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I have to disagree with the notion that most college students have uneducated palates. I have to put the disclaimer though that I don't go to a stereotypical college; my entire college population has never been over 500 students. It's a very diverse group, with students coming from other states as well as other countries (parts of Africa, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, France).

I have a "more educated" palate than a lot of my friends, mostly because of the wonderful experiences I had with food growing up. I consumed both bland mass-produced fare (Hamburger Helper, Chef Boyardee, etc) as well as home-cooked meals that would get pretty pricey in the average restaurant. I started eating bitter greens (Kale, Mustard, Collards) at a young age and sampled raw broccoli and enjoyed it as early as age five. I was fortunate to have a mother who is interested in the range and diversity of food; I have an appreciation for Greek, French, German, and Asian cuisine as well as "down home" Southern fare.

I think part of the problem is that most dining halls on college campuses only offer very homogenous foods. The dining hall at my college accepts recipes and offers ethnic themed meals: Greek one night, Caribbean another night, etc. I can remember, however, complaining to a friend that the Tzitziki sauce the dining hall offered up "wasn't real"--they didn't use yogurt, they didn't include dill, and the cucumbers weren't properly processed before making, so the end result was watery and a bit flavorless.

But the kids on my campus love different teas (and drink them often without sugar!), a variety of vegetables, and some complex flavors that would surprise our compatriots in other colleges. Part of that, I think is the diverse nature of the campus. We are able to share food memories, and you'd be surprised at what you can cook with a microwave, a toaster oven, and a Foreman Grill as appliances.

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I often find myself not accustomed to eating foods that older generations and other cultures enjoy. I often find that foods are only suitable when drenched in in something sweet. I find myself craving sodas and fruit juices more than beer, wine, or any other sort of beverage. The older generations of my family, who are vietnamese, often enjoy things like grass jelly, durian, bitter melon, and all sorts of bitter greens which I find vile. Then there are people who enjoy straight black coffee. And most of the time, foods that are brought over to America or translated are often created laden in fat and sugars.

I'm wondering if I'm the only who feels as if my palate has been destroyed by all the foods I'm used to eating. Is the American palate dulled by our food habits of today? Everything is milder, sweeter, saltier, fattier.

I am really trying to experiment with different flavors, especially the bitter, but I am still finding it extremely difficult.  So far, the only way I consume alcohol is when I mix it with something sweet like rum and coke or if I drink it as a sweet beverage or hard liquor. The only way I can consume coffee is when I mix it with loads of cream and sugar and dilute it to nothingness. The only way I can enjoy grapefruit is with tons of sugar piled on top. The only way I can enjoy bitter melon...well...is to not eat it at all!  I'm still pretty young, so maybe my palate needs time to develop. Even though I'm just one person, I am still questioning whether our food culture, a one that induces obesity especially, has to do with our tastes being dulled to the point of no return.

You might like to read this thread:

Are you a supertaster?

Most of the food preferences you mentioned you have in common with supertasters. This would not hold true if your tastes have changed just recently--you are born with it.

The way I look at it is this: not everybody has to enjoy greens and black coffee.

Ruth Dondanville aka "ruthcooks"

“Are you making a statement, or are you making dinner?” Mario Batali

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I'm sorry if I offended anyone with supposed "stereotypes", but I'm basing my opinions solely on observation alone. It may or may not be true with some people, but the majority of people I've met fit under my description.

Hmm supertaster, I forgot about that. We actually did an experiment in biology where we tasted a chemical that only supertasters could detect. Apparently, I'm one of them, how special of me.

What's weird is that I like bitter greens, but just something that is so directly confrontational about its bitterness like coffee or alcohol makes it much more difficult to bear with. I treat coffee like a flavor for something else rather. Coffee ice cream, coffee with milk, coffee flavored anything is delicious, but I wouldn't drink black coffee straight.

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this *is* an excellent idea for a topic. i was brought up by a somewhat puritanical mother, healthwise, and yet she was discovering gourmet cuisine such as it was in the 70s. so we would have for example skim milk from powder (eww) and french fries made with olive oil [?]. not together, i mean... :blink:

but this had its benefits as i was never really scared of anything--as children we ate oysters, drank red wine, ate horseradish on roast beef and loved it, i remember liking buttered spinach and brussels sprouts--not every kid's fave tastes. :smile:

i guess my point being that yes, the prevailing culture has huge influence, but so do family and other-cultural influences. before i was 17--as a Scottish-Canadian--i had seen tamari, miso paste, tahini: i don't suppose these things are so exotic any more, but once they were.

and i really believe in individual taste preferences too: i love stuff now like kim chi, sauerkraut, etc., but no matter how hard i try i can't stomach the taste of fresh ginger--it has a 'burn-y' taste to me--yet i love so many other aromatics and spicy things. so go figure... :unsure:

"The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the ocean."

--Isak Dinesen

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and i really believe in individual taste preferences too: i love stuff now like kim chi, sauerkraut, etc., but no matter how hard i try i can't stomach the taste of fresh ginger--it has a 'burn-y' taste to me--yet i love so many other aromatics and spicy things. so go figure...  :unsure:

Have you had young ginger? Old ginger can be very harsh on the palate.

