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Acquired tastes


dougery
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In a book called How the Mind Works, the author, Steven Pinker, discusses the phenonenon of disgust and food. ...

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.

Thanks to JAZ for that really useful note about mind and food. That reference to blue cheese made me think of my first durian experience and the idea of disgust in relation to meal function.

I was at a local Vietnamese noodle restaurant and ordered a durian shake to go with my food. It wasn't disgusting independently; I actually thought of Anthony Bourdain's trip to the ice cream store (in SF? it was in Cook's Tour), where he got durian ice cream, and had the distinct impression that the combination of blue cheese and tropical fruit would make an excellent creamy dessert.

But to accompany my pho? It was completely horrible. The odd (to me) combination of flavors overloaded my senses with each sip, making it impossible to return to the wonderfully simple but deep flavors of my pho. It was like drinking Veuve Cliquot while sucking on dill pickles, but the flavor dissonance didn't seem to be happening at taste-bud levels but somewhere else in my head.

I can certainly imagine people finding the taste of durian revolting because, like JAZ, they can't abide that slightly rank blue cheese creamy tang, particularly with undertones of cocoanut, pineapple, and papaya. But I also realized that, even for someone who could find that combination appealing, there was something that really didn't work when drinking it and sipping noodle soup.

Any interpretations available? Thanks in advance!

Chris Amirault

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My dad has always said that he finds the flavor of fresh cilantro/coriander to be "soapy." I cannot figure out what this means, for, to me, cilantro and Irish Spring have no common flavor elements whatsoever. (How I know the flavor of Irish Spring requires tales from my youth that belong on other forums... :huh:)

Does anyone on eGullet find cilantro "soapy"? Can you explain what that is?

And can anyone explain why the same strongly-flavored thing can seemingly taste so incredibly different to two people, even in the same family?

Tx!

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I'm not sure that these 2 examples fall under "acquired tastes" but...

When I was growing up, my Mom bought clams (the real steamer variety - ipswich) by the bushel, so I was raised with them and I LOVE them. I have always felt that people who didn't grow up eating them, might have some trouble the first time they try them as an adult. They can be pretty off-putting for the uninitiated. Pulling off that little sheath, coping with the half mushy-half chewy body often filled with that blackish goop. Yeah, I can see where it would require some bravery, first time.

So would that mean I see it as an acquired taste? Or just something someone needs to be exposed to in a casual way as a child, so they don't think too much about it as an adult??

The other thing - I have tried and tried to like sushi. I WANT to like it. HONEST. But I think I need to give up. For me - it's unaquired (or would that be an unaquirable?) taste.

Randi

"Well," said Pooh, "what I like best --" and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called. - A.A. Milne

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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!

It takes all kinds,doesn't it? A friend of ours will never try mashed potatoes

again....ever.But loves scotch....go figure.It's all in the mind,not the mouth.

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Zucchini, eh?  I find it has no ABSOLUTELY no  taste anyhow.  Polyester of vegetables to me.

I know, weird, eh. It's more of a texture thing. My New England relatives believed summer squash should be cooked until slimy. Think warm, buttered snot. :huh:

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

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  • 5 years later...

In other threads, some of us have come forward with the foods we don't like. Sometimes it's a matter of guilt (sophisticates are supposed to like truffles); other times inconvenience (brunch menus can be an assault when you don't like eggs); and sometimes a real professional problem (trying do the best possible job when preparing dishes you hate).

Has anyone grappled with this and actually gotten themselves to like something? I don't mean overcoming an irrational fear and trying something for the first time ... I mean something you've actually tried—well made examples—and really found them offensive.

If so, how did you do it?

I'm also interested if you've managed to train the palate of anyone else, like your kids, spouse, or dog.

Notes from the underbelly

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I've definitely changed some folks' opinions on certain foods, but I'd guess all of these instances stem from the fact that their only prior exposure had been to poorly prepared examples. It's rather difficult to say, when converting others at least, if they've ever actually had a well made example of the offending item.

 

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I think that Dave is right in some respects. At some point a few years back, I decided that I didn't dislike tripe: I just disliked the bad preparations I'd had and committed to trying it when I could. Now I find that I like tripe dishes about a third of the time.

