Seed of Satan
July 17, 2010 5:34 AM   Subscribe

Aniseed (and its demon spawn liquorice, Sambuca and Pernod) is the vilest, most retch-inducing flavour on earth to me. Why?

There are several widely consumed foods and drinks that I don’t like – overcooked brussels sprouts and straight whiskey, for example. However, if the social situation requires it I can eat them without any problem.

And then there’s aniseed. I prefer the flavour of vomit to aniseed by a significant margin. On the scale of repulsiveness, it ranks just under the smell of someone crapping their pants in a confined space. It’s the only flavour that gets this visceral reaction from me. It’s been this way since early childhood (not caused by overindulging in Ouzo, for example). The rest of my family loves the stuff. I dislike fennel, when cooked as a vegetable, to a much more moderate degree (I can taste the aniseed but it’s very mild) and I’m fine with basil and tarragon (said to be a related flavour).

I assume that I lack the normal taste or smell receptor for the compound anethole. I’ve also read that aniseed might be a discrete sixth taste, after umami. What’s going on here?
posted by dontjumplarry to Food & Drink (44 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I found whiskey an acquired taste that I really enjoy now that I'm in my early 30s. I still can't stand aniseed though but I think it's all about acquiring the taste for the drink or food, try it little by little and not rock shots that you'll associate with nastiness. Fennel I've started liking now as well despite feeling the same way as you did...just keep having it little by little in good dishes and suddenly you can appreciate it.
posted by evilelvis at 5:45 AM on July 17, 2010

Maybe you're somehow mistaking it for cilantro, satan's weed? You're definitely reacting like it's cilantro.

If not that, licorice is a pretty love it or hate it sort of flavour and I don't think it's unusual to be selective within licorice type flavours and have strong reactions only to some -- I hate licorice itself but happily eat aniseseed, fennel, and anise flavoured liquors. I can taste the licorice-like flavour in those things but it doesn't bother me.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:46 AM on July 17, 2010

Response by poster: Yeah I think it might be a cilantro situation. I'm pretty sure it's not a taste I'd ever be able to acquire (unlike every other flavour that I dislike -- whiskey, for instance, I could see myself getting used to with enough exposure). But a glass of Pernod switches on a visceral this-is-poison-not-food-kill-it-with-fire button for me.
posted by dontjumplarry at 6:02 AM on July 17, 2010

There's some, ah, food for thought in the PBS video "The Science of Picky Eaters."

Relevant excerpt from the transcript, which refers to broccoli (presumably it is also applicable to aniseed):

NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: Biologists have discovered that, out of the thousands of genes in our D.N.A., there's one that determines if we like the taste of some healthy greens or if we can't stand them.

And that single gene was discovered by geneticist Dennis Drayna. He found it by testing how strongly people react to the taste of P.T.C., a compound a lot like the chemical found naturally in vegetables like cauliflower and broccoli. While some people hate the taste of P.T.C, others can't taste it at all.

Dennis found the reason why, and it's in our genes [...] a gene that determines how we perceive that bitter flavor in broccoli that so many people hate. [...] Those four letters in D.N.A., they're packed into 23 pairs of chromosomes. On one of those pairs is the gene they're looking for.

DANIELLE REED: You get one chromosome from your mom and one chromosome from you dad. So this chromosome might have a gene that's a non-taster gene, and this chromosome from your dad might also be a non-taster gene.

NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON: Non-tasters don't taste the bitterness in many vegetables because they have the letters G-T-A in that order in a certain spot on the gene. When you get G-T-A from your mom and dad, those taste receptors on your tongue can't bind with the bitterness in broccoli. But instead, if you get the letters C-C-G from both your mom and dad, you can taste the bitterness in broccoli, and you're a "taster."

DANIELLE REED: And that makes you very sensitive to bitter.

YOUNG VOICE: Oh, yuck!
posted by YamwotIam at 6:08 AM on July 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm of the opinion, after some research about flavours, that we all taste the same chemicals in food the same way. What we don't have is the ability to taste the same chemicals in the same ratios of the same food.

So, while you hate brussel sprouts, it's actually you being able to taste a chemical (or combination of chemicals) in sprouts that many people just can't taste, or is too subtle to taste amongst all the other brusselly flavours. Unfortunately, that chemical is distasteful.

