Earth as a Delicacy

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

Although the lengths that people go to remove dirt from their clothes, bodies, and homes make it hard to believe, “good dirt” is an absolute delicacy the world over. For geophagists, finding earth that has the “right” smell and texture brings immense pleasure, in the same way a warm Krispy Kreme doughnut might for others. Indeed, some of the terminology used for geophagic earths is similar to that for sweets. For example, in Haiti, geophagic earth is known as bonbons terres, and pregnant women there relish it like candy. Along the Swahili coast, geophagic earth is described as tamu, meaning both “sweet” and “delicious,” even though there is nothing sugary per se about the earths. Sometimes the connection is even more literal: in a Georgia hospital, a birthday cake was spotted that was made out of baked red clay, topped with butter and salt. Earth is not the only nonfood snack that is relished; hunks of raw starch (amylophagy) were once typically stocked in the snack aisle of grocery stores in the South, right next to the cookies and candy.