Those quality and technique arguments definitely apply to other things. I remember the first time I had a first-class sea urchin, forever dispelling the notion that I hated that, and I've turned a few dozen haters onto gin with the right cocktails prepared properly. But tripe is tricky, because I'm not even sure I could say whether all examples were "well made" or "high quality." I've enjoyed dried out versions sitting in street vendor's hotel pans in Thailand and found it inedible coming out of good kitchens run by people I respect. There's just something about that ingredient that for me can shift from flavorful to somehow "off," and I can't put my finger on what it is.

But at least I can detect some variability. My father would say that there is nothing whatsoever that will make him like cilantro, which he believes tastes like soap, and my wife hates the tingling effect of Sichuan peppercorns. That suggests to me that there are chemical, olfactory, or tactile (?) aspects of certain foodstuffs that are dealbreakers for certain people 100% of the time.

Chris Amirault

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I also wonder whether modulating intensity of flavor can be a useful tool. I know many people who would hate a teaspoon of shrimp paste or a single fried chicken liver, but they might love a sauce that's been enriched with the same things. Over time, if you put that liver into a terrine, and then into a pate....

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Jeffrey Steingarten does this at the start of The Man Who Ate Everything. He systematically set out to identify and overcome his main food phobias/dislikes.

Cribbing from the Amazon review "he could allow himself no favourite foods nor irrational dislikes; consequently, the first piece in the book describes his heroic efforts to purge himself of all food phobias in preparation for his new post. The Six-Step Programme he devised was largely successful: as a result, kimchi (Korean pickled cabbage), anchovies, Greek food and clams ("I feel a mild horror about what goes on in the moist darkness between the shells of all bivalves...is the horror deeper than I know?) all assumed a place in his diet."

It must be hard to do as Jeffrey did, but I think most people could probably do the same if they had the will. Though it's also true, as Chris mentions, that there are some aversions which are likely biochemical/genetic in nature, such as the ability to taste phenylthiocarbamide (PTC), which makes brussels sprouts taste bitter and sour to me, and fantastic to the rest of my family. Positive thinking isn't going to change that, though you can certainly develop an appreciation for some bitter and sour flavours.

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Cookbooker Challenge: July/Aug 2010 - collaboratively baking & reviewing Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home.

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What Jeffrey wrote in The Man Who Ate Everything really made a lot of sense to me, and it is something I've tried to emulate. Most of my conversions have been of the 'irrational dislike' type. There was a time when I thought I disliked both corned beef and rye bread (because I'd had really bad versions of both as a kid), while now I'm salivating thinking about a Reuben. One of the hardest things for me to get past initially was blood. I shuddered at the thought, but boudin noir is one of my favorite foods now. I think insects are my final frontier. When I'm inevitably convinced to try chapulines the sky will be the limit.

However, there are things I can say that I've "developed a taste for" after disliking them initially. Sauerkraut and anise/licorice were both flavors I could not stand until I was in my 20s. I don't know of anyone who really enjoyed their first sip of Campari, but if you can make it to your third you're usually hooked.

True rye and true bourbon wake delight like any great wine...dignify man as possessing a palate that responds to them and ennoble his soul as shimmering with the response.

DeVoto, The Hour

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However, there are things I can say that I've "developed a taste for" after disliking them initially. Sauerkraut and anise/licorice were both flavors I could not stand until I was in my 20s.

Did this just happen on it's own, or did you do something to help bring it about?

Edited by paulraphael (log)

Notes from the underbelly

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I used to hate olives, like really really hate olives. I could smell a jar or packet of olives being opened in the kitchen when I was upstairs and it would make me feel ill. But, I made myself like them. What I did was eat one or more olives every day for a period of two-three weeks. At first it was excruciating and I had to eat them mixed in with other things. After about ten days, I noticed that I was no longer repulsed by them. I didn't like the taste, but I didn't hate it either. By about two and a half weeks, I was actually looking forward to my daily olive, and I now really enjoy eating olives.

I really believe that repeated exposure is the key. There is nothing that you can't make yourself like with practice!

