how do acquired tastes work?


Things like mouldy cheese are awful initially, but after a while they become sought-after delicacies for many people. How does this work?

In: 38

The true ‘purpose’ of taste is not to let you enjoy life, but to protect you. If something tastes bad, it’s probably bad for you. Most poisons are very bitter. Rotten meat can kill you. You also tend to like stuff that is good for you. You need calories, so sweet things are liked. People with iron deficiencies tend to crave red meat.

So when you first taste something, your brain tries to interpret what it tastes like, and tries to keep you healthy by letting you like or dislike it. Sometimes, you kind of force it a bit, and keep eating a certain food, and your brain learns that it’s not too bad for you and ‘lets’ you like it.

I’m going to be honest. As a former picky eater, most “acquired tastes” (spicy food, certain vegetables, blue cheese, wine) are things I tried once, hated, then craved inexplicably years later and found I liked. The rest are things I tried as an adult and liked immediately. I think many things that are “acquired tastes” are rather just *strong* tastes. Kids, even teens, hate them, but adult taste buds are less sensitive and can find complexity where kids just found “yuck.”

At first all you know is chicken nuggies and easy Mac, that green shit looks terrible. Then you gain some life experience- love, fear, pain, doubt, and you learn how to handle it. Then one day you aren’t so scared of the green stuff. You eat it and it’s pretty weird but stimulating, you say I’m glad I tried but maybe not for me. Then you get more life experience and you want to keep trying new things. You come back to the green things and suddenly that one green thing tastes amazing and you now understand the weird stimulating taste but also appreciate it now. You keep eating it and trying with new dishes and you find new love for it. You graduate to alcohol perhaps when your parents let you try a sip of beer. It tastes wack but you’re like why do my parents love that shit, one day you’re with your pals and you get tipsy on beer, you may even try a different hoppy beer and the same feelings happen when you learned you liked greens. More life experience happens and now you have an open mind to take anything on. You maybe even start venturing out of your local community. You’re trying Indian food, wine, hot sauce, whiskey, maybe even some escargot… you realize even if you don’t like it all you’re glad you tried because it makes you appreciate other things even more. Then you’re x3 times the elder of the wine you’re drinking and you approach it with nothing but class, you may even share it with the people you love, and you join it with specific cheeses that smell like ass but taste amazing. Suddenly it’s a bonding thing and you’ve found a loving taste for this drink/dish that you look forward to on the right occasion. You continue to age and appreciate all things regardless if they are your specific pallet and you’re happy to have tried so much and look forward to the next scary dish.

I think you’re reading too much into this. Acquired taste isn’t a physical response at all. It has more to do with psychological growth. Any food can trigger your aversion reflex just by the fact that it is new or different. As an intelligent human, you are able to overcome this because you know that the food is consumed by other people safely and you can assume that you can also safely eat it. The taste of cheese, for example, doesn’t change the more you eat it. You just get used to the taste, and it doesn’t seem abnormal any more. I personally believe that anyone has the ability to like any food. Tastes, whether it be food or music, are really just a choice that you make, and you can change them at any time.

Your first experience with an “acquired taste” is generally going to be negative because you lack context for your senses. Cheese tastes like it’s gone off, alcohol is bitter and astringent, raw food defies expectations on proper preparation, ETC. This is not a new behavior for you: As a toddler, you had to be introduced to foods in a similar way to build your palate.

Once you’ve learned what to expect from a food, you are capable of appreciating the experience behind that original off-putting experience. You still experience the same taste (The food hasn’t significantly changed), but your senses are tuned to the enjoyable qualities and have either muted or recontextualized the ones that originally tasted disgusting.