I think supertasters are at a particular disadvantage to enjoying many foods as the tastes that are pleasant undertones for most, are overpowering awfulness for them.

This affects me with many cheeses (swiss..., my god..., smelly feet) and it used to be a problem with asparagus and sprouts, although I've mellowed with age. My wife hates that I find foods she adores as tasting of dirt, or feet, or bitter to the point of ache.

So, in reality, I think you are just able to taste some undertone that most can't. It's not that you objectively don't like the same thing that other people do like, it's that you actually aren't tasting the same things. Kinda like comparing someone who's colour blind to someone that isn't. It's just a different experience at a very biological level, although "blue" is "blue" to everyone *

* of course, not to those with blue colour blindness, but you get my drift.

Also note that this is my opinion and not based on expertise on the matter, so feel free to label this as "male answer syndrome".

posted by qwip at 6:18 AM on July 17, 2010

Hm! Even when I was a picky little kid, I loved my broccoli and cauliflower -- and the black jellybeans too. I'd take anybody else's licorice for them. Maybe it is genetic.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:21 AM on July 17, 2010

My unscientific observation is that it's rare that that anyone learns to enjoy licorice flavors. And I'd say, fine, more for those of use that do. But it doesn't work that way. Torani discontinued their anise syrup (which was sublime in a latte) because nobody liked it. Speaking of bitterness, I'm still a little bitter about that.
posted by .kobayashi. at 6:37 AM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I love broccoli, brussel sprouts, whisky and cilantro and dislike anise a lot. And caraway seed, yuck. There's not a strong medical reason to study this, so there could be an undiscovered genetic reason why a specific taste is unpalatable to you. My aversion to anise has become less severe over time, but I still avoid it.
posted by theora55 at 6:46 AM on July 17, 2010

i too hate anise, but nothing like you do. i also love cilantro more than any other herb, pretty much. the only way i can sympathize is through parsnips. they taste and smell like the most foul b.o. to me. i love carrots, but parsnips are like horribly unwashed mildly orange root-people. i've yet to meet anybody else who has experienced this with parsnips (unlike the scads of people who hate cilantro because they taste soap while the rest of us taste yum).

it's just not like with other foods. when we're kids, we taste a lot more flavors, so we only eat mac and cheese and bland foods. i hate avocados and olives as a kid. now avocados are my favorite food, and i actually taught myself to love olives over the years because i thought that no cultured person should dislike olives.

but parsnips? fuck parsnips. i could never teach myself to love parsnips. and you can never teach yourself to love anise. it's just not meant to be.

so i conclude, based on my vaaaaast scientific experience, that it is genetics. THIS IS WHO YOU ARE.
posted by timory at 6:51 AM on July 17, 2010

Some people hate the smell/taste of cilantro and asparagus. Their description of these things (like yours of aniseed) don't line up with mine. I've read that (at least in the case of cilantro) some people experience it very diferently.

So, maybe it's the chemistry of the ingrediant not working with yours.

To add to the conversation I have no problem with aniseed - I wasn't in love with it as a child, but it was never vile to me, as you describe. Wiskey is gross to me - but, so was beer when I first tasted it.
posted by marimeko at 7:09 AM on July 17, 2010

Just to add a note -- I hated onions, cilantro, licorice, ... as a child and love all of them now. And I taste bitter just fine (7th grade taste testing). It is possible to learn to like things.

Yeah, cilantro tastes like soap, but soap kind of tastes good after awhile. Or at least you notice it missing when you don't add it to indian dishes.
posted by rr at 7:18 AM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Have you ever tried star anise? They have similar flavors but are unrelated, so I'd be interested to see if you have the same reaction to that. It's an ingredient in Thai iced tea and a lot of chai teas.
posted by wondermouse at 7:34 AM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am totally with you on anise/licorice/hellspawn. I was once gifted with a bottle of absinthe, and I thought, hey, this is great. Then I opened it and found out that it's licorice liquor. Even pinching my nose shut, the taste was overpowering, so I poured it down the sink, which was a mistake, because I could smell it for the next six months everytime I brushed my teeth.

