You positively hate broccoli? Or Brussels sprouts? Or oysters? These and many other foods are often referred to as “an acquired taste”, which usually translates into “this doesn’t really taste good”. But did you know that most tastes are “acquired”? You weren’t born liking or disliking most things. It also means, that you can get used to almost anything, with very few exceptions.
We were born to like sugar. Sugar is a quick source of energy, and until very recently in our history it was rather hard to come by. In nature, you would only find it in fruits, root vegetables, pumpkin and squashes, honey and sugar cane – food items that were not available everywhere and not throughout the year. The riper the fruit, the more sugar – and other nutrients – it contains. Loving the taste of sugar means that we would make the most of those foods when we could find them.
We like salt, because salty foods often contained other valuable minerals, and we like fat, as fat is a great source of energy that we can easily store away for later. Today, this innate love of sugar, salt and fat poses a problem for many of us as they are now everywhere, available at any time and in whatever quantity we want.
We were also born to be suspicious of anything that tastes bitter. A bitter taste is meant to tell you “Careful! This could be poison.” While many of use do enjoy bitter plants such as Brussels sprouts, chicory or radicchio – which are actually excellent foods to support the liver and encourage bile production – it really is vital to stay away from others such as bitter almond (cyanide). Some vegetables, for example rhubarb and spinach, contain small amounts of oxalic acid, a substance that in large doses can cause kidney failure. A small child might reject those vegetables as their taste signals a warning, but as the body benefits from the other valuable nutrients contains in those foods, they are less likely to be rejected when they are eaten more often and are eventually even liked.
There is one food however, that you will either like or you don’t and if you don’t it doesn’t matter how many times you try it: you will never grow to like it. That food is coriander (cilantro), or more specifically its leaves (the spice, ground coriander seeds, is not affected). There is, believe it or not, a gene that determines whether or not you like coriander leaves. To some people, coriander tastes soapy and horrible.
Years ago, I read on a chef’s blog that “coriander is a wonderful spice that enhances the flavour of many dishes. Stay away from coriander leaves, however, as the herb is unpalatable.” – “Speak for yourself!” I thought, slightly annoyed. As it happens I love coriander, and so do millions of people around the world. It is a staple herb in many cuisines, such as Indian and in fact most other Asian cuisines, as well as African and South American dishes. Who was he to decide that it is disgusting? Well, now I understand that he couldn’t help it.
So if you don’t like your greens even though you know they’re good for you, have another go. And another one. And another one. You can start small, you’ll get there in the end. Unless it’s coriander of course. By all means try it, if you haven’t yet, but if it tastes soapy to you, don’t bother.