HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >


The power of suggestion - or not knowing the ingredients

Further to the post about the difference between pommes frites and french fries or chips I wonder whether food tastes better if its called something unusual and foreign OR if you don't know what's in it.

Yesterday at work, one of my co-workers brought in some pickled herring. One of the other coworkers thought it was great till she heard the fish was raw.

Is there anything you liked until you found out what it was?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. No, but there are a few things I thought I wouldn't like until I found out I'd already eaten them, and then I was pleased. If my tastebuds say yes, my brain doesn't turn around and say no after the fact.

    Case in point: lardo. I'd never have tried it if an ex (with a nod to Firegoat) hadn't spread it on bread for me without telling me what it was. By the time he did I was already hooked.

    1 Reply
    1. re: tatamagouche

      Same as above...when I first started to eat sushi, one of the sushi bar chefs passed me a small bowl with sliced cucumbers, seaweed...other stuff I couldn't identify...it was white. It was tasty! "What is this?" I asked..."OCTOPUS HEAD." :) I wouldn't have eaten that on a bet, but have enjoyed it many times since. And I love my mom's homemade stuffing with chicken livers and gizzards...when I was a kid, I didn't realize what all was in there. I love it regardless, though.

    2. No, but it seems like patagonian toothfish never took off until it was labeled as Chilean sea bass.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Miss Needle

        And we seem to prefer the name "Mahi Mahi" to "Dolphin fish" because then we're sure we're not eating Flipper.

        1. re: jmckee

          But does it actually taste better or is it just marketting to get you to eat it??
          My suspicion is, if you were served two peice of fish. One Chilean sea bass and one Patagonian toothfish, prepared exactly the same and asked to pick which you thought was better, you'd choose the sea bass everytime. The power of suggestion like the OP said.


        2. re: Miss Needle

          Everytime I read "Patagonian toothfish" I imagine it as made out of brightly colored high-tech wicking fiber. Which would get caught in my teeth something fierce.

        3. as i said in a different thread - when traveling around asia,a s i used to do a lot, i had a policy of not asking what a food was until AFTER i tasted it.

          helps to keep an open mind

          1. I do find people much more lenient towards eat body parts of animals if they don't know what it is (stomach, hearts, liver, intestines, tongues, ears, etc). Also, the animals themselves: escargot.

            1. Prairie oysters (not the drink, I refer to the Canadian name for swinging beef) gave me pause.

              1 Reply
              1. re: mrbozo

                I introduced my SO to sweetbreads, which he loved and ate with gusto -- until I told him what they were. Now he won't eat them anymore. Ah well. More for me.

              2. ...I also suspect most chowhounds, if they're going to have a knee-jerk reaction, have it in the other direction: bring on the craziest thing you've got!

                1. This reminds me of how Levi Strauss started out selling rotten fruit in the street as a rare exotic varietals -- and made enough money that way to open his first store.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: cimui

                    I don't know if this counts, but I can think of a number of dishes I've made that had a "secret ingredient" that the tasters loved til they found out what it was...

                    E.g.,: brownies with black beans, smoothies with tofu, mashed potatoes with tofu, etc.

                    1. re: allieinbklyn

                      My father detested eggplant. On a visit home, I made ratatouille (I cook mine down to a paste). When he got home, my mother gleefully pushed a spoonful at him saying, "Taste this!" He loved it! Then insisted we were both liars when we told him it was basically eggplant. And asked me to make it every time I went home. Died convinced there couldn't be eggplant in it.

                    2. re: cimui

                      You do know, don't you, that the Levi Strauss you refer to was an anthropologist not the one who started blue jeans?

                    3. It's funny--I grew up in an Asian family and grew up eating all kinds of offals and never quite knowing what I was really eating. Now that I'm a grown up and do know what I'm eating, I've stopped eating half of those things. So yeah, knowing/not knowing definitely has an impact. But I do believe in keeping as open a mind as possible when traveling to other countries.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: gloriousfood

                        Ha ha. When I was a kid, I ate tripe, called "yang" in Korean, which is also is a word for "lamb." So every time I ate a white fluffy strip of tripe, I thought I was eating a fluffy piece of lamb, wool and all (in a child's mind, this made perfect sense). Only when I hit the age of 8 or so I learned that tripe were the stomach linings. I actually did get a bit grossed out but continued eating it because I liked it so much.

                      2. This is the reverse of the situation you mentioned, but I went out to lunch w/ coworkers and ordered grilled squid. Yum. Well, one of my coworkers wouldn't touch it. She said she can't stand squid. Then somewhere along the lunch, she mentioned liking calamari. So I told her that um, squid=calamari.

                        She then tried the dish I ordered and liked it. To think of all those times she's missed out because someone ordered squid instead of calamari!!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: anzu

                          I was tricked into eating calamari. I was eating with a couple people and the subject of squid came up. I said "eww, I don't think I'd like that." So this guy says have you ever had calamari? Uh, no. So he gives me a bite, and I like it. Then he says "See, you do like squid." Clever guy!