I've even had issues with Italian sausage, knowing there's fennel seed in there. It's just horrible stuff, yet people are stunned that I dislike it. I think there are just some things certain people can't abide, and for you, and me, and all right thinking people, it's licorice.

And fresh raw tomatoes. I really, really want to like them. I know they're incredibly healthy, and if I liked them, I would be much more comfortable with a huge variety of healthy food, but the flavor and the texture literally cause me to gag.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:12 AM on July 17, 2010

I've even had issues with Italian sausage, knowing there's fennel seed in there.

Is THAT what's in Italian sausage? I thought it was the seeds in rye bread (rye seed?) which I also can't stand.

Yeah, licorice and anise are foul. I can't understand how anyone could like them. I feel the same way about coffee (it smells great, though). Further point of interest, I think the spices usually put on catfish taste like dirt. Actual dirt.

And fresh raw tomatoes.

Have you ever had a home-grown tomato right out of someone's garden, still warm from the sun? The taste and texture are entirely different from anything that was commercially grown or ever refrigerated. I know there are people who still don't like them, o'course.
posted by galadriel at 8:22 AM on July 17, 2010

I have this with peanuts. I always just put it down to genetics.
posted by katrielalex at 8:24 AM on July 17, 2010

I don't love plain anise in food or licorice candy, but I find that I like anisettes (inclusively speaking). They have to be very cold, though. Or mixed with other stuff. Fennel is tolerable in food when used lightly, but when it overpowers other flavors I find it too cloying. I'm also not much for strong peppermints, although I like some mint in food and drink.

I like cilantro, parsnips, tomatoes, brussel sprouts, broccoli, etc...

I like very hot (spicy) food.

I think anise (and its cousins) are just particularly overpowering.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:27 AM on July 17, 2010

FWIW, dontjumplarry, you are my food twin. I like all kinds of foods and am an adventurous eater but I cannot stand the taste of liquorice. No anise, fennel, sambuca, nothing that tastes or smells of that. Sprouts and whisky I can tolerate to be polite but are on my very short list of foods I prefer not to consume.

Actually, that may be my whole list, come to think of it. I have no issues with any of the foods others have listed here: coffee, peppermints, tomatoes, asparagus, brussel sprouts are all fine with me.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:52 AM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Overcooking brings out the sulfur in vegetables like cabbage and Brussels sprouts. That's why so many of us hate those vegetables - in childhood, we were served the boiled-to-death version. For me, raw cabbage (as in cabbage salad) and roasted Brussels sprouts are great. But well-cooked are gross. Same with broccoli and cauliflower - I love, love, love them as crudites, stir-fried or steamed. But the "fork-tender" cooked stuff is awful.

Licorice: here I thought I was the only one to find it a foul, foul brew. I can't stand the stuff, it makes me want to vomit and on occasion it HAS made me vomit. I wish it wasn't used in so many herb teas.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:02 AM on July 17, 2010

@Galadriel: I think you're referring to the delicious Caraway seed, which does resemble fennel a bit, as does Cumin (Which I learned when I made 30 loaves of cumin bread at work one time. Not a hit.)
posted by Lisitasan at 9:10 AM on July 17, 2010

Galadriel, caraway "seeds" (a kind of fennel) are the things in rye bread.

Unlike the rest of the US,most Jewish delis in NYC use the kind without seeds.
posted by brujita at 9:17 AM on July 17, 2010

Yeah, I have this exact same problem. There's a vile, heinous spanish liqueur called hierbas ibicencas which is aniseed-based and is truly the foul urine of satan. No other flavour inspires as visceral a response in me (namely, immediate retching) as aniseed/licorice. Nothing. The only odor that exceeds it is concentrated garbage juice. There's something about the cloyingly sweet/bitterness of it that is so alien and horrible that it is actually almost making me throw up inside my mouth just THINKING about it. Pleh.

I'm not sure about the anethole possibility, though, (for me, at least) because I adore basil and tarragon, which seem to be closely related.
posted by elizardbits at 9:30 AM on July 17, 2010

i read not too long ago that licorice is the most desirable flavor to pregnant women. it's also an abortifacient. go figure.