May

Totally More-ish: The New and Improved Foodblog

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Hm. The quiz says I'm a supertaster, too. I have to admit I have never particularly liked brussels sprouts, but I've always liked bitter greens. I also like coffee and grapefruit. I like distinct flavors, I guess.

I think I know that test you were talking about, Takadi. The one with the paper strip, and if you have a certain genetic marker, it tastes really horribly bitter, like getting soap in your mouth only worse?

Interesting things. I've always liked a higher cocoa percentage in my chocolate; my brother always favored white chocolate, but I've enjoyed as much as 85% cocoa chocolate bars (meriting joking comments from my parents about eating baking chocolate).

I have also noticed, however, that a lot of flavors that I would generally classify as bitter get termed salty by my peers. I have to wonder if this is a cultural thing--the same way some cultures don't have distinguishing categories for green and blue, but one color-name that classifies both?

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Thanks, DCP!

I'd like to add that the palate problem is (usually) a matter of age and most people transition as they get older. I'd say that Japan has a very important food culture, but most students like mayonnaise more than Dijon mustard. The craze with sour foods is merely a fad for weight loss :wink:

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A lot of people from this part of the world (I'm in Turkey but I'm including the Balkans and Mediterranean too) have trouble with the heavy use of sugar in American foods. Salad dressings seem like dessert sauces to them, they don't get it. Sweet meat dishes also are generally not appreciated. Baked beans loaded with molasses, sweet potaotes with marshmallows, ketchup...well, thanks to Burger King and McDonalds they are now becoming accustomed to sweet hamburgers. :/ The idea of putting sweet fruit on yogurt is strange here too, though rarely they'll eat it with honey. In the U.S. most people can't stand yogurt unless it's sweetened.

Of course it's not just Americans that like sweet foods. I had assumed that all the sweetness in Thai food was an American thing, but a friend told me they actually sprinkle sugar on some foods there; he found things much too sweet.

As for coffee... I don't like black coffee. I've tried over and over, and have pretty much given up on it. I can drink it with milk and sugar, and with milk alone, but I find coffee with sugar and no milk even worse than black. (I can drink medium-sweet Turkish coffee though.) The extra bitter dark chocolates that are popular now I can handle but only in very small quantities. Which isn't a bad thing I suppose!

"Los Angeles is the only city in the world where there are two separate lines at holy communion. One line is for the regular body of Christ. One line is for the fat-free body of Christ. Our Lady of Malibu Beach serves a great free-range body of Christ over angel-hair pasta."

-Lea de Laria

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I love dark chocolate too, but -surprise!- I can only eat it when it's embedded with fruit and nuts. They sell those here with dried fruits in them like blueberries or raspberries. *sigh* Just when I thought I had it.

I love extra molasses in my baked beans too. I guess I have an addiction for sugar

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I personally find it very difficult to meet anyone who has any passion for food anymore. Is this an American thing? Alton Brown had once stated in an interview that there are no such thing as "cooking shows" in Italy because it would be so redundant. Passion for food is such a default in Italian culture that the cooking shows would be akin to "how to watch TV" shows or "how to say please and thank you" shows. It's ingrained in their minds since early childhood.

I think that at some time or another, I have posted here on eG about an advertisement that had me doubled over with laughter when I ran across it.

It was a bus shelter ad for a new housing development in a marginal neighborhood on the far northwest fringe of Center City Philadelphia. The houses in this development sell for anywhere from two to four times what existing nearby structures would probably have fetched before this development opened.

The ad depicts an African-American couple beaming in their spiffy new kitchen, with solid wood cabinets and stainless steel appliances. The legend above them reads, "We've started watching cooking shows!"

This is cooking as conspicuous consumption, a form of status display. I don't believe that Americans collectively are as divorced from good food as things like this imply -- no culinary culture that produced great indigenous barbecue can be that bad -- but I agree that it's certainly not instilled from birth in many Americans.

Well said, but you have to admit that the rise of cooking shows has probably done more to get people off the liquid crack (soda) and McRiblets, and into their kitchens. Sure, it has led to thousands of know-nothing 21 year old chefs reducing any kind of vinegar and making spinach foam, but it's a step in the right direction. It gets people to change and challenge their palates, and that's a good thing.

Save the Deliwww.savethedeli.com
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I had a friend of mine come over from Germany once and she commented on how everything here in the US is sweet. I agree. I have a huge sweet tooth, always have, but I like my sweets as deserts. I don't like sweet bread (as most commerical bread seems to be here in the US) or sweet coffee. I drink it black. I think its a matter of conditioning. My husband and I don't eat processed food, we long ago gave that up and it does change your palate when you do that...in my humble opinion...

"I eat fat back, because bacon is too lean"

-overheard from a 105 year old man

"The only time to eat diet food is while waiting for the steak to cook" - Julia Child

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Of course it's not just Americans that like sweet foods. I had assumed that all the sweetness in Thai food was an American thing, but a friend told me they actually sprinkle sugar on some foods there; he found things much too sweet.

Interesting. I have read in multiple places that Thai food is supposed to be a perfect balance of spicy, sweet, sour, and salty. Consider the popular street food Pad Thai - with tamarind for sweetness and sourness. Ideally, no one flavor should jump out at you, but they should all be fairly balanced.

No expert... I just happen to like Thai food.

David aka "DCP"

Amateur protein denaturer, Maillard reaction experimenter, & gourmand-at-large

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