Eating Dirt: The Latest Culinary Trend

Image credit: Food & Wine

Anyone who has grimaced as they bite down on sandy lettuce may find this one perplexing. But eating dirt is the latest thing in restaurants around the world.

In many ways, we should be pleased. Growing your own food, raising chickens, and backyard composting have always been part of the TreeHugger experience. Heck, we're not even afraid to get really dirty—covering topics like humanure, or gardening with urine. But flicking through the latest copy of Food & Wine, I discovered a whole new take on getting "back to the land". It seems some chefs are so keen on communing with the soil that they are putting it in their dishes. Deliberately. Kristin Donnelly of Food & Wine reports that the trend is widespread - chefs around the world are experimenting with dirt on the plate. Some are creating imitation dirt from ingredients like dehydrated beets, or crushed dried-mushrooms. But others, like Spain's Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca are using high tech devices like the Rotavapor—more commonly used in the perfume industry—to distill soil, the essence of which is used to create an earthy foam. The trend isn't just confined to chefs—installation artist Laura Parker asks gallery goers to sniff soil samples, and then taste vegetables that were grown in that soil.

Actually, in some ways the idea isn't as wacky as it sounds. I've always found carrots taste better if they are lightly scrubbed, not peeled—leaving an imperceptibly thin layer of dirt. And there is evidence to suggest that exposure to a little dirt, and even poop, can help build our immune systems. I've also heard tales of old English farmers who would taste their soil to determine mineral content and other factors.

Of course I'd be interested to know what an old English dirt-eating farmer would have made of a distilled soil foam garnish. But I suspect I will never know...

Tags: Agriculture | Farming | Food Safety | Local Food | United States