A survey has revealed “the 40 most hated foods in Britain”. There are some you might not be surprised to see (sprouts, anchovies, cottage cheese) along with some relatively inoffensive ones (prawns, goat’s cheese, avocado). Snails, tripe and oysters were the top three, followed by squid, anchovies, liver, cockles, kidneys, olives and black pudding. The survey was commissioned by Hotpoint, who’ve got a new fridge out.
“Taste” was the main reason people gave for not liking these foods, followed by texture and smell. But that’s rubbish, if you think about it. Squid doesn’t taste of anything beyond being slightly sweet. Snails are perhaps somewhat earthy but largely piggyback on the flavour of whatever they’re served with. Children love black pudding – which is soft and sweet and rich – until you tell them it’s made from pig’s blood.
No: in most of these cases, the texture of the food is far more disturbing. And texture is married to what we might call the “idea” of the food: the psychological associations it triggers in people’s minds. A perfectly fresh oyster, if it tastes of anything, tastes salty. But it’s a slopping, snotty, slippery, squelchy thing, and it’s alive. Badly cooked squid is latex. Snails are snails, for God’s sake: maggoty, warty little pellets sliming their way across the garden.
Often the most delicious foods are the ones you have to train yourself to like, that withhold their pleasure beyond the first tentative nibbles. The difference between a Haribo sweet and an oyster is like the difference between bad and good literature – one is more difficult, engaging, nuanced, austere, but its rewards are greater.