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Truth vs advertising in food and taste

Diane said:

I’ve got no idea what the right balance between truth and advertising is for trying to get kids to try new food

All truth all the time, when it comes to food! Like, in Swedish, “bovine” and “nut” are non-polysemic homonyms (words that are coincidentally spelled and pronounced the same) so I knew a family that used that to trick their 5yo daughter that beef was vegan. That’s just not right.

Zoodles has a really distinctive taste, too.

Taste is like pain, in that a huge part of the discomfort is in the unfamiliar. First time I had cilantro in my mid twenties I thought there was something wrong with the food, that the detergent hadn’t been rinsed off properly from the plate or that insects had gotten to it (smelled sorta like stink bugs). Once I got used to it, it’s now one of my fave spices. Knowing what it is we’re dealing with can make all the difference.

Of course, some advertising in addition to that truth can be good. An example for me is pickled small pearl onions. I was afraid of tasting them and they smelled and looked and felt weird. But I loved pickled cucumber so if I had realized the similarity I might’ve dared them. (Or cucumbers would’ve also been ruined.)

Sometimes a food sensitivity or low-key allergy can be the issue. I always struggled with paprika a.k.a. bell peppers and I could taste its proximity to anything. Picking it out didn’t change a thing; if it had been touched by bell peppers it had been ruined. Turned out later I had a sensitivity to a compound in it. Powdered bell-pepper / paprika as a spice is fine, and sometimes thoroughly roasted / grilled bell peppers can be.

Other times, people react to the consistency of food; too dry, too gelatinous, too creamy, too crispy. (The typical response pattern for most people evolved as a way to detect freshness.)

There are two layers to taste. The taste-only layer (sweet, salt, umami (a.k.a. savoury), bitter, sour, fattiness, and carbonation. (I’d argue for “heat”/capsaicin in this category too.) And the overlapping-with-smell layer which has thousands of nuances and scents. Most kids have strong affinity for some of the base tastes and distastes for others. I knew a girl who loved stuff like pesto, parmesan etc. Others like sweet and sour. I had a hard time with bitter foods growing up (I like it better now).

Knowing about these two taste layers and about consistency and sensitivities and familiarity can make it a little bit more possible to sometimes be able to predict what the kid will like.

All of this is so difficult with kids before they can communicate specifically what they want or don’t want. Have a base repertoire (it’s OK if it’s small) of safe-tasting food and introduce new flavors gradually and in very small doses, not in the whole dish but just on a small side thing. To build familiarity; the shallow end of the pool so to speak.