Can You Really Just Eat Around Mold?

Whether or not we’ve actually done it is another question, but we’ve definitely all thought about it. You know, when you see a little bit of mold (probably on some bread or cheese) and ask yourself if you can just… cut off the moldy part and pretend it’s fine. Also, don’t lie, because something like 87% of people either have used the five second rule (or would do it). It’s okay, this is an internet post and we won’t judge you for using the five second rule (even if bacteria contaminates food near-instantly). We won’t judge you if you just eat around the mold, but can you really just eat around mold?

Further Reading: Should You Use the 5 Second Rule? | What’s the Difference Between Mold and Mildew?

What Is Food-Mold Anyway?

All molds (not just the food kind) are fungi. Obviously, not all fungi form molds—you’re probably already familiar with mushrooms as a non-mold fungi. Anything with water in it is susceptible to mold, which is unsurprising considering how resilient fungi are. 

If you’re particularly afraid of mold and germs and things, you’re going to be unhappy to find out mold grows on food. While there are many kinds of fungi (like penicillium) that make mold on your food, they all come from spores. These spores are just… everywhere. All the time. Getting on you and your food and just generally chilling out in the air. They’re not dangerous though, in the same way that there are bacteria everywhere all the time but you’re not constantly sick. You weren’t getting sick from fungus before you knew this, you’re probably not going to start now. 

Anyway, when a spore finds itself on a surface, it wants to grow. This requires nutrients and water; it’s not necessarily specific to food, obviously. Mold grows everywhere, notably in the bathroom or under the sink in your dwelling. But food is just… Really good for growing mold given that fungi like organic matter and we tend to store our food at the right temperature for mold spores to take root. 

The most common way food mold gets you sick is through mycotoxins and aflatoxins. Mycotoxins are common in food-molds and cover a wide range with different symptoms depending on the parent fungus. They mostly get you sick by ingestion, getting into your bloodstream, or being inhaled (don’t sniff moldy food). Aflatoxins are a type of mycotoxin, and are generally considered to be the most well-understood type of mycotoxin. They’re also known to be pretty carcinogenic. 

But Can You Cut It Off?

Alright you probably weren’t that interested to find out your moldy bread is covered in fungus. Even if we told you it was like… harmless grass you probably weren’t going to eat it anyway. Hopefully.

The visible off-green/blue patch on your bread isn’t all the mold on your food. Kind of like pests, if you can already see them—there’s a lot more where you can’t see. Our verbiage of “root” was deliberate here. In the same way that plants burrow deep into the soil to extract nutrients, so too does the fungus in order to extract nutrients from your bagel. To that end, scraping the mold off isn’t going to really do anything, because the green stuff on the outside is just spores. Or they’re the stalks that spores form on the end of. 

This is magnified with softer foods—like bread. The mold’s roots can penetrate farther into softer things. Intuitive. 

Once food starts molding, fungus isn’t your only problem either. Once mold has taken hold, it likely means that other bacteria prone to causing illness has infiltrated your food as well. 

Harder foods, like solid blocks of cheese, make it more difficult for mold to dig in. So, if you wanted to, you could get away with cutting mold off a bit better. 

Edible Molds

You might be familiar with blue cheese, and if you know what makes it blue, then you’re probably wondering if there’s other kinds of food-mold that is acceptable to eat. The answer is yes, and also if you didn’t know blue cheese is blue because it’s moldy. 

Commonly, you’ll find this kind of mold on blue cheese, or even as the hard “rind” encasing softer cheeses. Salami commonly boasts a mold count as well, using a type of penicillium to seal in the meat’s taste after curing. In the case of salami and soft cheese, it actually helps protect the food from other molds. 

A fungus called Botrytis cinerea infects grapes used in wine. It causes the grapes to dehydrate and increases their sugar concentration, which winemakers like. 

But the funny one goes to Ustilago maydis, which is commonly known as “corn smut.” Corn smut makes the kernels on the corn cob turn into big gray tumors, and is eaten as a delicacy throughout South America. 

More fungal quizzing here.