Try to imagine all the edibles that exist in the world, from dandelion tea to ostrich eggs and cheeseburgers with jalapeño sauce. Out of the endless choices, most of us stick to a limited range based on taste, availability and habit.
On top of that, there are the foods we simply don’t like; yet can you even remember the first time you tasted your most-hated food, made a face, and never looked back? Maybe it’s time to give certain foods another chance with fresh eyes and open taste buds.
“New” old favorites
Nutritionist Chrissy Wellington, M.S., C.N.S., L.D.N., C.P.T., at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, enjoys helping guests expand their food repertoires for the sake of variety, health and pure pleasure. She recommends, for instance, trying some of the “new” grains that are in fact ancient and nutritious.
“Often we just choose between white and brown rice,” she says, “but there are other wonderful choices. Quinoa is a grain that’s become trendy and is a great source of antioxidants. There are other grains, too, that you may not have tried, like teff, amaranth, buckwheat and kasha. They provide a variety of tastes, from bland to nutty, and can be cooked like rice. Plus, these ‘new’ grains are gluten free, so they’re great dietary additions for people who are gluten intolerant.”
Chrissy also suggests eating familiar foods in different ways. “Lots of people like antioxidant-rich pomegranate juice,” she says, “but you can also open the fruit and enjoy the seeds.”
A good way to reach the seeds is to cut the pomegranate in half and place the pieces open-side-down in ice water. Squeeze them gently and the pith will float to the top while the seeds sink to the bottom. Then skim off the pithy part and you’re left with the crunchy, tasty seeds that add a wonderful sweetness to couscous, brown rice, quinoa and other foods.
If you don’t like a certain food, Chrissy suggests trying it prepared in another way.
“Sometimes it’s about the texture or smell,” she says, “so you can try it prepared differently. We can change a child’s mind that way, and it works for adults, too.”
If you’ve never liked peanut butter, try the actual nut. If your childhood memories of cabbage involve a smelly kitchen, you might like it in a fresh slaw or salad. You could loathe the feel of hardboiled eggs but find omelets a treat. And maybe it was your great-aunt’s putrid boiled chicken that set you against poultry; it’s never too late to explore recipes that do a bird justice.
“I tell moms that if their kids don’t like fish but love fruit salsa, they should serve the fish and salsa together,” Chrissy says. “Same for broccoli with a dressing your child likes. Slowly you can decrease the dressing until the broccoli stands alone.”
While there are some foods you will never like, Chrissy says, we can “un-decide” what we decided as children. “It’s the same as breaking a habit. You’re starting fresh.”
How adventurous are you? Holiday foods, ethnic celebrations and travel are great ways to explore the culinary world. Chrissy recommends trying new things, if only once, and allowing yourself special-occasion treats.
“When you’re traveling, you experience the culture through food,” she says. “Choose restaurants with local specialties. When you’re in the South, try the grits and okra. You may only visit some far-off island once in a lifetime – experience it!”
If you’re in a food rut, you could try something as simple as salad with breakfast or searching your favorite market for a fruit or vegetable you’ve never tried. You may think of mangoes as a tropical delicacy, but it’s the most popular fruit in the world; what have you been missing? Chrissy also suggests nashi fruit, which tastes like a cross between a pear and an apple. In the fall, try salsify or celeriac, root vegetables that can add new dimensions to soups and other dishes.
Opening up to new foods – or revisiting old ones in a new way – enhances the joys of eating and expands your nutritional resources. It’s a delicious lesson in living.