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Sunday, July 5, 2009

"Tea, Earl Grey, Hot."

One of the things that has always fascinated me is the idea of acquired tastes. As a child, whenever someone told me a food was an acquired taste, I wondered just how people ever got started eating it in the first place. For example, I found tea and coffee to be absolutely vile drinks (coffee more so than tea... in fact, I still dislike coffee greatly. Although some predicted that I would never make it through my undergraduate education without learning to drink coffee, it would seem I have proven them wrong). They are also fairly non-trivial to prepare, so one would wonder how and why someone would go through all the effort of preparing coffee grounds or crushed tea leaves, boiling water, and steeping a drink that, on first taste, prompted a scrunched face of disgust. Of course, not everyone seems to have my initial dislike for the drinks, so perhaps the few people who enjoy such bitter draughts convinced everyone else to give it a try.

Alcoholic drinks are another confusing item, as they too are quite non-trivial to prepare. While one might suppose that there was an ancient group of people with a particularly good crop of grapes one year. They juiced some of the excess fruits and stored them in casks, but were not able to consume the juice fast enough to prevent it from starting to go off. A few might have braved the possible stomach ache and consumed the spoiled juice, only to discover a pleasant buzzing which prompted further experimentation in reproduction. Of course, this sort of story might sound plausible, but it is the sort of "just-so" story which plagues fields like evolutionary psychology. With only the vaguest of evidence to support it (namely, wine exists now, so it was discovered at some point), the story could just as easily have been some ancient teenager stole his neighbour's jar of juice, buried it in a field for a few weeks, and then forced his little brother to drink it just to see what would happen.

The reason I have been ruminating on the subject of acquired tastes, though, is I always find it fascinating when traveling to discover the regional acquired tastes, both of the place one has traveled to and of one's home region. For example, vegemite is a vile spread for toast and bread in Australia. Australians, however, do not seem to share my abhorrence for its flavour (judging by the fact that it is still manufactured, sold, and consumed there). While I have yet to discover any popular German cuisines that turn my stomach, I have been informed by several of my European peers who have spent a fair bit of time studying in North America that root beer is a horrible drink, and they don't understand how North Americans can drink the stuff. Oddly, peanut butter is also one of those things which is often raised as a peculiar North American food, although the reactions to it tend to be more divided with some deciding it is unpleasant and others wishing it was more common here.

So, there was not a lot of point to this post. I do not have any answers for why certain flavours are popular in certain regions of the world, nor how people ever got to manufacturing and consuming some of our stranger and more acquired tastes. Idle conjecture can be fun, though.

3 comments:

Robert said...

I have had similar thoughts.

I have never understood the coffee thing. I do not like coffee, but I have choked it down a few times to stay awake to work on a paper. But it never worked. While I times I have been able to physically stay awake, that was really never my issue. No matter how much coffee, or other energy drinks I consume, my mental capacities at 3 in the morning do not improve. They just continue to deteriorate, and I continue to get more and more frustrated and angry at my inability to form complete sentences.

Mozglubov said...

Hah, yeah, I have also tried to consume vast quantities of caffeinated beverages to stay awake and work, but the brain just continues to get fuzzy... Usually I give up and go to bed sometime around 4:00, but the caffeine in my system is usually enough to ensure I get a crappy three or four hours sleep. It keeps happening, but I still do not seem to learn to finish my work with more time to spare... Oh, the woes of procrastination and underestimation.

Robert said...

ha! yes.

I remember writing a paper in high school. I consumed about a gallon of highly caffeinated and surgery beverages. I was able to complete the paper, though I did not get any sleep, and the last few pages...sucked. And at school the next day, I kept twitching. People commented that I looked like I was on speed (not that I think anyone at the school knew what someone looked like when on speed)