If there’s one trait the Serious Eats staff shares above all else, it’s that we’re adventurous eaters. We all go out of our way to broaden our palates, and most of us will try just about anything at least once. But that isn’t to say we don’t have some strange quirks and preferences as adults—and it certainly doesn’t represent how we ate as kids. The parents on our team will tell you that no matter what lengths you go to, kids will be picky eaters at least some of the time. In a recent bid to reassure them that there’s always hope, we got carried away listing all the foods we bent over backwards to avoid when we were growing up—only some of which we still avoid to this day! Here’s a taste.
“When I was younger, there wasn’t a single thing I liked about mushrooms. The texture was strange, the taste was borderline repulsive, and why on earth would I want to eat a food labeled as a fungus? My parents would try to sneak them into dishes, always claiming they “forgot” that I didn’t like them. When my mom made her iconic stuffed mushrooms for Thanksgiving every year, I would just eat the stuffing and push the mushroom to the edge of my plate.
It’s taken me a while, but now, at the age of 25, mushrooms have finally grown on me. I’ll throw them into an omelette or stir-fry, and when Thanksgiving rolls around, I actually eat the whole stuffed mushroom—and often go in for seconds. Recently, I made Kenji’s crispy baked pasta with mushrooms, and I think it just might be my new favorite pasta dish. I’ve come a long way!” —Yasmine Maggio, assistant social media editor
“My parents wanted me to learn to love to eat everything, but as a kid there were a few foods I could not stomach, the most notable being banana. I think a lot about my distaste for bananas because I always loved plantains, and by the time I turned 20, I had learned to love banana bread and other cooked banana dishes. In the third or fourth grade, I remember thinking that the texture of bananas was slimy or too fibrous, its scent similar to strong, saccharine perfume, and its flavor too aggressive and almost metallic. I wouldn’t have been able to describe it in those words back then, but I know I felt like bananas attacked and overwhelmed my nose and mouth to the point of physical discomfort! To this day, I think I’m sensitive to the smell, texture, and taste of raw yellow banana because of those memories—even though I’ve come to love the other foods I was picky about as a kid: eggs and fish.” —Daniela Galarza, features editor
“Sour cream, cottage cheese, mayo, cream cheese, whipped cream. All of these freaked me out as a kid. I don’t recall exactly why white condiments repulsed me at a young age but I’d venture to say it was a texture thing. The stiff globs of sour cream, the chunkiness of cottage cheese, and the foamy texture of whipped cream were off-putting. As an adult, I’ve come around to loving mayo, cream cheese, and whipped cream but I still refuse to touch sour cream and cottage cheese. Of course, I ended up marrying someone who loves sour cream and who will load up tacos with generous dollops of that white stuff while I’ve learned to just look the other way.” —Kristina Razon, operations manager and associate podcast producer
“There wasn’t a lot to be picky about when I was little because we ate pretty simply. Having picky parents made it easy to just eat the plain stuff. Something I did struggle with was white condiments, like cream cheese. At family get-togethers, where bagels, cream cheese, and lox were the norm, I’d top my plain toasted bagel with red onions, tomatoes, and cucumbers. The same went for mayo. While most people slathered their sandwiches with mayo and used it to fill out their tuna salad, I stayed 10 feet away from that jar of misery…and I still do. Give me that watery, crunchy bagel combo over a tiny bite of cream cheese or mayo any day. I’d be thrilled.” —Ariel Kanter, director of commerce and content marketing
“I’ll preface this by saying that anchovies are now something I can’t live without. But I used to hate them with a vengeance. I think this is pretty standard for children, but in my household, nearly every dinner was punctuated with an anchovy-forward salad, so my distaste for them became an issue. Thankfully my parents, being the anchovy-lovers they are, never relented and my stubbornness eventually gave way to common sense. Now I can’t go a week without the little fish, and we’re all glad for it!” —Jina Stanfill, social media editor
“I’m not sure why I hated chocolate. It’s still not my favorite thing today. I completely avoided chocolate milk, candy bars, ice cream, brownies, you name it. Kids made fun of me at school and a teacher even called home to ask if I was okay. I gobbled up bitter greens and loved black tea, so it wasn’t an aversion to bitter flavors. I was just a weird kid who grew up to become a weird adult who only likes chocolate in cookies.” —Maggie Lee, UX designer
“For the longest time, I just couldn’t stand eggplant—there was something about it that just became associated with the idea of vomiting, and I’m not at all sure why! By the time I got to high school though, I hated the idea of being a picky eater, so I perversely forced myself to eat eggplant more and more often. I guess it worked out in the end, since now it’s one of my favorite things!” —Daniel Dyssegaard Kallick, full stack developer
“There’s hardly a food I can remember not liking…save for asparagus. I have no idea what it was about that vegetable and my young tastebuds that set me off, but I couldn’t tolerate it. Then one day a switch just flipped, and that was that, I became an asparagus fanatic. Today I’ll buy five pounds, roast it all at once and then eat it in one sitting. I can swallow half a bunch in one go, letting the stalks droop out of my mouth as I munch them up into my mouth like a cow hoovering up grass. Thank god for that, asparagus is so good! Well, except for one thing: that damned stinking pee smell makes me gag every single time.” —Daniel Gritzer, managing culinary director
