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Acquired tastes


dougery
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On the acquired taste topic:  Humans are capable of acquiring a taste for virtually any flavor, texture, etc (even poisons, e.g., tequila :wink:).  We can even overcome acquired taste aversions (frequently developed in conjunction with developing the initial taste for tequila). 

Steingarten wrote an amusing essay about this when he started his food essayist career.  He cited studies that showed that if you eat a food that you have an aversion to (either an acquired or just because you don't like it) something like a dozen times, you can overcome the taste aversion.  He then listed the foods he disliked and set out to overcome his aversions.

Why would one do this (besides Steingarten's professional reason)?  So that you can semi-objectively decide if you like a food as opposed to being nauseated by it.  This might be useful if you have a desire to expand your experiences, to find out why others like a particular food, or for reasons social, environmental, practical (e.g., if you live in New Zealand, you might want to get over your mutton aversion).

While teaching cooking at a Southwest cooking school the owner tried to help me with my aversion to cilantro (she was appalled since cilantro is so pervasive in all her recipes and I wouldn't eat any of them with cilantro). I tried it many, many times , many ways, and I still can't bear it. At least I gave it a shot. I must admit it feels like a disability. Some say there is a chemical reaction with cilantro.

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Ok, I'm going to do a little thinking out loud here:

I think a great number of our aversions to foods can be contributed more to cultural habits and traditions. Our upbringing and exposure to certain foods outline what is acceptable and what is not (this goes for tastes, textures, odors).

This example is a bit extreme but let's say I travelled to South America and visited an aboriginal tribe which still practiced canibalism, I can guarantee you I would be disgusted. I'm sure the smell of cooking flesh (if they do cook it) and the site of it would make me vomit. I've been culturally conditioned to the fact that this is wrong in everyway, but to them it is an honor and pleasure. The thought of eating an ancestor is not only acceptable but an expectation. They will be in essence "living on" within them.

Can this be an acquired taste? Maybe if I lost my mind and if I lived there long enough to understand and absorb the traditions but it's possible.

Have we been socially programmed in some way to dislike certain textures, tastes, odors and foods? To be honest with you, I don't know...

I am not a professional in this field so give it to me!

"Live every moment as if your hair were on fire" Zen Proverb

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* Olives. Chopped up or kind of hidden in things, fine, but blatant olivism still kind of bugs me.

* Gin. I'm trying really hard with gin, but it's not going well.

* Offal. I haven't had really any exposure to offal, so I don't know if I like them or not. Seems like a special case of the acquired taste: If you don't do it right the first time, it could be ruined forever. See also: raw shellfish, sushi (I love sushi, but it seems to be one of those categories of food).

I think the thing with acquired tastes is that they are things you think you CAN like but currently DON'T, or else you wouldn't be subjecting yourself to the acquisition process. Like gin and I; I can see liking gin, but at the moment, I'm not a huge fan. Maybe I just haven't had the right gin for me in an actually well made martini, so for now, I'm working on it!

-- C.S.

"Not A Fan Of Blatant Olivism, And Gin. Olives In His Martini Are Right Out"

Edited for spelling; reserves right to add more stuff later!

Edited by Chef Shogun (log)

Matt Robinson

Prep for dinner service, prep for life! A Blog

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I remember making a conscious decision at the age of 14 to acquire the taste for coffee. I was at boarding school and it was really uncool if you were invited to some other girl's room for coffee to have to say 'oh actually can I have a glass of water'. It didn't take long, about two weeks as I remember.

but, there are things I try and try to eat and just gag (sorry) when I do. Prime example being goat's cheese. I would LOVE to be able to eat this, but (as I've said elsewhere on eGullet) - to me, it's like licking an old goat. And I try, oooh, two-three times a year, just to see if I can do it this time? nope. I've managed to acquire a taste for capers, anchovies, olives, celery, turnip [rutabaga], even beetroot - let's face it, it's an unusual child that says 'oooh good, is this beet??'

But goat's cheese defeats me...

Fi Kirkpatrick

tofu fi fie pho fum

"Your avatar shoes look like Marge Simpson's hair." - therese

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i can't understand the concept of not understanding "aquired taste" on a food website. :blink:

i've learned to eat almost everything. and when i don't like something, i know i should, and i work on liking it. that leads to more variety. and you know what they say about variety.

