Eating mold feels like something you should do only on a dare or as a contestant on a reality show. Many people enjoy foods made with mold like blue cheese and dry-aged steaks. It’s unlikely you’ll be on television soon so here are 10 foods you can eat if they’re moldy (and ones you shouldn’t.)
10. Soft Cheese, Hard Cheese
Before letting his friend Elaine house sit for him, Jerry, of the hit 1990’s comedy Seinfeld, implored not to put soft cheeses of any kind in his refrigerator. He must have known that the high moister content of soft cheeses such as cottage cheese and ricotta make them prime breeding grounds for the growth of unhealthy molds. Hard cheeses are a different story, as well get to shortly, but the consistency of soft cheeses means its too easy for the spores to spread and contaminate an entire container. Unfortunately, this also goes for other soft dairy products like yogurt and sour cream. Milk can also be susceptible to the growth of mold spores. Hard cheeses like Parmesan, Cheddar and Swiss on the other hand are examples of cheeses with a relatively firm consistency. Because of this firmness, mold does not spread through them with the ease that they do in soft cheeses like mentioned before. The good news about these cheeses is that even if they do start to develop some mold they can usually still be saved. The general rule is that you have to trim the mold and an inch around it to make sure you get spores that may have spread even if you can’t see them. Once you cut the cheese it is actually ok to eat and you can keep repeating this process until you finish off the cheese. Though health care experts want you to remember to not let the knife touch any of the mold spores which can then contaminate the rest of the cheese. That said if you have any questions about the kind of cheese you’re eating it’s better to get rid of it rather than try to trim the mold out and risk ingesting harmful spores. There’s a helpful saying to remember: When in doubt, throw it out!
9. Baked Goods Gone Bad
When people think of moldy foods many times blue-green tinged slices of bread come to mind. Bread is a good breeding ground for the mold because its soft texture allows the mold to spread throughout the entire loaf. If you see mold on only a few of the slices you should still throw out the entire loaf because microscopic spores that you can’t see can be present and cause a range of problems. Some molds can cause mild allergic reactions and breathing problems. Rhizopus Stolonifer, also known as black bread mold can cause serious infections and even death. Unfortunately, it isn’t just bread that can be contaminated with these nasty spores. Pretty much all baked goods with mold should be tossed. This includes cookies, cakes, muffins, doughnuts and the like. Don’t cut the doughnut in half or pop the top off the muffin – throw the whole thing in the trash. The bright side is that most bread is relatively cheap to replace while cheeses and meats can be expensive to replace if you have to throw them out. Even if you have to throw out an entire loaf of bread it won’t set you back too much and you won’t risk ingesting black bread mold.
8. Green Eggs and Ham
Although the appearance of greenish mold on the outside of food may not look very appetizing, sometimes the fungus is used to produce some salty, cured meats like artisanal salami. The mold actually forms a protective layer around the meat helping to preserve it. You may find that some of your Sunday hams, such as aged hams, have developed a thin layer of mold on the outside. This fungus aided in the curing process and can be scrubbed or cut off. Once removed the meat will be fine to cook and enjoy. As Dr. Seuss taught us we might find that we like foods as seemingly strange as green eggs and ham if we’re willing to give them a chance. Eggs on the other hand can be a problem and have to be taken seriously. Fungi that develops on the shell can penetrate inside and contaminate the egg white and the yolk. The high moisture content inside the egg makes it a great breeding ground for mold. The soft, watery inside of the eggs makes it a convenient breeding ground so if you discover mold on eggs you should throw them away. To recap: green eggs NOT ok. green ham – ok.
7. They’re Nuts
Peanut butter is a popular food with both kids and adults. From peanut butter sandwiches to a host of peanut butter flavored foods it is a true staple of many diets. However, peanuts and nuts of all kinds for that matter, are susceptible to dangerous molds that can be harmful to your health. It isn’t so much the nuts themselves as the way they are processed. Another a factor is the way these items are being stored. When nuts are stored in giant bins for extended periods of time it’s not surprising that molds could grow in that environment. When the stored nuts are processed to become nut butters and, the addition of sugar and denatured oils greatly increases the chances that the nut butters can develop mold and that the spores spread. Moldy peanut butter is a big, large no no. Don’t try to spoon out the mold and eat the rest because the soft consistency means the mold spores can easily spread throughout the jar, and likely already have if you’re seeing it. All-natural nut butters with no added oils and sugars are less susceptible to mold, but you still should be on the lookout. As if mold is present, same concept applies, throw the jar out immediately. Since fruit jellies and preserves are popular with peanut butter it’s worth noting that because of their high moisture and sugar content they can also develop dangerous mold and should be discarded if present. So for all of us who love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, make sure both ingredients are completely mold-free!
6. Some Vegetables
Hard vegetables like carrots, turnips, bell peppers and cabbage are firm enough to thwart the spread of most of the molds you would find on softer fruits and vegetables like oranges and tomatoes. Potatoes can be susceptible to white mold, also called Sclerotinia stem rot, but are generally more resistant than the soft vegetables are to fungus. Root vegetables are more at risk from mold when they are exposed to unusually cold and wet weather during the growing season. Commercially grown potatoes are treated with fungicides to help prevent the spread of molds. Unlike soft baked goods like bread and cookies, vegetables like potatoes and carrots can still be eaten if you find some mold on them. Just make sure you cut away the moldy spots and at least a one inch area around them. If you are sensitive to mold or have a mold allergy you would probably be better off throwing away foods with any mold on them. To discourage the growth of mold on your vegetables keep them dry and don’t wash them until you’re ready to use them.