I think the spices usually put on catfish taste like dirt. Actual dirt.

that's probably the cornmeal...which, yeah...does kinda have a dirt flavor...
posted by sexyrobot at 9:37 AM on July 17, 2010

Sambuca/aniseed is literally the only thing I will not drink or eat in my life. Anything else gets at least a taste every few years to see if I can acquire it; but sambuca? truly horrifying stuff
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 9:38 AM on July 17, 2010

Response by poster: (I also can't stand root beer, I assume cos it also contains anise; this is not helped by the fact that in Australia they renamed root beer after an infectious disease).
posted by dontjumplarry at 9:54 AM on July 17, 2010

I don't know why, but I can tell you you're not alone. I hate licorice and anything remotely licorice-flavored, including anise(eed), Pernod, Sambuca, absinthe, fennel, and anything prepared with traces of them. I'll eat just about anything else if I have to, but licorice is a dealbreaker flavor for me.

I'm particularly amused to see this post because just last night my fellow licorice-hating friend and I were playfully arguing with my boyfriend about whether or not his Sazeracs--made with absinthe--tasted like licorice. (They do. And therefore BLECCH.)
posted by rhiannonstone at 10:00 AM on July 17, 2010

Please box up all your Herbsaint, Pernod, arak, sambuca, ouzo, aguardiente, absinthe, and any other anise-based alcoholic beverages and send them to me and I will dispose of them, gladly.
posted by komara at 10:11 AM on July 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

In return I will send you the true Devil weed, cilantro.
posted by komara at 10:11 AM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I walk a crooked line with licorice. HATE: real black licorice, licorice liquors, fennel bulb. LOVE: sausage with fennel seeds, black jelly beans, root beer. Taste buds are fickle things.
posted by cecic at 10:26 AM on July 17, 2010

PSST! rhiannonstone: all he should be doing with a Sazerac is washing the glass -- just pouring in a wee dram of absinthe and turning the glass so that its walls are coated. Any excess that doesn't cling should be dumped out. I'm definitely a member of the anise-haters club, but a judicious wash here and there adds depth to a good cocktail.
posted by mumkin at 10:30 AM on July 17, 2010

dontjumplarry: (I also can't stand root beer, I assume cos it also contains anise).

Ditto. It's absolutely vile and the only time I ever drank it, thinking it was a glass of Coke, I spit it out through my nose. Charming.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:33 AM on July 17, 2010

mumkin: he's doing it correctly, and he says the drink doesn't taste licorice-y to him at all, but the smell lingers enough that just raising the glass to my lips makes me gag. He once offered me a spoonful, with the glass far, far away, and I could still taste the vileness.

Weirdly, he's the one who usually displays supertaster characteristics (sensitivity to bitterness, insatiable love of salt), and I'm the one who will usually eat or drink anything.
posted by rhiannonstone at 10:47 AM on July 17, 2010

Oooh, so the stuff in rye bread is a kind of fennel? I seee. So the hateful seeds in rye bread and the hateful seeds in Italian sausage are kind of the same thing, but not quite. I wonder if I've ever encountered cumin; I like Indian food but don't make it and have no idea what's been in the stuff I did try.

More scattered data points! I like small amounts of tarragon and think I should like basil but I never do. I can't stand mint, not the taste nor the smell, and may even be allergic to it (bad skin reaction when someone convinced me to try Dr. Bronner's soap).

Probably unrelated: banana. I seem to be the only person on Earth who doesn't like it.
posted by galadriel at 11:41 AM on July 17, 2010

Adding my data to the pool:

I love licorice, and have no problems with fennel or other related things.

I believe cilantro was invented by the devil to kill me, and I literally cannot have it in my fridge...the smell alone induces nausea, eye-watering, and headaches. I used to feel the same way about mushrooms for no apparent reason, but was recently advised I am probably allergic/sensitive to anything fungi.

I love parsnips, but my parents think they taste awful; conversely, I loathe turnip, which they enjoy. I have found that cinnamon hearts have a similar "love 'em or loathe 'em" status, but I suspect that has more to do with heat tolerance and sensitivity to red dyes.
posted by sarahkeebs at 11:59 AM on July 17, 2010

Hating licorice isn't a problem; it's what sane and normal people do.

