15 Foods You Didn't Know Could Come in Cans

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Time to re-stock your pantry? Think outside the usual can aisle and consider sampling something more adventurous than chicken soup or creamed corn. For inspiration, here are 15 of the world's most unconventional canned foods.

1. HAGGIS

Canned haggis on a store shelf
Matt Ryall, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Haggis, the national dish of Scotland, is made of sheep's "pluck"—the heart, liver, and lungs—minced with onion, oatmeal, spices, and suet (hard beef or mutton fat). Authentic versions of the savory pudding are illegal in the U.S., thanks to food safety regulations. But in other countries, haggis-hungry shoppers can purchase canned recipes if they don't feel like preparing and cooking it themselves.

2. REINDEER MEAT

A bowl of meatballs
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Reindeer meat is a frequent component of traditional Scandinavian dishes and stews, so it’s no surprise that canned reindeer meatballs are available for purchase in countries like Norway and Finland.

3. CAMEL MEAT

Grilled camel meat
Lucas Richarz, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Camels are highly valued in the Middle East, and not just for transport. The meat is considered a culinary delicacy, with the fatty hump being the most popular cut. "In Syria and Cairo there are specialist camel butchers, while in the Gulf, camel meat is eaten at parties and wedding receptions," food writer and chef Anissa Helou told The Guardian. Those without a butcher at their disposal can buy canned camel meat and make dishes like camel chili con carne, meatballs, and stews.

4. POTATO SALAD

Potato salad on a plate
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Potato salad is typically associated with deli counters, but American food processor Seneca Foods Corporation also sells a canned version of German potato salad under their READ® Salads line.

5. CANNED WHOLE CHICKENS

A Sweet Sue whole chicken being cooked on the stove
Tracy O'Connor, Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Bumble Bee Foods is perhaps best known for producing items like canned tuna, but their products aren't limited to chicken of the sea: Their Sweet Sue line of canned and processed meats includes a canned whole chicken, fully cooked and sans giblets.

6. CHEESEBURGERS

Cheeseburger in a can
Arnold Gatilao, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Trek'n Eat, a German company that sells ready-meals for outdoor enthusiasts and athletes, manufactures their own version of fast food: a shelf-stabilized cheeseburger in a can. To cook it, heat the can in water over a fire before opening it and chowing down.

7. HOT DOGS

Raw dogs sitting on a table
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Both Tulip Food, a subsidiary of Danish food processing company Danish Crown, and UK brand Ye Olde Oak sell canned hot dogs to customers who like their meat brined instead of grilled. Ye Olde Oak even sells Fiery Chili and BBQ-flavored options.

8. KANGAROO CHILI

A can of chili
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Kangaroos are so plentiful in Australia that ecologists and landholders have urged Aussies to curb exploding marsupial populations by hunting them for their meat. As for non-hunters in America, they can sample the unusual game by ordering canned kangaroo chili from Dale's Wild West, a prepared-meat manufacturing company in Brighton, Colorado.

9. SQUID IN INK SAUCE

Squid ink spaghetti with seafood
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Squid in ink sauce is used in Italian dishes like spaghetti al nero di seppia, but those without access to fresh seafood can order canned versions of the undersea delicacy from Italian-American manufacturers like Vigo Foods.

10. DUCK CONFIT

Duck confit  on a plate
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Duck confit, a French dish made with a whole duck, can easily be made with reheated canned canard. These tinned fowls can be purchased online or from French or gourmet food stores.

11. ALLIGATOR MEAT

Prepared reptile meat
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Alligator meat is consumed, cooked, and processed in southern states like Louisiana, but home chefs outside the Bayou can order canned alligator meat online.

12. TAMALES

Tamales on a plate with salsa
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Traditional tamales can be time-consuming to prepare, so manufacturers like Hormel Foods Corporation offer canned versions in chili sauce for lovers of Latin food who don't have six or so hours to assemble their dinner.

13. TARANTULA

Fried tarantula on a plate
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Adventurous foodies who like their meals on the wild side can order canned tarantula online from sellers like Thailand Unique. The fearsome spiders are considered a delicacy in countries like Cambodia, where they're eaten freshly fried from the wok.

14. SILKWORM PUPAE

Canned silkworm pupae
Will Luo, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

Canned silkworm pupae is available in Asian specialty food stores, and is a popular snack in countries like Korea. Prepare it by first boiling and washing it, and then frying it with seasoning.

15. QUAIL EGGS

Quail eggs
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Quail eggs taste similar to chicken eggs, but are smaller, speckled, and have a larger yolk. They can be found at specialty or Asian grocery stores or ordered online, and can be boiled for bite-sized snacks or added as a garnish or topping to any food you typically prefer with a touch of egg.

Everything You Need to Know About Activated Charcoal

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Activated charcoal is everywhere. Touted in alternative health circles as a versatile treatment for almost anything that ails you, its proponents claim that it clears up your acne, treats inflammation caused by "toxic mold," draws out the venom from a snake bite, eases a hangover, halts your farts, removes "toxins" from your body, and brightens your pearly whites.

But there's little to no evidence for these claims. Though charcoal has a very long history as a folk remedy—ancient Egyptians used it as a treatment for "odorous vapors from putrefying wounds"—for the past century or so, its medical use has primarily been in emergency rooms to treat overdose and poisoning cases. In most cases there just aren't any clinical studies to test its efficacy for any other use. Not only that, but experts who spoke with Mental Floss caution that these treatments might come with added risks, too.

WHAT IS "ACTIVATED CHARCOAL"?