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However, there are things I can say that I've "developed a taste for" after disliking them initially. Sauerkraut and anise/licorice were both flavors I could not stand until I was in my 20s.

Did this just happen on it's own, or did you do something to help bring it about?

I wouldn't say I made a concerted effort to "try to like them". If I had to guess I'd say I just learned to appreciate the ways these flavors could contribute to an overall pleasant execution of a dish.

I also have some personal theories about how our palates grow and change (and die - e.g. baby boomer's driving spicier food more mainstream as their taste buds die... not such an original idea I guess), which may not actually correspond to any real science. I would think that stronger and more unique flavors are more likely to be met with resistance at an earlier age when we lack a frame of reference (though perhaps not before we've yet to develop a strong sense of preference and identity). I'm jumping into all sorts of areas far beyond my expertise here, cognitive psychologist is not even a role I play on TV.

Edited by KD1191 (log)

True rye and true bourbon wake delight like any great wine...dignify man as possessing a palate that responds to them and ennoble his soul as shimmering with the response.

DeVoto, The Hour

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I really believe that repeated exposure is the key. There is nothing that you can't make yourself like with practice!

I'd like to test this idea on myself. It seems like you did a bare-knuckles version of what I learned for getting a dog or cat to like new food ... sneak increasingly bigger portions into their current food, until they've gradually make the transition. You did it with will power rather than slow progression and sneakiness.

Notes from the underbelly

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I do think exposure on smaller levels and then building up is the way to go--like building up a tolerance for levels of spiciness. In my own example, I used to hate runny yolks. After years of making sunny-side up eggs for my husband though, I started getting used to the smell of the yolks and then, one day, I actually craved one myself. So I think the years of smelling them was akin to making myself taste them in small amounts.

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I’ve certainly changed my feelings about some foods – some of it was growing up and having a more mature palate, some was having the foods prepared correctly and some was just repeated exposure. I never assume that just because I didn’t like something the last time I had it, I will hate it forever. I try things again and again.

I have no patience with people who assume they won’t like something and, consequently, won’t even try it. I have had supposedly full grown adults verbally gross out about something I was eating and wanted to slap them. I didn’t tolerate that in my daughter – when she was growing up, she had to try everything. If she didn’t like it, she didn’t have to try it again the next night when it was leftover. But, if I served it two weeks later, she had to try it again. And if someone served it where she was a guest, she had to eat a small amount. Now she eats a wider variety of things than me!

Of course, I’m only human, so I do have aversions, but mine are mostly textural – if it’s gelatinous, it better have some fruit and mini marshmallows in it, sinew is what Indians made bow strings out of and gristle gives me the shivers :laugh: .

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For me it was kimchi when I first moved to Korea. It's always described as a "pickle", and so I really looked forward to trying it when I was reading about it in preparation for my move. I knew it must have been a challenging flavour, as previously noted, Jeffery Steingarten listed it as one of his dislikes. But, you know, I figured he just didn't like pickles as much as I did. I love pickles, right? Steingarten is an amateur. So I get off the plane, go right to my new home, where my fridge was helpfully pre-stocked with a tub of kimchi, and boldly take a big bite, right there in the kitchen with my bags still unpacked, stacked up beside me. My first thought was,"You know, that's not quite the pickle taste I was expecting. Hmm." In my ignorance, I had assumed all pickles involved vinegar, and occasionally, sugar. Imagine my surprise to learn you can also pickle things with plain ol' salt. And brine shrimp. Not in my mother's Ball Pickling book. But you can't make it happily in anywhere if you don't give the local food a shot, so I tried it every time it was offered to me. It took me about a year of eating it several times a week to move through shock, then dislike, to acceptance, and then love. I learned the home-made stuff was the ticket, less salty and often more gingery or tangy than the store-bought kinds, and that all things being equal, the radish kind is my favourite. I can even produce a creditable version of my own, but the rest of my family dislike the smell in the fridge, so I have to content myself with enjoying it when we go to Korean restaurants.

I cannot get over the look of tripe.

Sichuan peppercorns taste like soap to me, which is a shame, as my husband loves them.

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I have no patience with people who assume they won’t like something and, consequently, won’t even try it.

