How to people react to the smell of food they've never had before?

I was cooking bacon (ummm…baaaacon!) and the smell as always was intoxicating. But I began to wonder what reaction does a person who’s never had bacon is? Do they savor the smell or find it unappetizing? At least with bacon, there must be some level of curiosity or temptation because there’s faux bacon (turkey, soy, etc.) for those don’t eat pork or other meats.

What about someone that’s never had a lemon. Would they pucker at the smell or is that something that’s learned from experience. I’ve seen videos of young children trying lemon for the first time and the majority of them pucker at the taste. In Hawaii, a popular snack is li hing mui, Chinese dried, preserved plum that is slightly sweet, very sour and very salty. Just writing about it here is making my mouth water. Is this a natural biological response or a Pavlovian one?

I’m pretty adventurous about trying different foods and find that few, if any foods I’ve eaten have a completely unique flavor profile and I (and I suspect most people) associate the flavor components with other flavor profiles they’re familiar with. There was a great commercial a few years ago where a Western couple are in Africa and are hesitant to try and once they try them, only to find they taste like (I think it was) BBQ chicken. Next seen has the African couple at a BBQ and hesitant to try BBQ only to comment that it tastes like the grubs they’re used to!

An anecdote: Growing up, my oldest niece was fooled by her mom and grandmother into not eating chocolate. They would tell her that chocolate was yucky and tasted like medicine. She must have been 4-5 years old before she ate her first piece of chocolate because her younger sister was so easily fooled!

People can be very odd about smells.

We had a staff member that parched raw peanuts in the break room microwave. I found it mouth watering. I love freshly parched peanuts.

Other staff threw a hissy fit. Same thing with cooking popcorn. Is there any snack in this world that’s more delicious? But, some of our finicky staff objected, Strongly!

New rule, no more peanuts or popcorn in our breakroom microwave. It’s posted on the wall by the microwave.

Peanuts and popcorn are Western snacks.

It’s likely people from other parts of the world are unfamiliar with them. They wouldn’t like the smell of them cooking.

The staff in my office certainly had strong opinions and they were familiar with these snacks.

Have they also never smelled the smell before? Or just never had the food associated with that smell? I think, for various reasons, someone could have never eaten something that is culturally commonplace and have similar reactions to those who have tried it. On the other hand, a new, foreign food smell could illicit a completely different reaction.

I generally love the smell of popcorn, but when my sinuses are acting up, the smell makes the pain worse. My Dad was the same way, used to complain when we microwaved popcorn. It wasn’t until recently as my sinus condition became worse that I finally understood. Sorry Dad!

I’ve never smelled peanuts cooked in a microwave, but I suspect the effect would be the same as popcorn. Just as with popcorn, the smell of roasting chestnuts is great unless my sinuses are inflamed.

My premise is they’re familiar with the smell, but never ate the actual food. What I find interesting is that sometimes what smells great or bad is completely different than what I thought it would taste like.

elicit stupid tired brain.

I could be just hallucinating this, but I believe that I can actually taste smells. Which is to say, the microscopic particles that my nose picks up, my tongue detects too.

I very much dislike perfume. Tastes like chemicals.

So when I smell a food, I taste it too (or at least I think I do). I’ve never been surprised by the flavor of anything I’ve eaten that has a discernible scent.

What is it I always hear? Something like 80% of your sense of taste is based on your sense of smell? Anecdotally this has definitely been true for me. A couple years ago, I was sick and for some reason the smell of pretty much any food was very similar and gut-wrenchingly awful. The taste of food was not far behind. But if i plugged my nose and ate the food while only breathing thru my mouth, presto!, no difficulties. Food didnt have its normal deliciousness but it also didnt have that weird abnormal roadkill taste either. Luckily this problem only lasted a couple days.

My Daddy had a severe concussion as a young man and claimed his sense of smell was damaged. He used to ask us to smell him and make sure he didn’t put too much aftershave on. He was, surprisingly a good cook. He continuously tasted things because he didn’t trust his nose.
OTOH, the lil’wrekkers boyfriend is Muslim and has never eaten pork. But he loves the smell of bacon cooking. He said if he ever decides to eat pork it is going to be bacon.

One thing I know is that Europeans and others who grew up not tasting root beer almost universally abominate it. I love the taste, having grown up with it. OTOH, when I am in Barbados the locals drink and seem to love something called mauby. So I tried it once. Dreadful. On the third hand, my brother would not touch mushrooms as a child. When he grew up he finally tasted some and loved it. To the point that he once asked me why I hadn’t told him how good they were. We tried, bro, we tried.