                        2. when i was a little kid, i was served venison. i was told that it was "steak." i just ate it and didn't think anything about it. i noticed it tasted a different than the normal steak that we ate, so i asked what kind it was. my mom said it was venison, which i had never heard of, but it wasn't unpleasant so i just kept eating it. after i finished, i asked my dad what a venison was, and he told me it was deer. the reality that i had eaten bambi hit me and i said i hated it and would never eat it again (even though my parents pointed out that i liked it just fine when i didn't know it was deer.) i still have never touched a piece of venison to this day.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: trishyb

                            I've read that sales of mutton in the U.S. fell sharply (and never recovered) after Shari Lewis introduced her cute puppet character Lamb Chop on television.

                            1. re: weem

                              There are now a few web sites where you can order mutton. I really miss it for making a great Irish stew. Let's hope it's a growing trend that will stay with us!

                            2. re: trishyb

                              Time to get over that and enjoy some venison - wish I had some!

                              1. re: trishyb

                                This came up just the other day. We had some really delicious venison sausage, which we cooked up for friends along with some other sausages (not made with game). We put it all on the same plate, and my oldest stepdaughter took a piece of the venison. I watched, and really thought about it - should I tell her that it wasn't her regular sausage or not? I knew if I did, it was likely that the other kids around the table would refuse to try any, because she'd make a big ol' 16-year-old deal about it.
                                So, I said nothing...until she asked! Of course I told her then and she was horrified and wouldn't touch another piece, even though she'd really liked it. More for me, I guess! I've been eating venison since I was little and I love it.

                              2. This is silly to me-I used to love non-dairy creamer- it was just this year that I read what was in it. Now I won't touch it!
                                I read so much and like to think I'm familiar with different names of things and unusual products, but I'm really just over-confident. For instance, I was convinced scungilli referred to a slug that swam like a squid- no shell. So in my head, scungilli was squid, aka calamari, also mixed up with baby octopus (see how I generalize?) and while I would eat fried "Cal-Maad" and I've tried escargo, I would avoid tiny suctiony octopus parts of the calamari. Then I got over it and decided I liked the tentacles. Ok so then I tasted octopus salad at this Italian place and it was SO good but really these things are different...

                                1. I ended up trying sheep's brain as part of a Moroccan salad. It was pretty tasty, but there is no way I would have tried it had I known what it was!

                                  I tried a lot of snack foods in Japan were initially edible but made me gag after I found out what was in them- soy mayo potato chips, eel crackers, etc. You'd think I would learn my lesson about reading labels, but I never did.

                                  1. I once had a Thai dinner in Chicago that had ant larvae as an ingredient in one of the ten courses. I knew that the ant larvae was going to be part of the meal, but I didn't notice them in the course of the meal. Everything was wonderful, however, and I would eat the ant larvae again.

                                    While living in New Orleans I served my sister and her family the lovely smoked beef that my husband had prepared on sandwiches one night. Everyone raved about the lean, tender smokey beef. So when we were having a second sandwich I mad a mistake and told them that it was beef heart. They stopped eating mid bite and that was the end of the beef heart. Yes, they said the heart was wonderful, but no, they just wouldn't eat it knowing what it was. I should have taken that secret to the grave.

                                    1. People haven't complained at eating my stroganoff--made from chicken hearts.

                                      People liked my Virginia smoked ham--made by steaming smoked capybara.

                                      My laab includes a portion of finely diced tripe (as in Laos) and no one complains.

                                      People like my beans--cooked with (sustainably harvested) African game meat.

                                      My carpaccio (!!) is made from the cheapest of cuts (actually better this way).

                                      7 Replies
                                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                        I have no problem with eating chicken hearts, but what a lot of work it must be to make stroganoff with them. Or maybe we make different stroganoffs? Do you slice them?

                                        1. re: Caroline1

                                          Yeah, slice 'em--takes two minutes to slice a kilo. They cook quickly and are really like tender, tender beef under that sauce.

                                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                            Dude, I wish I had your knife skills ---- because I'm not sure I could slice a kilo of anything that fast. Well, fingers maybe '-)

                                            I like hearts. In my family, whenever a whole chicken was bought for soup, the youngest one aka this gal here would get the heart. And I got to gnaw on the neck as well.

                                            My sister refuses to eat tongue, which is a bummer, because I *know* she would eat it if she didn't know what it was. Tongue in Madeira sauce was a xmas tradition at my grandma's house, and it was absolutely delish.

                                            Once we gave her a bite when she didn't know what it was, and she justthought it was just aMAZingly tender beef. Once told, she refused to have any more of it.

                                            My man is also not too fond of offal, though he likes my sweetbreads. Just not too often...

                                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                              Thanks, Sam. Guess I'll stick with grass fed low fat good cholesterol beef. The doctor called last Thursday and said I have to take my HDLs down a notch. Do you know how much cholesterol there is in chicken! Egg yolks and chicken are the highest cholesterol count of the foods we commonly eat. <sigh> Sometimes the web contains too damned much information!

                                              1. re: Caroline1

                                                But how related are dietary intake of choloesterol and blood cholersterol counts?

                                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                  Ha! You want an answer to the $64,000,000 question, do you? Stop asking questions and eat your oatmeal! '-)

                                                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                    sam -- eggs-actly the one trillion dollar question!!! (inflation, you know...).

