It is amazing how cultural our tastes are. By cultural I mean that our food preferences are acquired in a complex mix of nature and nurture. NPR’s Science Friday had an interesting interview last year about how what we consider “gross” is ingrained in us from our earliest years. We learn what it means to be “dirty” and often what foods or smells are “gross.” A couple of examples: most Americans find the idea of eating dog, horse, and cat repulsive, though these are normal meats in Korea, Germany, and Melmac respectively (among many other places, no doubt). Or take the smell of a skunk: some people don’t find skunks repulsive, whereas most are taught from their earliest years (I’m looking at you, Pepé Le Pew) that skunks smell bad.
Food and tastes are also somewhere along the continuum of nature and nurture, and I’m convinced they fall toward the “nurture” end of the scale. Case in point is Qurut, Today’s Acquired Taste… or, as of this writing, Today’s [still] Unacquired Taste. Qurut is a “drained sour milk or yogurt” that is then further dried. I tried qurut within my first year of living in Kyrgyzstan, and it was… shocking. I had never eaten anything so dry and crumbly and … not good. A small bite of the golf ball sized serving I was given dried out my entire mouth. And the flavor – someone recently described it to me as “really bad blue cheese.” Maybe that’s it. I like blue cheese, but this stuff is too much.
The odd thing about food, though, is that preferences are entirely personal (and cultural). So it seems that every child (everyone?) in Kyrgyzstan loves to eat qurut, and literally every single American that has tried it in my presence thinks it is gross. I recently experimented on about 60 Americans, and not even one liked it. I would say, “This is one of the favorite snacks of children in Kyrgyzstan,” and they would take it, thinking it was sweet. Watching them try qurut, I could literally see their taste buds frantically zip messages off to the brain. (Their faces were priceless).
Call me a masochist, but I’ve now eaten qurut probably 10x (I always eat a bite when I’m introducing it to someone else), and maybe I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel: I no longer think it is gross, and I can eat it without scrunching my face up in revulsion, but I still don’t “like” it. Not at all. Maybe some tastes can’t be acquired?