Why Do Vegetables Taste Bad?


Do you like the taste of vegetables?

We all have foods that we don’t particularly care for. Personally, I’m not a big fan of sushi or okra. But one thing that stands out to me is that vegetables tend to be low on the enjoyment scale. Most Americans do not get the recommended vegetable servings per day (a quick google search suggests only 10% do). And I get it: vegetables are perishable, they take time to prep, they are expensive, and pizza tastes better. But this post is not about overcoming all of these barriers; this post is all about why vegetables get their bad rap, and how we can prepare them in a way that makes us want to eat them

 

But first, why do vegetables taste “bad”?

I want to be clear that most people do not say that they absolutely hate vegetables. It is usually a matter of not preferring them, or not getting excited about them. Vegetables are a carbohydrate based food with a bit of protein. A large portion of their carbohydrate content comes from fiber, which as humans, we cannot break down or digest. What this means is that there is little natural sweetness. Instead, the bitter flavor of the plant compounds stands out, a major one being glucosinolates. Glucosinolates are sulphur-compounds that give cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts, their strong smell. Some people are genetically predisposed to dislike this taste (more on that below). But for everyone else? A couple of other thoughts come to mind.

 

Is it taste or perception?

When we say we don’t like vegetables, it may actually be that we do not prefer them compared to other foods. It has been established that many processed foods, or those that are high in added fat, sugar, and salt, are highly palatable. This means that they are designed to make us want to eat more. So the question remains: do the vegetables actually taste bad, or is it just our perception of the taste when they are compared to these other foods?

 

Bad = unfamiliar

For many people, tasting “bad” is really just tasting unfamiliar. Upon investigating the origin of food preferences, many people report that they were never exposed to vegetables growing up, or they were forced to eat them in an unappetizing way. This can lead one to believe that they do not like vegetables since the flavor is unfamiliar. That being said, it is possible to train ourselves to like new foods through repeated exposure.

 

Supertasters

There are a group of people who fall into the category of supertasters. Supertasters are people who have a strong propensity to taste bitter flavors. Since many vegetables have bitter undertones, supertasters can easily develop a distaste for them. If this is the case for you, read on to see how you can bring out the natural sweetness in vegetables and balance out the bitter.

 

Can you train yourself to like new foods, including vegetables?

Yes! Did you know that it can take children up to 10-15 exposures (or more) before they are willing to accept a new food? Apparently, this is not something adults grow out of. Like I mentioned above – I’m not a big fan of okra, but I grew up in the Northeast and never tried it until I moved to North Carolina. Now, I’ve experimented with fried, roasted, steamed, and grilled okra, and I’m starting to come around to the taste.

 

Improving the taste of vegetables

Once we accept the taste of vegetables, we can get to work on making them appetizing so that we want to eat them. Strategies to improve the taste of vegetables include experimenting with different cooking techniques, building the flavor profile, and adding sauces, dips, and dressings.

 

Vegetable Cooking Techniques

Roast Roasting implements the chemical processes known as caramelization and browning. If you are a supertaster or tend to be sensitive to bitter flavors, roasting can bring out the natural sweetness in the vegetables. Here is a good resource for roasting any vegetable. 
Saute Sauteing involves cooking vegetables in a frying pan with a bit of oil over medium-to-high heat. This cooking method is often faster than roasting and can be a good option if you want to add additional sauces.
Grill Like roasting, grilling will trigger the caramelization and browning process to bring out natural sweetness. If you like the taste of grilled chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs, etc., then you may find that grilled vegetables develop a similar taste on their crispy edges. You can grill vegetables by tossing in oil and placing them directly on the grill, using skewers, or investing in a grill basket.
Steam Steaming can be done in a steam basket, in the microwave in a bowl, or in a number of steam-in-bag options. Adding flavors like butter, lemon juice, pepper, and garlic can bring out some more delicate flavors.

 

Add sweet, savory, salty, or acidic elements.

In addition to trying new cooking techniques, experiment with different flavoring options. Try salt and pepper combined with onions, garlic, fresh or dried herbs, savory meats like bacon or prosciutto, vinegar, and sweeteners such as honey and maple syrup. While we are often trying to limit salt and sugar, a bit in cooking can really elevate your vegetable game. Adding salt draws water out of the vegetables and helps concentrate the flavors, while a touch of sugar can bring out the natural sweetness. Most of the sugar and sodium in our diet comes from restaurant and packaged meals anyway, not the salt shaker and your roasted vegetables!

 

Add sauces, dips, and dressings.

Knowledge of different cooking techniques is helpful, but sometimes the convenience of raw or steam-in-bag vegetables is the priority. In these cases, you are not destined to eat boring, bland vegetables. Experiment with adding sauces, either store-bought or homemade. For example, a simple white or garlic sauce can easily upgrade a side of steamed broccoli. For salads, try out different store-bought dressings to find one you love, or consider making your own. Add dips such as hummus, guacamole, tzatziki, or tahini sauces to raw vegetables. In these cases, the raw vegetables are merely the vehicle for the delicious toppings!

 

  1. Do you struggle with the taste of certain vegetables?
  2. Have you trained yourself to like new foods? How did you do it?
  3. I have grown to love this roasted okra recipe!

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