Eating With Your Eyes: A Matter of Perception

"That looks delicious!" It's a phrase you hear all the time. I use it every time I pass an olive bar drooling, or whenever I see a piece of tiramasu. Its the visual appeal of a food that often leaves our mouths watering.  Why do you think people spend so much time on Pinterest pinning recipes that they never actually make?  Why do I spend my afternoons watching Food network? It's the way the food looks.

I could seriously live off of an olive bar.

But what exactly makes a food "look" tasty?

The first thing that pops into my head is frosting, fluffy decadent frosting-- clouds of sugar draped over a rich red velvet cake. Or flavorful vegetables steaming over a pot of grainy rice, each object in sharp contrast from the one next to it.

These foods will look good, regardless of how they taste.

But it tastes good too!

But what about the foods that aren't exactly visually appealing?

Quite frequently  I visit the Asian market with my friend Sam who is from Thailand.   Every time we go there she introduces me to some interesting food that I have never had before.  Have you ever cooked with Thai soy sauce (and actually known the difference between the multitude of types of soy sauces?) or eaten fresh lamyai? If not you are missing out.

But there are lots of foods there that honestly freak me out.  To me, the jars of fermented meat and fish look like scary science projects gone wrong.  To Sam they look delicious.

Yet she is completely grossed out by the thought of gravy.

On my most recent trip she introduced me to Basil Seed drink which, when I asked her to describe, she couldn't.

"Just try it," she said.

I was instantly thrilled by the contents of that can. The drink is sweet with little balls (aka basil seeds) that fill up your straw and can only be described as squeaky because of the wonderful sound they make when you bite into them (Sam thinks they are crunchy, but I don't think that's quite right.)

Later that night I opened the contents of a can into a glass to see just what basil seed drink looks like. One word: scary! It would have been tough to stomach if I had seen it the first time I tried it. The basil seeds make me think of little amoebas swimming in my drink, or, as Sam described it, frog eggs.


But how could that be? This stuff is delicious, like, I want to go back to the Asian market and buy a case full, delicious. That made me wonder, what other wonderful foods am I missing out on just because the look or idea of them bothers me? It's not hard to think that Sam is missing out because of her aversion to gravy, but what about me and liver, tripe, fermented foods? It took me at least a year of convincing to try sushi before I realized how delicious it is.  A friend got me to face it head on and go for some sashimi, despite my head and gag reflex telling me it was a bad idea. Now I love sushi.

This is a vegetable: celery root, not one of the monsters under your bed.

Sam thinks that a blindfold is all that it would take before I'd be eating all the strange-to-me foods that she loves, and she's probably right.  That may be a bit of a extreme way of handling things, but I will try to approach each new foods with an open mind.  I'd suggest that everyone do the same.  We wouldn't want to miss out?

If we just class this chia seed and guava pudding up with some mint, maybe nobody will notice how weird it looks.

But before I go cook up the weirdest foods I can find in my fridge (while sipping on basil seed drink,) I will leave with a parting question.

What's the weirdest food you've ever tried? Did you like it? I'd love to hear your experiences in the comments below.