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Runny egg yolks. I only ate hard boiled and scrambled eggs. My husband likes his fried eggs, though, so I made them that way for him every weekend during the first two years of our marriage. Somewhere along the way I started getting used to the idea and now I like 'em runny as well!

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I grew up in a culture that values food (and herbs) for its medicinal/health benefit as much as viewing it as a source of sustenance or a source of pleasure. So learning to overcome initial dislikes, for things like ginseng chicken soup with no added salt, the bland excess liquid from congee, and armadillo soup made with bitter herbs that was meant to cure some forgotten illness, was to me a necessary burden of childhood, just like homework and getting kicked in the nuts by the schoolyard bully.

If I had never received the "training", would I now be enjoying uni, liver pate, tripe, and countless other items that I did not like the first time I tasted them?

I still won't drink bitter armadillo soup though. :smile:

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Ok, I'm going to do a little thinking out loud here:

I think a great number of our aversions to foods can be contributed more to cultural habits and traditions.  Our upbringing and exposure to certain foods outline what is acceptable and what is not (this goes for tastes, textures, odors). . . .

Have we been socially programmed in some way to dislike certain textures, tastes, odors and foods?  To be honest with you, I don't know... 

In a book called How the Mind Works, the author, Steven Pinker, discusses the phenonenon of disgust and food. Some of the points he makes:

1. He distinguishes between disgust and mere dislike. Disgust, he says, is a psychological aversion to certain foods, invariably from animals. We might deeply dislike vegetables, but we're not disgusted by them (unless, perhaps, they're rotten). Although various cultures consider different foods disgusting, it's always some animal part or product that's too disgusting to eat.

2. Since the list of non-disgusting items varies from culture to culture, it stands to reason that there's a learning process involved. Until the age of two or so, most children will put anything they encounter into their mouths -- bugs, worms, even feces. After the age of about two, their willingness to try new foods plummets.

3. Some anthropologists thus think that our deep-seated food aversions (disgust, in other words) are taught to us at a very early age -- a baby puts a grasshopper in her mouth, and her mother makes a face, takes it out of her mouth and says "that's disgusting." As adults, we can get over these aversions, but it takes a conscious effort, and, probably, a significant ability to disconnect the emotion of disgust.

Mere dislike, though, is something else entirely. Bitter and spicy foods are unpleasant to most children, and quite rightly. Bitterness often goes hand in hand with toxins, so it makes sense that our instinct is to spit out bitter foods. As we age, our sense of taste becomes less sensitive, so once unbearably bitter foods become more palatable. So, many of the so-called "acquired tastes" are significantly bitter -- coffee, beer, olives, many vegetables -- or strongly flavored like spices.

It seems likely to me that if one has an aversion to something based on texture, it's probably a (possibly unconscious) association with something we consider disgusting -- we tend not to like slimy, squishy textures because so many slimy foods are disgusting to us. With some effort, we can usually make ourselves get over these aversions.

A dislike that's based on true taste, though, is a different story. I can't stand blue cheese, for instance. It's not a learned thing, because everyone else in my family loves the stuff. It's not the texture -- I like other cheeses with the same texture. It's the taste, or more precisely, the smell. If I have a really bad cold, I can eat it (which, by the way, is a good way to tell if it's a texture or a taste you dislike -- if it's the texture, a cold won't make any difference). Now, I like a lot of foods I disliked as a child, including beets, but I'm fairly certain I will never like blue cheese. I do inadvertently try it from time to time, and every time, whether I'm aware that the food contains blue cheese or not, the smell and taste make me gag, literally.

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and when i don't like something, i know i should, and i work on liking it.

What do you mean when you say you "should" like something? I don't think anyone "should" like anything, except the things they like :hmmm: Which will probably change over time. If one wants to try to like something, fine, give it a go. But to say that you "should" like something? Why should you?

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But to say that you "should" like something? Why should you?

because i want to. because i'm jealous that others are enjoying it and i'm not. because i want to enjoy and experience all that life has to offer. because i like to "like", and hate to "hate". and i'm not even very fond of "disliking."

