What does Developing a Taste for something entail?

Is it a biomechanical/physiological process or a psychological process? A combination?

There are a handful of things I didn’t like as a child, but grew to adore as an adult. Why? I believe the answer is in changing sensitivities to sweet/bitter/? tastes. Is it a phycical change to the tastebuds or change in the grey ooze in my head?

What about developing or acquiring a taste for something in adulthood? Take Scotch, for example. I tend to keep ten to fifteen single malts and a few choice blends on hand. If someone isn’t starting out from a total aversion to alcohol (i.e. the astringentness) and expresses an interest, I can take them on a mini tour–from smoky/peaty malts to airy elixirs. After a weekend or so, many–but not all–leave their initial reaction behind. I’ve been surprised a few times when someone who still didn’t like it ended up taking a fancy to it.

Why? Is it paying closer attention to a medley of tastes and becoming familiar with them? When does it cross over from knowing what to expect to mouth-watering anticipation? And again, is it a purely mental exercise, or is there something going on chemistry-wise?

Is it possible to develop a taste for any food? I have a life-long aversion to seafood. Any chance with enough exposure and experimentation, I could learn to love it?

Eat locally, eat simply, build an appetite before the meal, be relaxed and open to something new, never try this on a hurried day or at an expensive restaurant. Freshness is everything! Go with a friend who knows seafood and understands your preferences.

I think it’s all mental. I was a very picky eater growing up, and had a variety of dislikes based on taste and texture that developed when I was very young. As I got older and experienced more varieties of (and better prepared) food, I began to educate my palate. I may be one of those super-tasters also, which means I had to get used to shockingly strong flavors in some food. But my observation is that as people get older they have less chance of changing their tastes. And of course, not everybody likes everything, you don’t have to eat seafood if you don’t mind missing out on the world’s most delicious foods.

The process is partly classical conditioning and partly biological. The conditioning part is that everytime you have smelled seafood something unpleasant happened (the bad taste). Thus you are conditioned to not like seafood. Generally our palates are designed to reject the new and strange. Since you have never liked seafood, you have never eaten it and it is always then new and strange. In general if you start small you can build up a tolerance and then an enjoyment. I know of a guy who really disliked the taste of beer in high school, but wanted to drink it for social reason. He would keep a beer at home and take a drink from it every day. It took him a while but he was eventually able to enjoy drinking.

Simplicity --> Complexity --> Enlightened Simplicity.

  • You feel a basic affinity for the activity/art/food
  • You devote years to paying attention - doing, training, sampling, testing - to breakdown the thing into its components and how they interact
  • You sublimate / integrate that complex understanding into a deeper, nuanced appreciation in the moment as you do it.
  • this is a never ending cycle.

That’s been my experience. Now, how do you apply that taste and not let yourself get affected as a douchebag because of it is a whole 'nother challenge.

It means “choking down something revolting frequently enough to impress the person you’re trying to impress.”

I think some of it is mental, and how much of a desire you have to like it.

Growing up, I hated all forms of cola. Pepsi, Coke, diet, regular, didn’t like any of them. Because I didn’t like rootbeer either, it sort of became a “thing” among my aunts and uncles that whenever I came to visit, they would know not to offer me any “brown pop.” Cherry Crush, 7-Up, Sprite, etc were all fine.

During my freshmen year in college, I had my first exposure to classes longer than 40 minutes. At one 90-minute class, I would repeatedly doze off in the middle (I have sleep apnea but didn’t know it at the time). So during one of the mid-class breaks, I went to the machine and got a Pepsi to help me stay awake. I just sipped it because I still wasn’t crazy about the taste. But then a funny thing happened. At each break for this class, I was getting a Pepsi and by the end of the semester I actually liked it.

Then to save calories, I switched to diet, and eventually found I liked that too. Diet coke was my choice for years, and I still drink it occasionally now. (Although I drink tea more often now.)

And when I started drinking alcohol, I would only go for very sweet or fruity flavored drinks. Hard lemonade, whiskey sours, cosmopolitans, chocolate “martinis” or very sweet wines. I didn’t like anything where I could taste the alcohol. After a few years I started to lose my “sweet tooth” a bit and tried more “grown up” drinks such as wines that were less sweet. And now when I drink, I sometimes have a Sidecar or a real (non-flavored) martini.

So I think if you want to acquire a taste for something new, gradual is the way to go. Maybe start with a fish that’s more mild tasting, or has other flavors with it. Like something batter-fried, or with a crust or sauce on it. White fish tend to be a bit more mild-tasting, and once you get used to those, you could try stronger-tasting fish like salmon or tuna.

Okay, yes, that is the dark side of cultivating a taste for something - a person can do it for enough of the wrong reasons that it is more douchebaggy than anything.

But, especially on a Board like this, there is an appreciation for digging in and truly understanding what you are experiencing, what your preferences are - any why.

Can anyone do it for any food or any art, either in appreciation or practice? No - but you can take your basic understanding and increase it to a certain extent and that can be a very good thing. And if you have a real connection with the thing, then developing a taste can be truly special.







In my case, it’s generally been part psychological, part physiological, and mostly moving out on my own. :smiley: My mother was a lousy cook. She heated things until they were non-toxic, and occasionally went on to cook them until they were mush. It’s amazing how many things I learned to like once I had them cooked properly.

On the other hand, I never did manage to get myself to like coffee. I think I’m the only person on Earth who just doesn’t enjoy the taste of the stuff. Some bridges may simply be uncrossable.

You’re… me.

Do you also not like wine?

I spent years thinking I hated a lot of foods only to discover that all meat wasn’t shoe leather and all vegetables were not tasteless grey mush.

Apparently the uncrossable bridge is possible though. I attended a cooking class in January where they fed you the results with wine pairings. I sipped each to be polite and discovered that I actually liked one. So while I was in Hawaii in February I tried coffee at each plantation tour and found one I liked. Something to do with the way they grow it making it naturally sweeter and more mellow. Of course it’s the $20/lb stuff but since I don’t have a coffee habit it lasts a while.

There are still things I won’t eat but I’m well aware now that it’s mostly mental for me. Once I get past whatever the blockage is and try it I like almost everything. Exceptions include strong tasting fish, I prefer the milder species and super hot spices. I like some spice and flavour to my food but hot for the sake of hot is just boring and painful. Bad combination.

I don’t like most wines, no. Plum wine is fine, but the only grape wines I can drink are those that taste mostly like something else – Riesling, for example, which tastes peachy, or marsala, which tastes like fortified caramel. I have also never in my life managed to finish a bottle of beer, regardless of price, origin, variety or freshness, and while some herbal tisanes are okay, I think actual tea tastes unavoidably of boiled mulch.

My working hypothesis is that I really hate the taste of tannins. I get that strictly from the Venn diagrams of “stuff I don’t like to eat” – I don’t even know how I’d test it directly without a chemistry kit and way more motivation than I’ll ever have.

I don’t like coffee and ultra-dark chocolate, but the taste I object to is different. The bitterness of coffee and unsweetened chocolate isn’t astringent. I just don’t find it pleasant.