Sense of smell definitely plays a huge role in how we taste food. The classic experiment is to block your nose, and eat an onion and an apple. The textures are similar enough to have the same mouth feel. Children are often told to hold their nose while taking bad tasting medicine to make it go down easier. If you follow up with a large swallow of water or something sweet, most of the bad taste is dissipated.

Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods explains that humans have developed an aversion to certain smells, for example fermented or rotten as a protection against food that may be harmful. However, like most Japanese, I love things like takuwan (preserved, fermented long radish) and ika (dried, shredded cod, squid or cuttlefish), both which smell like they’re gone bad. To my taste buds, they’re both delicious, but to someone unfamiliar with the smell, it’s likely evolutionarily offputting.

There’s also the aspect of familiar flavor profiles. I like harm ha (Chinese fermented shrimp paste) because it reminds me of ika, though several levels more intense. If I didn’t grow up with ika, would I still like ham ha?

As i think about it, I suspect a part of taste and craving is social. Dogs (and to a lesser extent, cats) want to eat what you’re eating because it a social event. I wonder though, if everyone insisted lemons were sweet, would someone who ate one for the first time describe it as sweet and not pucker? To an extent, this is seen in the current trend of super sour candies that kids enjoy.

Another thought.

I just remembered that I didn’t like eggplant, despite never having tried it before, until my older sister told me it tasted like sweet potato. I tried it and agreed, and now like it. But what if she told me (like she did with her oldest daughter, with chocolate) that it was yucky, would I still have liked it?

Here’s one that defies my expectations. I like custard pie and always get put off by the egg tarts (which look like mini custard pies) when eating dim sum in a Chinese restaurant. I have to mentally prepare myself to enjoy the non-sweet taste of the egg tart.

Popcorn is, peanuts are common food all over Asia, Africa South America… You can buy bags of them from street hawkers in Indonesia.

I used to work in a cafe where bacon was served, and out of the 4 regular staff, 2 had never eaten bacon (one was Polish and said her family regarded it as too fatty, though she loved it when she eventually tried a bit, one was Turkish and culturally Muslim in a vague sort of way) and I’m vegetarian, I haven’t eaten it in years and never especially liked it. Both liked the smell; I always preferred the smell to the taste.

Many things do just taste like they smell, but people often react with disgust to the smell of stuff that doesn’t, like parmesan and kimchi until they try them, then they’re associated with tasty.

I saw a tv programme once (possibly a BBC programme on senses, but I’m not sure) where people were asked to smell what was actually a chemical that’s a large part of the smell of both parmesan and vomit- some were told it was vomit, some were told it was parmesan. The ‘vomit’ people took one sniff and went on about how disgusting it was (up to dry heaves), the ‘parmesan’ people that had tried the cheese said it smelled great, but those who hadn’t pretty well all said it was nasty.

Then, after a bit of a break, they were given the same pot back again with a new label, and told this time it was the other option. The break down of reactions was exactly the same; those who liked parmesan said the ‘parmesan’ pot smelled great, even though they just said it was revolting when told it was vomit, those who hadn’t tried it said it smelled nasty, and those with the ‘vomit’ who just said it smelled tasty when they thought it was cheese now thought it was revolting.

No problemö, just reheat your leftover fish!

Waaaaaaaaaay back when I was a little kid - like under 10 - I remember our family was house-hunting. I recall going into one house and encountering an unfamiliar smell. I don’t know what it was, but I’m pretty sure it was food of some sort. It wasn’t unpleasant - just different. Maybe it was a particular ethnic dish. Never smelled it since, but I expect if I did, the old memories would come rushing back.

Doesn’t really answer the question but a friend of mine was in a film where she ate bacon for the first time at age 90. Been a while since I’ve seen it and it turns out the tasting the bacon was a pretty small part of the film.

I can confirm this.

When I lived in Canada, the family I was staying with poured some for me but, for some reason, naively didn’t bother telling me what it was (no ill-intent there I’m sure). The problem is, I thought it was Coke and gulped it down in one swig. The only reason I didn’t puke there and then was good manners.

That stuff was vile and I’ve made sure never to try it again.

I’ve had mauby in Barbados and also on other Caribbean islands. It must be an acquired taste. It’s medicinal. Luckily, you can wash away the taste with a refreshing Ting!

I would imagine the reactions would vary on an individual basis.