“There’s a long list of foods I hated as a kid, but one constant has been raw cucumbers. I’m not sure if it’s genetic the way some people feel about cilantro, but I can’t even eat food if it’s been placed on or near a cucumber. Every so often, I’ll give it another shot. In my youth, my pickiness toward cucumbers even included pickles, but I’ve since been cured of that. Beyond the brine, cooked cucumbers are also on my thumbs up list—it’s just that disinfectant-y, raw flavor that causes me to immediately put down whatever I’m eating and see if there’s something else I can order.” —Joel Russo, video producer
“The yogurt is on the top, the fruit is on the bottom. You stir it with a spoon, such that the fruit is no longer on the bottom but mixed into the yogurt, making one homogenous substance. In theory. As a child, I was utterly repulsed not so much by the taste or smell, but by the mottled, ribboned appearance of the streaks of fruit, and the grainy white flecks of the unincorporated dairy. Disgusting. Today, I have warmed up to the idea of yogurt that includes this do-it-yourself step, so long as the product is high quality. But I’m still not a fan of most of the options on the supermarket shelf.” —John Mattia, video editor
“I was an incredibly picky eater as a kid—the list of foods I would eat that weren’t beige or made by Kraft could probably be counted on a single hand. One particular dislike that stands out to me now? pickles. Like most vegetables, pickles were a non-starter, but what stands out to me most isn’t the taste or texture (did I even try them?!), it’s my brother dipping his fingers into the brine and chasing me around the house.” —Paul Cline, president
“I remember being puzzled by my pickier friends’ eating preferences when we were kids—it seemed like they were all obsessed with bland starches like rice, plain pasta with butter and cheese, and white bread sandwiches. I, on the other hand, insisted that everything I ate had bold, bright flavor—I gravitated toward seafood seasoned with fresh herbs like cilantro; stir-fried vegetables; punchy tomato-based sauces enriched with mushrooms or ground meat; and briny foods like olives and oysters. The one food I couldn’t stand? White rice. Whenever my parents served white rice with our meal, I’d pitch a fit and refuse to eat the rice, insisting that it tasted “too plain.” (The fit would ultimately end with me dumping a ton of soy sauce over the rice and then happily eating every last grain).
In retrospect, I suspect this was partly because I was going through a prolonged phase of refusing to let my (solid) foods touch on my plate, so anything that was intended to be eaten on or with the rice wasn’t making it onto my fork at the same time.* Of course, to make matters more absurd, I had no problem with different ingredients touching if they arrived on the dining room table together in a single serving bowl. I’m almost certain that if my parents had just combined the rice with whatever else they were serving beforehand, I never would have had an issue.” —Niki Achitoff-Gray, editor in chief
* Let’s be real: it also may have had something to do with how well my (white, Jewish) parents—excellent cooks, generally speaking!—may or may not have prepared the rice. Unless they’re reading this, in which case it was definitely all my fault!
“The neighborhood that I grew up in in Rome was home to a number of great bakeries. Our living room windows were situated directly above a forno, and there was an even better bakery right around the corner. Having easy access to fantastic fresh bread turned me into a bit of a staleness stickler from a young age. According to my mother, whenever I would see her or my father slicing up bread to serve with a meal, I would ask about its date of purchase, and if it wasn’t baked that day, I would run out to buy a fresh crusty mezzo filone (half loaf), relegating the day-old bread to bruschetta duty.” —Sasha Marx, senior culinary editor
“I don’t think I need to describe why I wouldn’t eat natto as a child: It looks awful, it smells awful, when you stir it, mucilaginous strings seems to appear as if by some dark, disgusting magic. And yet, my mother and brother both loved the stuff, saving it to eat for the end of the meal, kind of like a dessert, but mostly because once you eat natto you can’t taste anything else for about an hour after. I’d try it once a year, mostly when we were visiting my family in Japan, but I didn’t acquire a taste for it until I was about 20 years old. But once you acquire a taste for it, there’s nothing like it, and you come to crave it; it begins to look appetizing, and the smell literally makes you salivate. And those mucilaginous strings? The more the better.
Every time I think of natto now I also think of something Ivan Orkin, the famed ramen chef, once said to me in an interview about expanding one’s palate. He said that every year he sets out to try to like one thing that he really can’t stand, whether that’s something like natto or beef tendon, a food that has a devoted following but for whatever reason seems entirely appealing, and he usually comes around to the appeal of whatever the thing in question is. It’s a rule to live by, I think.” —Sho Spaeth, staff writer and editor
Chicken on the Bone
“I don’t recall what started it, but at around age eight I started refusing to eat chicken on a bone. My only guess is that it had something to do with the gross pieces of cartilage. I don’t even know how long it lasted, or what snapped me out of it. It’s all a blur—but I’ll always mourn the dozens of fried chicken drumsticks I never ate during that time.” —Vicky Wasik, visual director
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