Activated charcoal isn't quite the same thing as the briquettes you use in your grill. Though they're both made of residue left from burning carbon-rich organic materials like wood, peat, or coconut shells, activated charcoal is oxygenated, which makes it far more porous. To activate the charcoal, manufacturers use steam or hot air to erode its internal surface [PDF], which increases the outside surface area along with its adsorption rate—the capacity to bind materials to a surface. Because of those adsorption abilities, charcoal has earned a reputation as a kind of bodily super-cleanser.

When you ingest activated charcoal, it works as a "gastrointestinal decontaminant," attracting various chemicals from your stomach and digestive tract, and then eliminating them from the body. That's why it's so helpful in cases of poisoning or drug overdose: It adsorbs the dangerous substance so it doesn't enter your bloodstream, then simply passes right on through—and out of—your system.

FROM E.R. TO GOOP

Activated charcoal had been popular in certain health food circles for years when, in late 2014, Gwyneth Paltrow's website Goop featured a "charcoal lemonade" sold by a Californian juice bar on a list of the best juice cleanses for "a good old-fashioned detox." Today, the substance can be found in everything from facial masks and odor-dampening comforters to a wide range of food and drink: Chefs are using activated charcoal to create pitch-black cakes, cocktails, pizza crust, and ice cream that's taking Instagram by storm.

The tiny bit of activated charcoal in the occasional cocktail probably won't do any damage—but it's not a good idea to take the substance on a regular basis, according to Rachele Pojednic, a professor of nutrition at Simmons College. "When you ingest it, you can't target what it's going to interact with," she says, "so if you’re on certain medications, you need to be really careful."

Some have never been on board with the stuff, including the FDA and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which recently started enforcing in restaurants a long-standing ban on activated charcoal. The agency—following FDA guidelines—considers it an "adulterated food."

IN CASE OF POISONING …

Aside from treatment for an overdose or poisoning, you don't need to take anything to "detox" your body: not a supplement, not a juice, not a soup. Nothing. That's what your liver is for.

"There's really no data to show that [activated charcoal] is going to do anything other than remove some pretty high-level ingested toxins" like the ones found in cases of poisoning or overdose, Pojednic says.

It's also dubious that activated charcoal can cure a hangover, as some alternative health practitioners recommend. "You feel a hangover because you're really dehydrated," she tells Mental Floss. "There's nothing in your system that needs to be extracted." While you might feel better after taking it, Pojednic says that's most likely because your hangover went away over time.

There are some risks associated with ingesting activated charcoal, too. Thanks to its adsorption abilities, charcoal can also take out all of the good chemicals in your system, including nutrients and the active ingredients in certain medications (like antidepressants) if taken around the same time.

BRUSH YOUR TEETH BLACK?

One of the most common products you'll find activated charcoal in is toothpaste; its advocates claim it whitens teeth. About a year ago, John Brooks, DDS, a dentist and researcher at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry, found himself getting questions from clinicians and students wondering what to tell their patients about activated charcoal toothpaste. He and two other professors reviewed the scientific literature and found that there's little evidence to support the claims of charcoal toothpastes because they haven't been tested. Brooks tells Mental Floss, "None of these charcoal toothpastes have undergone the rigors of scientific testing."

And, again, there are potential risks. While it's possible these toothpastes could whiten your teeth in the short term, they're so highly abrasive that they're likely to remove the enamel from your teeth too, which means your teeth won't stay white for long. Brooks also worries about patients regularly swishing known carcinogens—like silica and bentonite clay, which some charcoal toothpastes contain—around in their mouths. Moreover, he says, charcoal could potentially interfere with beneficial toothpaste ingredients, like fluoride.

IN THEORY, IT COULD HELP YOUR SKIN

The one cosmetic benefit of activated charcoal might be found in skincare products—maybe. As chemist Michelle Wong writes, "There isn't any good data on whether or not it works, but theoretically, it could work." It's possible activated charcoal's adsorption abilities could reach into your pores, pulling out the dirt and oils that get trapped there. But these products have not been rigorously tested, so we can't be certain about their efficacy. Wong also points out that activated charcoal typically takes several hours to have an effect, whereas most charcoal skincare products are applied for mere minutes.

The activated charcoal trend seems to be holding strong, despite the lack of evidence for its health claims. So eat that pitch-black ice cream every once in a while if you like, but don't count on it to improve your health.

Does Washing Your Fruits and Vegetables Really Do Anything?

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Washing produce is one of those habits that some people follow religiously and others shrug off altogether. If you're someone who struggles to find the motivation to cook in the first place, you might fall into the latter group. But cleaning your fruits and vegetables at home isn't just an outdated precaution: As Popular Mechanics reports, a thorough rinse could mean the difference between a meal that nourishes you and one that leaves you sick.

Produce is one common carrier of norovirus—a foodborne viral infection that triggers such symptoms as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. There's no way to know whether your lettuce is contaminated with harmful bacteria before it hits your plate, but cleaning it with plain tap water does make it safer to eat. According to USA Today, rinsing produce is effective enough to remove 90 percent of the pathogens left on it by the growing, harvesting, and shipping process. Rinsing is also a good way to remove any of the visible matter you don't want eat, such as grit and soil.

Cleaning your fruits and vegetables is definitely an improvement over eating them straight from your crisper drawer, but be warned that this isn't a foolproof way to avoid food poisoning. Water won't remove all the microbes living on the surface of your food, and even an extremely thorough rinse isn't enough to make produce contaminated with potentially deadly bacteria like E. coli safe to eat. But that doesn't mean the risk outweighs the benefits of including produce in your diet.

If you have a pile of veggies that need to be prepared for dinner, the best way to make them safer for consumption is to rinse them under cold water and rub them in a bowl of water, starting with the cleanest items and progressing to the produce that's more soiled. Give all the food a final rinse before moving it to the cutting board. Peeling the outside of your produce and cooking it when possible is another effective way to kill or remove stubborn bacteria.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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