                                          2. This phenomenon is closely related to the placebo effect in medicine. Post operative pain in hysterectomy patients who are given morphine are relieved 70% of the time. If given saline solutions they think is morphine they are relieved 30% of the time. I keep a few empty bottles of decent vintages in my bar. When I don't feel like opening a new bottle (say to drink with pizza) I just fill one with a good box wine and my wife readily accepts it. If she knows it comes from a box she rejects it outright. I suspect if you ground Parmegiano Regino to the right granularity and put it in the familiar green Kraft
                                            shaker dispenser it would be rejected by a large majority of forum members here.
                                            Same thing with San Marzano tomatoes where behind the name on the can lurks god knows what product. The suggestibility of the human mind is so great that in medical clinical trials, not only is the patient unaware that he is getting a placebo but the doctor also is unaware he is giving one. When introducing new foods to my children, I always tried to do so more or less privately so that a voiced rejection would not taint the open mindedness of the others.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: LRunkle

                                              I would love to see the results of a study where posters here were given the choice between the SAME cheese, one finely grated off the block and the other finely grated and put into a green plastic can, then asked to compare quality.

                                              I'd bet my bonus check more than a few would claim the stuff in the can was inferior.

                                              1. re: LRunkle

                                                even if I knew it was Parm., I would reject it based on the granular texture! you just ruined its tactile quality and in such a fine powder the flavor and aroma will diminish quickly. I get what youre saying, but that example doesnt work.

                                              2. My mom was the queen of this tactic. I have shared on these boards before abut how she fed me chicken salad for years, just to find out as a teen that it was actually tuna (wouldn't touch tuna as a kid.) And then there was her famous ham salad that was actually bologna. Who knows what else she slipped in. The only ingredient I could find, even if I didn't know it was in there, were the mushrooms! She used those nasty canned ones, and the slime factor got me every time.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: danhole

                                                  i had a chuna (or ticken) salad on a convention salad plate a while back. honestly, one could not tell.

                                                2. When I was a kid, I saw an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents in which mushrooms spores came to Earth from outer space to take over the bodies of human beings who consumed them.

                                                  Naturally, I refused to eat mushrooms after that.

                                                  So there we were, my family in a Chinese restaurant, me happily eating an eggroll when I came across something I really liked.

                                                  Me: This is really good. What is this?
                                                  Mom: I'm not going to tell you.
                                                  Me: Why not? It's really good. I want to know what it is.
                                                  Mom: (pause) It's a Chinese mushroom.

                                                  Oh. Ok, I guess I like mushrooms. Spores and body-snatchers be damned.

                                                  In fact, today mushrooms are probably part of my top five favorite foods.

                                                  1. Glad you brought this up! As foodies we have an obligation to try new things, expand our food horizons, even sometimes to our dismay. I had an experience this last week with a woman who ordered Hawaiian Sea Bass( in the same family, but not the same flavor profile as the more popular Chilean Sea Bass). The whole point in going out is to try new things. . .good or bad to our personal preference & to not blame the chef when we decide we don't like it.

                                                    1. funny story about me and butter in Paris: I don't like solid butter, needs to be melted. I'm also a very adventurous diner, ordering things that I wasn't sure what I was ordering in Paris. I thought I ordered a cheese/meat appetiser and was oooohing and ahhhhing about this smooth tasty piece of cheese when my son said "Mom, that is solid butter". I died and couldn't have another bite - the thought killed me. Maybe Paris has fantastic butter but I still can't stand solid butter

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: lexpatti

                                                        the french tend to have a higher butterfat content in their butter(american standards are 80% and french are 86-92%.....more fat and less water=butter that tastes awesome!!) it would be easy to think that a high fat butter thats cold is a mild soft cheese!LOL,

                                                        1. technically pickled herring isn't raw: like ceviche, it's cooked by the acid, rather than heat. like prosciutto being air-dried and not really cooked.

                                                          1. yup - I had something the restaurant called shaslik and my then boyfriend ordered it for me.
                                                            It was great -- then I found out it was lamb .....

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: Matash

                                                              That is sooo funny, me too had lamb balls in Paris, didn't know again what I was ordering - delish though, kept saying "hmmm, kind of like scallops but no, not really" - found out after, and Hubby had goat kidneys and again didn't know. It really was a fabulous meal.

                                                            2. For me that would be proteins that fall in the bug, beetle, worm category.
                                                              IF I know, I'm less apt to try it.
                                                              When traveling I am so happy to be "there" that I'll eat anything...but once my feet land back in Jersey...I'm less the adventurer. Travel lust is seductive.

                                                              1. Yes it is funny how people react to food when they know what it is. Power of the mind is very strong. It always seems odd to me that people will eat something without knowing what it is, tell you they love it, find out what it is and then immediately poo poo it.
                                                                Me, I grew up eating everything, as my mother kept pointing out, there are children starving in the world so be thankful that you have something to eat. Hated her for it at the time but thankfully has turned me into a better CH.
                                                                However, I still can't eat bugs if I know it's a bug. Creepy crawly things give me the heebie jeebies.