And then there are those wonderful folks, who will eat something and enjoy it, until you tell them there is: yogurt, tofu, goat's milk, etc, in it, and then they'll literally spit it out and refuse to eat any more. How did we find such friends?

(I am still hugging to myself the fact that once this particular man ate and loved my lemon cheese pie, and he still doesn't know that there was tofu and goat's milk in it. I'm saving it for just the 'right' moment. Yep, I do have a mean side. :raz: )

Darienne

 

learn, learn, learn...

 

Life in the Meadows and Rivers

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... I now really enjoy eating olives.

I really believe that repeated exposure is the key. There is nothing that you can't make yourself like with practice!

I'm with Jenni on the olives. A few years ago I had a trip to Spain planned, and figured it would be difficult to avoid olives there (I wasn't disgusted by them or anything so dramatic; they were just on my list of things I'd prefer not to eat). So over the two or three months before leaving home I made it a point to eat a few, every time they were offered. I knew it had worked when, a couple of weeks into the trip, I found myself in a very ordinary little Spanish bar with a plate of olives and realised I was actually enjoying them.

My major aversion is/has been pumpkin, which since I was very small I've refused to eat even to be polite - most of my other 'rather not' foods I'll at least make an attempt at if I'm served them at somebody's house. But, to my surprise, even that may be changing - an eGullet thread a while back prompted me to do something edible with a butternut (yes, I KNOW [because my wife tells me] that butternut/pumpkin/squash aren't all the same thing. I'm allowed to doubt it, OK?).

If there is any logic to my 'rather not' list, it's a sweetness thing. I do like sweet things, but in their place (ie at the end of the meal, called dessert). I'm not keen on a lot of Asian foods, for example, where there is a mix of sweet/savoury. And putting pineapple on pizza is an abomination and will be punished, in the next world if not in this one.

Thus far I haven't found this to be the case for myself, but how something is served can make a huge difference. We always ask about any preferences or aversions when we invite people for a meal. At one recent lunch I served a dish our guests thoroughly enjoyed, thinking the black bits were mushrooms. They hadn't mentioned they didn't like snails ...

Leslie Craven, aka "lesliec"
Host, eG Forumslcraven@egstaff.org

After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one's own relatives ~ Oscar Wilde

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  • 3 months later...

I consider myself a pretty adventurous eater (natto? no problem; stingray, jelly fish, chicken's feet, and off-menu offal in Chinese restaurants, bring them on) but I simply cannot eat cooked peas in the form of round little abominable things sitting on a plate. They make me gag.

Over the years, I've found that I can eat them raw or pureed (in soups, sauces) just not in their pile of mushy overcooked peas state.

Once I started studying taste in psychology it all made sense. It was the texture of the peas as a component of taste that was aversive to me. Other vegetables when cooked to a similar texture (including pumpkin and zuchinni) leave me with the same reaction.

My solution has been to prepare these vegetables to a texture that I can stomach.

I suppose this is more my learning to adapt my cooking styles to cope with an aversion rather than learning to like the aversive foods but it may also be a way that others can manipulate their taste aversions.

Edited by nickrey (log)

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
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  • 2 weeks later...

Honestly right now I can't think of much I won't eat but when I first ate arugula I wasn't too keen on it. It took a little getting use to. Same thing with Vegemite. First time I had it I though I had ate a bottle of B12. Thought it was awful. Over time I have learned to like it and crave it.

Some of you had posted about your tastes changing over time and I find that to be really true. There are things I hated as a kid that I am perfectly fine with now. As an adult I have found that I have gotten a more diverse palate where it concerns beer.

Drank the same ole Bud Ice forever. Hated anything but that. Over the last year or so I have gotten into craft beers and the poor old Bud Ice is not in the frig anymore. Sorry for the ramble. :)

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I've always been a try everything twice kind of person - I want to be really sure if I don't like something but I remember corriander had to be acquired & I'm still waiting to acquire the appreciation for all things bitter; campari, chicory, bitter melon all turn me in to a toddler like state, if I'm not shuddering whilst eating its because I've already spat it out. shame becuase I'd love to make a dent in those dandilions tking over the garden!

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