All around the world, maverick chefs have found a range of unusual ways to make dinner. From using lemon juice to ‘cook’ fish to roasting giant joints of meat over a roaring fire, there are several recipes that require some more serious gear than an oven and a hob. But, for all the wacky ways we constantly try to reinvent the cooking wheel, we can safely say that there are only a select few who have thought, “what if I used a volcano to toast my marshmallows?”
That is exactly the thought that occurred to Twitterer Jay Furr this week. After reading about the violently erupting Kilauea volcano in Hawaii, which has been spewing lava since May 3rd, Furr began to wonder whether there was any practical use for all this molten rock. In an attempt to satisfy his curiosity, he contacted the United States Geological Survey volcano team to get some answers.
Though he was quick to specify that such a stunt would only be undertaken if he had access to a “long enough stick”, the USGS response was less than enthusiastic. According to some of the world’s foremost volcanic boffins, the noxious sulphur dioxide and hydrogen sulphide fumes would not only leave the marshmallows tasting horrible, but would potentially poison any chef before they could get close enough to cook. They then reiterated that under no circumstances should any member of the public head to Hawaii with a bag of Stay Puft.
Despite their attempts to pour cold water on the marshmallow roasting plan, the USGS did acknowledge that sugar and volcanoes can be an explosive combination. When sugar comes into contact with sulphuric acid, of the sort found in volcanic fumes, it comes under attack from the poisonous chemical. The result is the creation of a blackened column of desiccated carbon and sulphur dioxide gas that looks like it was attacked by a very angry dragon.
Given the stern warnings of leading scientists, you could be forgiven for thinking that volcanoes and cooking could never work. However, perhaps surprisingly, there is one ancient tradition that proves the two are actually a match made in heaven. In the Bolivian city of Potosi, locals have been preparing a special ceremonial soup for centuries that relies on the power of volcanic rocks. A hot stone is placed in the centre of a ceramic bowl filled with a hearty stew of potatoes and pork, which then brings the whole dish to a bubbling boil. The result is a spectacular, if slightly unnerving dinner table centrepiece.
It’s important to point out that despite the well practised traditions of the residents of Potosi, venturing to a volcano with the intention of cooking is not generally thought to be a good idea. Aside from the poisonous gas, an actively erupting site is clearly extraordinarily dangerous place to be. Since it started venting, Kilauea has destroyed buildings, forced people to leave their homes and left a trail of destruction in its wake. So, while Bolivians may have proven that you can cook with volcanoes, it’s clearly not something that should be recommended.