Food dislikes and our evolving palates

One of the most gonad-achingly painful cliches heard on cookery shows (after the word ‘moist’) is the expression “I don’t usually like….”. Programmes such as Come Dine With Me and Market Kitchen abound with contestants and guests gingerly prodding at a plate of liver, or goat’s cheese, or faggots, their faces polychromatic with a mixture of fear and revulsion, their arse cheeks clenched and jaw set in preparation for whichever gastrointestinal reflex befalls them. What usually follows the moment of no return is a look of mild surprise, followed by one of genuine enjoyment. Turns out gherkins aren’t so bad after all.

As a cook it is always pleasant to be the instigator of such surprises – a gentle ego massage for the apprehensive provender provider. But the more I see this the more it occurs to me how self-restricting we are in our eating habits. We convince ourselves that, for one reason or another, we hate something, and that is that. More often than not it is down to one bad experience – the school meal that made you chunder, the roulade with a pube in it. But our palates are constantly evolving. My friend Sam is a self-declared fish hater, yet on many occasions I’ve heard the words “I don’t usually like fish, but…” spill out of his mouth. It’s my reckoning that he probably once ate a piece of spoiled fish and now thinks that is what all fish tastes like.

Of course, we all have things that we just can’t stomach, no matter how hard we try. I’m not the biggest fan of kidney. In the name of the evolving palate theory I’ll eat it every now and then (I do actually want to like it), but it still tastes like piss to me. The most important thing is that we don’t write off an ingredient just because we think we don’t like it. Rather like that beautiful moment when a piece of music suddenly makes sense, the discovery that an ingredient we didn’t like is actually quite delicious is almost life-affirming.

What do you really hate and why? Have you ever changed your mind about any food?

13 Comments

Filed under Ramblings

13 responses to “Food dislikes and our evolving palates

  1. I’ve had three major taste shifts – coffee, red wine and feta cheese. Hated all three and on three different occasions I woke up and found that I’d gone from hating something to it being a favourite taste. Feta was the weirdest shift – I was halfway through a bowl of salad before I realised that the cheese I was so enjoying was the one I ‘knew’ I hated.

  2. Excellent opening paragraph!

    I used to dislike anchovies when I was a kid, and now I can’t get enough of them. Same with parsley. I also disliked aubergines, as in Hong Kong we called them eggplants and I wasn’t a great fan of eggs either (I was clearly an odd child)… Now they’re my favourite vegetable.

    One thing I can’t get past, though is sweet potato. I keep trying it but… bleurgh. I shudder just thinking of them.

    • nibbles

      So true.

      Chillies, wine and calves liver — all tastes I hated at first but grew to love.

      Hello Lizzie, something to try: quarter them lengthways, toss in oil, salt and rosemary and roast on high for 35 mins. This converted me.

    • Hmm, sweet potatoes. Funny one but I can kind of see where you’re coming from…is it the texture? Try mashed sweet potato with ginger and lots of butter.

      With you on parsley, aubergines and anchovies – hated all three as a wee boy, now worship them.

      • I’ve tried them mashed, roasted, chipped – if I don’t like it deep fried I don’t think there’s any hope for me. Sob. I’ll keep trying though, I converted myself to swede and carrot by eating it again and again.

  3. Katie

    When I was a child, I really hated mint, and now every time I have a piece of chewing gum I sneeze! x

  4. I can’t get over how scary the culinary world is for some people. Instead of having three or four things they dislike (as above), I have a friend who almost exclusively lives off margarita pizza, cheddar cheese and branston pickle. Absolutely barmy! She’s not exactly my favourite dinner guest…

    Anyway, enough moaning. I eat most things and whenever I cook for someone new, I ask for anything they don’t like. I always follow their answer up with “Why?” which seems to annoy them. I like to know! I don’t tend to eat offal (mainly for the thought of it – I’m a wimp) particularly liver as I had it a lot as a child and I’m not a huge fan of anchovies by themselves because they’re so strong and salty. Saying that, I’ll try almost anything once!

    • You can’t really force people to like food if they don’t, but I can’t help thinking that life must be so boring if you don’t look forward to dinner….just what do you look forward to?

  5. To this day I can’t stomach mayonnaise, which makes trying to buy ready prepared sandwiches a trial and a half. Obscurely, I do actually quite like tuna mayo. Go figure…

    • I love the idea of not being able to stomach mayonnaise but eating tuna mayo happily. If anything the tuna is the issue for most people here. Tuna mayo with lots of lemon juice, mustard and capers is amazing. Any other tips?

      • I agree wholeheartedly with the lemon juice, mustard and capers. However, if I am feeling a little bit Middle Eastern, I often get rid of the mustard, and shove in some green olives and chopped parsley and coriander. I have even been known to add preserved lemon. At this point of course one can dispense with the mayo entirely and substitute olive oil…even better!

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