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because i want to. because i'm jealous that others are enjoying it and i'm not. because i want to enjoy and experience all that life has to offer. because i like to "like", and hate to "hate". and i'm not even very fond of "disliking."

Seriously! There has to be something to this stuff or nobody would eat it by choice, and as ravenously as they sometimes seem to! Might as well see what all the fuss is about!

'Tastes' aren't something we're born with. Just because something seems outwardly unappealing, or you dislike it on a first experiance, doesn't mean you're not allowed to keep trying to cultivate a taste if you see potential there.

Matt Robinson

Prep for dinner service, prep for life! A Blog

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Mere dislike, though, is something else entirely. Bitter and spicy foods are unpleasant to most children, and quite rightly. Bitterness often goes hand in hand with toxins, so it makes sense that our instinct is to spit out bitter foods. As we age, our sense of taste becomes less sensitive, so once unbearably bitter foods become more palatable. So, many of the so-called "acquired tastes" are significantly bitter -- coffee, beer, olives, many vegetables -- or strongly flavored like spices.

My mom keeps telling me that I'll eventually acquire a taste for bitter melon, but it hasn't happened yet.

I think it's interesting that people have texture issues. I love texture in food, be it crispy crunchy or gooey chewy slimy. And I've liked most of the slippery foods mentioned so far (oysters) my whole life, but it wasn't until I was older that I acquired a taste for the bitter ones, like coffee and olives.

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Beer - by which I mean English bitter.

This probably a common one - I know plenty of people who dont like it and will wonder why anybody does.

When I was a teenager we drank cider, then lager and eventually graduated to bitter. These days alcopops provide the starting point I guess but whether this leads eventually to bitter drinking I don't know.

David

Edited by daw (log)
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Beer (and by that I mean quality beer) was something I definitely had to acquire a taste for. I couldn't even stomach it until my senior year in college when the "dry" beer thing happened (meaning beer with no discernable flavor or aftertaste). Until then I'd subsisted, alcohol-wise, on vodka lemonade or vodka tonics. But gradually I moved up from the dry stuff to more flavorful stuff, and now just about the ONLY beer I don't care for is rauchtbeer, or smoked beer because I think it tastes like you're sucking on a pipe-smoker's clothing :unsure: , a flavor I don't particularly welcome in my beer! :blink:

I've also learned to like olives, curry, coconut, sushi, fish in general, other alcohol (wine, tequila, not gin yet though) and probably a lot of other foods I can't think of just now.

I, too, would like to develop a taste for gin, but can't seem to get past the pine tree essence of it.

What I've never acquired a taste for and don't particularly care to: hard-boiled eggs, runny egg yolks, capers, brussels sprouts, broccoli, offal, insects.

Edited by jgarner53 (log)

"I just hate health food"--Julia Child

Jennifer Garner

buttercream pastries

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heat. i remember when we used to get pepperoni pizza and it was too spicy for me. i was 5. now i enjoy the flavors of all kinds of hot peppers.

bitter foods. i used to think my mom was a nut for liking endive and other bitter greens - now i love them.

always liked sour though. i used to suck on lemons when i was a kid.

from overheard in new york:

Kid #1: Paper beats rock. BAM! Your rock is blowed up!

Kid #2: "Bam" doesn't blow up, "bam" makes it spicy. Now I got a SPICY ROCK! You can't defeat that!

--6 Train

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You know, I still question my sanity due to my new opinion of Spam. To answer your question, I don't know.

"Live every moment as if your hair were on fire" Zen Proverb

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I, too, would like to develop a taste for gin, but can't seem to get past the pine tree essence of it.

Juniper berries, actually.

I don't dislike gin but haven't much fondness for it either.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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But goat's cheese defeats me...

That old-goat aftertaste gets me every time, too. I'll probably never acquire a taste for liver, scotch, or hot dogs, either.

I always loved beets, turnips, brussels sprouts, spinach, and other vegetables kids typically hate. My mother was a very good vegetable cook, though.

I always loved olives and strongish meats like lamb.

Acquired tastes for me: cilantro, wine, zucchini, grapefruit, and sour cream. Love them now.

"Hey, don't borgnine the sandwich." -- H. Simpson

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