5. How Old’s the Beef?
There was a Wendy’s commercial in the 1980’s that with a persistent elderly woman who kept asking “where’s the beef?” The relevant question here is “how old is the beef?” because aged beef makes use of mold as part of the dry-aging process. This dry-aging actually promotes the growth of fungi that not only doesn’t cause spoilage, but the “crust” of mold acts as a preservative. When the meat is going to be cooked the mold is removed. Apparently, prior to the 1960’s most beef produced the United States was dry aged. This 7 to 30 day process resulted in a superior product. The process breaks down the meat enough to tenderize it without it really decomposing. With the switch to vacuum packing, meat could be wet aged. One online meat connoisseur insists that the layer of crusty fungus that results from dry aging was more expensive so was abandoned in favor of the more cost effective option. The average 16oz. dry aged steak will cost you around $45 to $60 so it’s no surprise that this is not the kind of steak the average person buys. This is a bit expensive, but dry aged meat made with the help of mold is tender and tasty. Some people might be put off by the crusty layer of mold you have to remove before cooking, but if you get past this you’re in for a treat.
4. The Blue Cheese Special
Some foods are intentionally made using certain kinds of mold and so-called blue cheeses are perhaps the most recognized. When we see blue cheese crumbles on a salad or blue cheese dressing do we immediately recoil at the sight of moldy food? Blue cheeses are made using a kind of blue or green mold known as penicillium; this is one of the good fungi that have been used to good purposes – most famously as penicillin, used as an antibiotic to treat some bacterial infections. The introduction of antibiotics in the late 1920’s completely revolutionized medical care and the use of fungi has also had quite an impact on cheese production. These types of cheeses are usually aged in dark cool places like caves. If you’re not that familiar with blue cheeses they are known for their strong smell and a somewhat creamy texture. Blue cheeses are usually described as having a sharp and salty flavor. Gorgonzola is one of the more popular blue cheeses and can be found on pizzas, sandwiches and salads. Roquefort is a French blue cheese made from sheep’s milk. To be officially labeled Roquefort cheese it must be aged in the Roquefort caves of Southern France. Blue cheeses aren’t for everyone and sometimes considered to be an acquired taste.
3. Hot Dogs
Unfortunately the moist, salty meats that make hot dogs tasty also make them prime breeding grounds for molds. Lunch meats like bologna, olive loaf and liver wurst are also susceptible to the growth of mold. Aspergillosis is known as a kind of opportunistic fungus that can easily infect actual dogs, but when it comes to hot dogs there are other molds to worry about. Food molds thrive on acidic foods like hot dogs and bacon. Unlike hard salamis that can have a layer of mold that is ok to scrape off and then are safe to eat, these soft meats allow the mold spores to spread too easily. Much like the soft fruits that have a high water content, hot dogs are a moist food. In addition to the water content in these meats, their high salt content is another factor that makes them a good breeding ground for mold. Don’t forget that hot dog buns can also harbor mold and their soft texture means they should also be discarded when you see mold. The vulnerability of hot dogs and lunch meat to mold makes a good case for the dry aging of meats. This process not only helps to prevent spoilage but it produces a tasty piece of meat. Many people think the dry aging process is superior to the way most meat is processed today, which usually involves vacuum packing. Of course, hot dogs are way cheaper than a good dry aged steak.
2. Bad Seeds
Fresh fruits are healthy foods of course and you should eat as many as you can. However, it’s important to make sure you only consume soft fruits that are mold free. Soft fruits such as oranges, strawberries, tomatoes and cucumbers, like soft cheeses, allow mold to spread relatively easily so they should be discarded when mold is found on them. If, for instance, you have a container of strawberries and some of them have mold, it would probably be ok to eat the berries that aren’t touching the contaminated ones. Carrots are a good example of a hard vegetable that resists the growth of mold and is a vegetable that could still be consumed after mold is removed. Even though it would be easy to see the gray mold on something like a cucumber it’s not a good idea to cut out the mold. You won’t see the spores so you can’t just assume that the rest of it is ok to eat. The soft texture of the cucumber allows fungus to spread and there are microscopic spores that you can’t see. But don’t panic. If you accidentally eat a piece of fruit that contains mold, chances are, nothing is going to happen to you. It’s possible you could become nauseous and even experience some gastrointestinal distress, but this would normally only last a short time. If symptoms do persist, however, you should see a doctor.
1. Montezuma’s Bounty
Sometimes one person’s moldy grain is another person’s delicacy. This has been the case in Central Mexico going back centuries to the time of the Aztec civilization. The Aztecs word for corn invested with fungus was Huitlacoche. This is a gray, stone shaped fungus called Ustilago maydis, corn smut or corn truffles. This fungus is still a coveted ingredient by many in Mexico. This fungus grows out of control on corn crops during the rainy season. After the corn is harvested the fungus is cooked, which transforms it into a tar – like mush. This black mush is described as having a tangy flavor similar to mushrooms. The moldy mush is usually used as a filling in quesadilla and other tortilla recipes as well as in various soups. There are also popular Huitaloched stuffed egg recipes that are sometimes known as Mexican mushroom deviled eggs. There’s not much in that sentence that sounds very appealing, but to each his own. If you’re not going to be able to get it freshly made in Mexico then you can try the canned versions. Several varieties of Huitlacoche is available on many grocery store’s shelves. However, if you prefer to make it yourself there are plenty of recipes online – assuming you can get your hands on some “fresh” Huitlacoche.