Nobody likes blood.
After centuries of indoctrination and vampire fiction, the consumption of blood is seen as something evil and deranged. When I shared my excitement about researching this story, a friend immediately commented that “no one in their right mind would be kicked about eating or drinking blood.” But food, much like every other component of culture, has been prey to religion and politics. What are ‘acceptable’ changes with the people in power? So, while blood has been an important ingredient in cuisines around the world, religion and horror fiction has deemed it unwanted, unclean, fringe. Psychologically, the mere sight of blood — even a pinprick on your finger — is cause for alarm. The collective unconscious has registered the visual as something that calls for a negative response. While preparing food, blood is seen as an impurity, something that has to be washed off. Most mainstream cuisines do not feature it as a component anymore, and dishes that originally used blood as an ingredient have modified recipes now, which have become the norm, and hence have led to people forgetting what the dish actually tastes like.
Having said that, blood is making a comeback to the kitchens of the world’s biggest culinary destinations. From Spain to Manhattan, Southeast Asia to Mexico, chefs at the busiest restaurants are bringing blood back to the menu. Why? For starters, it is an efficient thickener, a re-hydrating agent, a colouring agent and a fantastic flavour enhancer. While the uninitiated might take time — or give up — on the strong minerality of the ingredient, it is definitely an acquired taste, which can pump up the savoury component of a dish and also lend its tarty ferrous vibe to a dessert. Heck, Elisabeth Paul, one of the most famous interns at Chef René Redzepi and Chef Claus Meyer’s The Nordic Food Lab — an experimental space created for chefs who wanted to work with the weird and the taboo — has found a way of replacing eggs with blood in traditional western desserts.
Variations of blood sausages and blood soups are quite common in Europe. Pig or cattle blood is allowed to coagulate under heat and turned into sausages using fillers like ground meat, fat, rice, bread and barley. The Tuscan Biroldo is made with pig’s blood and offal and spices such as star anise, cinnamon, nutmeg and fennel, while a sweeter version with pine nuts and sultanas has its origins in Pistoia. The Black Pudding (primarily, the traditional Stornoway Black Pudding, which has also been granted a GIS), on the other hand, is heavy on oatmeal and is boiled and served with malt vinegar. Other variations include deep frying and batter frying slices, the gelatinous Irish version called Drisheen, or the ‘Manchester Egg,’ Lancashire Blood Pudding encased in a pickled egg. Paras The German Blood Tongue is a variety of head cheese made with pickled beef tongue, the milder Kishka is popular in Eastern Europe, the Spanish morcilla and Cuban-Mexican Moronga are spicier versions made with onions, chillies, oregano and mint (the Moronga is boiled and cased in the pig’s large intestine) while the Finnish Mustamakkara is enjoyed with a side of lingonberry jam. Much like the Finnish-Swedish Blodplattar or Blood Pancakes, which are made by whipping blood into a thick consistency and then cooked with other pancake ingredients and served with reindeer meat and jam. Blood sausages and puddings primarily use pig or cattle blood, whereas blood soups also use goat and goose blood. Blood broths — simple, hearty and wholesome one bowl meals — are common in Poland, northern Europe and Germany, the Polish Czerina being most popular. It can be made with pig, duck, and hen or rabbit blood and is flavoured with plums, cherries, apple vinegar and honey, and usually served with kluski, macaroni and boiled potatoes. In desserts, the Italians also make something called Sanguinaccio Dolce — a sweet pudding made with pig blood, chocolate, sugar, pine nuts, raisins and milk. Not to forget, blood is also used in European sauces as a thickener, most famously in the coq au vin.
The Americas borrow heavily from Spanish and Portuguese cooking and, hence, variations of the blood sausage are quite popular. Moronga is eaten as is, or grilled, deep fried or curried and used in soups. Brazil also uses dried goat blood for seasoning. Colombians make the Pepitoria — spicy rice cooked in goat blood — while the Mexicans eat goat’s stomach stuffed with pig blood and vegetables.
The Asians, or They Who Eat and Experiment with Everything, are the ones whose culinary spectrum has been curtailed the most by religious or political factors. In spite of that, blood still features heavily in Southeast Asian soups, broths and curries. What must be noticed is that Asian prejudice has removed fresh blood from its cooking, using mostly dried and coagulated versions. If fresh blood was used in food, those recipes are barely available or served today. The Chinese Blood Tofu, or coagulated thickened blood, is used in soups. Something similar is found in Taiwan and Korea called Blood Cakes, which are used to make the Korean Blood Curd and the Haejang-Guk, or Hangover Soup. Fresh blood is used in Indonesia (Saksang — pig or dog meat stew), Laos and Thailand (in soups and salads) and Philippines (Dinuguan — dry stir-fried meat, blood and vinegar).
Given the Indian subcontinent’s Muslim, Buddhist and vegetarian populations, blood does not feature much in the region’s cooking. The only examples remain the Goan sorpotel, which traditionally features pig blood, but that recipe is fast disappearing. The Aattu Ratham Poriyal (Lamb Blood Curry) is the other dish that still survives in Tamil Nadu, a spicy South Indian curry made with coagulated blood that is tightened to replicate liver and is then cooked with spices and fat.
Blood, like many ingredients, is ignored because of indoctrination. We are told what is kosher and what isn’t and hence, over generations, cooking traditions are lost to tamer, pre-approved versions. What we lose along with recipes is authenticity — and a more inclusive and appreciative palate.