Wyn Drabble: No pooh-poohing food experience

By Wyn Drabble


If you're offering me a coffee during the holiday period, please may I have one made from beans which have avoided passing through the digestive tract of a Thai elephant. Or any other nationality of elephant for that matter.

In an attempt to explain this bizarre practice, the creator of Black Ivory Coffee says acids in an elephant's stomach remove some of the bitterness from the beans. That may well be true but I say I can live with a bit of bitterness.

And, as I sip, I certainly don't want mental images of poorly paid Thais picking through the poop of Jumbo to retrieve beans that have lost their bitterness. In fact, I would rather not have any thoughts about excretion as I sip.

Of course, it's not the first time coffee has passed through animals to "improve" it. Kopi Luwak from Indonesia passes through the digestive tract of a civet before being harvested from the droppings.

A civet is a small nocturnal mammal, native to tropical Asia and Africa. Imagine, if you can, a combination of a cat, an otter and a mongoose. Intact coffee berries in the droppings will confirm you are on the trail of a real civet.

Let me, at this point, apologise for focusing so strongly on poop today, especially to those who are still eating their breakfast. But how else can I ridicule man's ludicrous attempts to create products which are rare or different and for which they can charge an arm and a leg (GST not included)?

And how do you explain the fact that there are people willing to pay the outrageous prices asked for these delicacies? Believe it or not, there are people who want their coffee beans to have been pooped out by quadrupeds.

Being a probing investigative journalist, I have unearthed a few other food items you may be surprised at as well.

There was a hotel in New York which served a US$1000 bagel.

Surprisingly enough, the bagel had not passed through an animal: Its claim to fame was its filling of white truffle cream cheese, goji berry-infused Riesling jelly and gold leaf.

Sounds delicious.

I'll bet you can't imagine paying thousands for a full rib-eye. You might have to if it comes from the Hyogo prefecture of Japan. According to a report I read, it will have been fed on beer and massaged by hand to ensure a tenderness and marbling of fat beyond compare.

Sorry, but I can get a rib-eye for $20 at a local bar/restaurant and it serves me very well indeed. Besides, the cattle beast doesn't get the beer: I do.

Now, I enjoy a good pizza as much as the next man as long as it doesn't have pineapple on it (I love pineapple but not on pizza, thank you). But I would not be willing to fork out US$4200 for Domenico Crolla's "Pizza Royale 007".

Its topping includes lobster marinated in cognac, caviar soaked in champagne, Scottish smoked salmon, venison, prosciutto and vintage balsamic vinegar, all topped off with 24-carat gold flakes. Parking for your Aston Martin is free. So, I hope, are robust vomit bags.

It's hard to imagine melons commanding big money but in Japan they can. A seventeen-pound (7.7kg) Densuke watermelon fetched US$6100.

What you are paying for here is rarity and, according to an agricultural spokesman, "a different level of sweetness".

In the cantaloupe category, two Yubari melons fetched US$22,872 in 2008. That record may now have been eclipsed though certainly not by me.

I'm more in the two for $5 league.

If money really is no object, you could buy an Italian white alba truffle, the king of fungi.

A Hong Kong real estate investor once paid US$160,406 for just one. In his defence, it did weigh in at 1.51kg.

I feel it's important to remind you at this point that man is the most intelligent creature on the planet.

Anyway, must run now.

I'm going to feast on Agaricus bisporus au pain grill (though you probably know it as button mushrooms on toast). Total cost: $2.75.

And none of it has passed through the digestive tract of an animal. Yet.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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