected species that cannot be shipped overseas.
This green liqueur, a favorite of Victorian gentlemen, was outlawed in the States for about a century, until the FDA changed its course in 2007. The wormwood flavored alcohol was long thought to contain Thujone, a chemical associated with hallucinations. This has largely been debunked, though the government closely regulates absinthe just in case.
Who knew tiny fish eggs could taste so good? Americans can find several types of high-priced roe at specialty stories, but beluga caviar is a no-go. It comes from the sturgeon, which has been overfished to the point where the species is near extinction.
If you put your ear up to this seashell, you’ll hear…a giant, slimy mollusk. These sea critters are common fare around the Caribbean, overfishing has forced Florida to ban the harvesting and consumption of the regal shellfish.
Back in the 1860s, scientist Louis Pasteur revolutionized food safety by inventing a process that eliminated harmful yeasts and molds from dairy and liquid products. Still, some traditionalists shun pasteurization and cling to the idea that raw milk is healthier. It’s not, and the United States forbids the sale of raw milk due to risks of Salmonella and E. coli.
Although ackee is a mainstay in Caribbean and African countries, you won’t find it in even the largest supermarket stateside. That’s because it contains a toxin called hypoglycin. Eat too much ackee, and you might be suffering from the malady known as “Jamaican vomiting sickness.”
Chocolate pudding fans, don’t get too excited. Black pudding refers to blood sausage, which isn’t banned in the United States — though it’s not exactly popular either. However, versions of the dish that contain lung meat aren’t welcome, just like haggis. Somewhere, somebody’s plans for an authentic Scottish dinner just went up in smoke.
Only California has banned this delicacy so far, but opposition is building up in other states too. The rich spread, made from the fattened liver of a duck or goose, isn’t exactly ethical, even in the controversial meat industry. Farmers immobilize and force-feed the birds multiple times a day until they’re plump enough for slaughter.
Optimists will tell you that there’s plenty of fish in the sea. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for red drum fish. After they boomed in popularity among fishermen in the 1980s, the government designated them as a protected species. They cannot be commercially harvested, though in some states individuals are still allowed to catch red drum.
The most expensive coffee beans — kopi luwak — have to be excreted by small, cat-like creatures called the Asian palm civets! Because their digestive tracks change the protein composition of the coffee cherries, these little guys’ poops have become a hot (and expensive) commodity.
You might not find many banned foods appetizing, and that’s because our tastes have come a long way. Take a look at some delicacies from the past, like ambergris. Usually found washed up onto seashores, it used to be considered dragon saliva. It’s actually a mixture of fat and bile from a whale’s digestive system! It’s a major ingredient in Chanel No. 5, and the flavor has a range. Sometimes it’s on the earthier side, and sometimes it’s sweet.
Using the bladder of a sturgeon, Victorians made a sweet jelly dessert that doesn’t sound all that appetizing today. Still, you’ve probably had fish bladder jelly without knowing. Believe it or not, this ingredient is still used today in the making of Guinness beer. It’s also a popular thickening agent for jellies you may have already enjoyed!
You wouldn’t think to make a meal out of an iguana, but what about their eggs? Apparently, those shells are filled with yolk, and the Mayans used to eat them as a delicacy. No egg whites here.
It might be strange to think about, but cultures all around the world eat the penis just the same as any other organ. A now-closed restaurant in Beijing, China, called Guo Li Zhuang (below), served only penis-related dishes. Apparently, they’ll increase potency and help your skin flourish.
These adorable little mice were a delicacy in ancient Rome. They were even raised in their own terra cotta jars until fat enough to be stuffed with nuts and roasted with honey and spices.
For another whale delicacy, there’s muktuk, an Arctic tradition harvested out of nutty-flavored whale skin and blubber that can be eaten salted, fresh, fried, or pickled. Because muktuk contains so much vitamin C, the food became a staple in many Arctic diets.
Western food today is a far cry from what it used to be. In a cookbook that dates back to 1390, a peculiar five-pound bird was featured, and families were instructed to make cook the thing whole. Not a chicken, but a heron! Because their diet is mostly seafood, heron meat has a fishy taste.
English Breakfast is known to be hearty and filled with savory staples from beans to sausage. But a forgotten variation includes just slices of bread with butter, salt, and pepper in between!
We almost don’t want to know how this became such a craze, but it did in the 1950s. People were putting all sorts of stuff in the gelatin — from fruits to meat and vegetables!
Fried calamari is delicious. Even grilled is nice. But what would you do if someone served you a plate of raw, still-twitching octopus? You’ll have to go to South Korea to find out! Careful not to choke!
Thanksgiving has been around longer than the turkey in the American imagination. There used to be a time when families would instead use whatever was in their back yard to celebrate the big day, which sometimes meant raccoons! Hopefully, back then, they weren’t eating out of the trash so much.
If sticking meat into Jell-O didn’t satisfy your sweet tooth, there was always vinegar pie. Now, we know vinegar has a long history of being used for more than just salad dressing, but eating a pie flavored like something used to wash stains out of clothes seems unappetizing.
Great American Writer’s Cookbook, written in 1981, suggested dousing the meat in tobacco-infused vinegar, tossing on some salt and pepper, battering it up, and deep frying. If you can get over the idea of eating snake, it’s said to taste like frog legs.
Now, for a delicacy that’s completely American: turducken. Quite simply, it’s a deboned chicken stuffed into a deboned duck, further stuffed into a deboned turkey. Iconic NFL announcer John Madden used to celebrate this dish during Thanksgiving football broadcasts.
No, this wasn’t just a middle school rumor about where Carl’s Jr. gets its meat from — kangaroo meat really is bought, sold, and eaten in Australia. Sourced to help keep populations under control, it has a taste like pork.
From France to China and Florida, frog legs are a universally-recognized delicacy. They can be fried, sauteed, baked, or simmered in a soup. People say they taste like chicken, but something about them looks… unsettling. Sometimes, they twitch even after being fried.
Back in the day, a sumptuous feast might consist of porpoise pudding. The meat in the dish is the same intelligent aquatic mammal that cavorts in the ocean. They suggested broiling it just before serving. Yum.
If you’re still hungry from the porpoise pudding, there’s always sheep’s penis. People ate this appendage with milk, eggs, and saffron — not before thoroughly cleaning it first though. It might be good? Maybe?