I think it’s bad to kill for pleasure, so I’ve been a vegan or vegetarian since I was a teen. As such, I’m constantly being lectured about the ways in which my life is lacking as the result of not eating animal gore.
People claim I’m missing out on the richness of a fatty ramen broth, or the stringiness of barbecued ribs as the meat falls off the bone, or that my brain is turning to actual mush because I’m not getting enough omega 3s or something.
So, in an effort to get a taste of what I’ve been missing, I decided to try cooking a few recipes using the only ethical source of animal products I know of: myself.
Consuming animal blood is pretty common. It is, obviously, used as an ingredient in things like blood sausages, and blood soups. But while doing the research for this article, I learned that it’s used in less obvious things, like candy and wine, so I’ve spent the last two weeks constantly worried that I've accidentally been eating animal blood.
Human blood is less commonly consumed, but it's not totally unheard of. Some people in the contemporary vampire community drink it, the occasional murderer has been known to indulge, and, presumably, there's a Silicon Valley weirdo downing some right now as part of an effort to live to be 1000.
Outside of the small amount that leaks out of my horrifically British gums every time I floss, I’ve never consumed human blood, and the thought of doing so for this article made me nervous for a couple of reasons:
1) Human blood isn't very widely used as an ingredient and there isn't a huge amount of information about eating it available online, meaning I ended up in an internet hole reading about every possible thing that could go wrong when consuming blood, up to and including the possibility of eating too much and dying from an iron overdose.
2) It's gross.
To get a bit more info on what to expect and some ideas of what I might be able to make, I spoke with Laura Schälchli, a cook in Switzerland who runs workshops on using animal blood in food.
She told me that she's primarily interested in blood as an ingredient because she hates to see food wasted. "Every day in the slaughterhouse, they just throw it down the drain," she said. "And it’s like, three to four liters [from] each animal."
Laura regularly cooks blood-based dishes for friends and acquaintances, and has little patience for people who are repulsed by the idea. "I always make the argument like, if you eat a steak there’s blood in a steak as well,” she said. “So, stop this. Be realistic. There’s blood everywhere.”
Laura explained that she often uses blood as a thickener in food, because blood contains a type of protein called albumin, which is what makes it coagulate. “You can kind of think of cooking with blood as you would cooking with egg,” she said.
Laura has several blood recipes on her website. I decided to go with the meringue recipe, created by a chef named Valentin Diem, because meringues have a texture I don't remember encountering since going vegan (meringues are, typically, mostly made of egg whites).
Talking with her calmed my nerves a little about accidentally giving myself a fatal overdose of iron. Mainly because she eats blood all the time and, during our Skype call, looked very much like someone who has never died from an iron overdose.
The only thing she said that concerned me a little was about the effect of stress on the taste of blood. "A stressed animal, you can really taste," she said. "It smells really metallic." Which, as an incredibly anxious person, made me feel, well, anxious about how bad my blood might taste.
On the day I cooked my meringues, a phlebotomist came to my apartment to take the blood out of me. She removed 15 vials.
Because blood begins to coagulate pretty quickly once it stops moving, I immediately transferred the blood into a bowl and stirred it with a whisk to keep it liquid.
I’ve never really thought of myself as being especially squeamish, but the experience of stirring the blood has made me realize that I might secretly be one of those faint-at-the-sight-of-blood people. After I'd been mixing it around for a few minutes, I lifted the whisk and saw that a kind of gore braid had formed around its wire loops, and I had to concentrate really hard on not passing out.
I made the meringues using a slightly adapted version of the recipe Laura gave me. (I say slightly adapted because Laura's recipe was in German, so featured measurements like "1msp" and "1priez" that I didn't understand and had to guess at.)
60g powdered sugar
One tablespoon turmeric
Two pinches of salt
When I transferred all of the ingredients to my Kitchen Aid and turned it on, a bunch of blood splattered on to me and around my kitchen.
After about 20 minutes of being beaten, the blood mixture, thankfully, stopped looking like blood, and became a kind of foamy, creamy, Elmo-red sludge that looked incredibly appetizing for the five or six seconds I was able to forget that the majority of the mixture had been flowing through my veins less than an hour earlier.
I piped the mixture into little mounds on parchment paper, and baked them for an hour at 200 F. I then left them to cool for another hour. They probably didn't need to be cooled for that long, but I kind of wanted to spend a little more time in the never-eaten-a-baked-good-made-from-my-own-bodily-fluids portion of my life.
I'm not sure how to describe the smell they had. It's a smell common amongst things that are dead, dying, or maimed. The smell of slaughterhouses, and surgery, and coming home from a weekend away to find your goldfish floating at the top of its tank. It's the smell that makes people call the cops on their lovely quiet neighbor who they never would've imagined could turn out to be a serial killer. The meringues had that smell. But sugary. I can’t think of a time I’ve ever wanted to eat something less.
When I bit into one, I discovered that the taste was the same as the smell. Sickly gore. Like eating an Oreo while being stabbed to death. Or drinking Sprite from a cup made of pennies.
It had the same texture as a regular meringue, which was good because it meant my baking attempt had been successful, but also very bad because it meant it got stuck to the back of my teeth while I chewed.
It was probably one of the most traumatic culinary experiences I’ve ever had, but I honestly found it less disgusting than eating something made of animal blood.
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