I once had to ask a friend, who pulled out black licorice and took a bite of it while we were together in a car, to put it away and open all the windows so that I didn't vomit on her. That is the standard reaction (or should be) to licorice and aniseed and all its demon spawn.

All you cilantro haters, however, are simply crazy. Cilantro is one of god's gifts to food.
posted by jokeefe at 12:31 PM on July 17, 2010

Anise is one of the worst flavors to me. I can't stand fennel in any form (the seeds are particularly vile) My mother loves it, in all its forms. She is a huge back licorice lover.

So it may be genetic or just a preference. But if it is genetic, I sure didn't get that gene.
posted by cmgonzalez at 1:56 PM on July 17, 2010

Probably unrelated: banana. I seem to be the only person on Earth who doesn't like it.
I have a coworker who is the same way.
posted by cmgonzalez at 1:59 PM on July 17, 2010

Do you like coffee, dark chocolate, dark green vegetables, etc.? If you don't like those, you may have an extra sensitivity to friend is the same way, she has a distaste for bitterness and an extra special hate for anything licorice-y.

But for whatever scientific reason, lots of people have weird food aversions to different things. I love licorice and anything that tastes like it, but I feel almost physically ill around a lot of meats and cheeses which normal people have no problem with it.

I don't think there's anything remotely weird about your aversion to overcooked brussell sprouts, BTW. Anything is gross when you cook it like a kid I thought zucchini was the worst thing in the world until I had it when it wasn't cooked into mush.
posted by vanitas at 2:15 PM on July 17, 2010

A neighbor, inviting me to dinner, asked what foods were on my "do not like" list. We lived in a vegetarian & vegan haven of a city, and weird food requirements are pretty much the norm. But my list is pretty short: licorice, caraway seeds, wintergreen flavoring, beans (it's a texture thing).

I guess she never expected to get such a specific list, because, to my amusement, my first dinner plate (quickly removed) contained only wintergreen gum, some dry beans, and black licorice whips.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 3:30 PM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Count me among the anise/licorice haters. I hate the taste so much that even THINKING about it makes me naseous. The smell would make me vomit and the taste would probably send me into convulsions if I ever allowed it to enter my mouth. The last time I took a shot of Ouzo (over ten years ago) I IMMEDIATELY retched all of my stomach contents out.

I also hate Jaeger., yeah. Must be genetic.
posted by banishedimmortal at 4:00 AM on July 18, 2010

some anecdatal (sic) points:
The only banana-flavored thing I will eat are bananas themselves. everything else? yuck.

tastes like soap.

there's a reason this is pronounced (by me anyway) "anus". I could not agree more with the poster that it is the most vile flavor on earth. It's pretty much instant-vomit category for me, no matter the substrate used for conveyance.

love lots of other bitter things like dark chocolate, espresso, etc... never had fennel, but judging from the above, I should probably avoid it.
posted by namewithoutwords at 5:11 AM on July 18, 2010

huh. seems like the licorice lovers are all cilantro haters and vice versa. i know correlation doesn't equal causation, but still...hmmm.

cilantro tastes like soap? not to mostly tastes like...fresh. i don't know how else to put it. like somewhere between fresh mint and italian parsley...not at all soapy. licorice tastes to me like camphor plus charcoal plus cough syrup... actually, i think nyquil might be flavored with it so...maybe more like poison plus gasoline.

what do these things taste like to you guys?
posted by sexyrobot at 12:46 AM on July 20, 2010

For the most part I like bitter flavors a lot. I love aperitifs and digestifs. I also like herby things - parsley, for example. However, cilantro is the wrong kind of herby and the wrong kind of bitter. There are several threads around here (this one, for example) wherein people discuss their relationships with cilantro. Short answer is that apparently it's a genetic superiority to think cilantro tastes like soapgarbage.

Licorice and all other anise-flavored things - I can't really describe. It's pretty much everything I like: savory and bitter and vaguely herby and wonderful.

I would love to see a study on the correlation between cilantro hate and anise love.
posted by komara at 7:04 AM on July 20, 2010

Ooh, one more data point: in this MetaFilter discussion on cilantro hate one person mentions liking cilantro and hating licorice so hey, as far as I'm concerned that's scientific enough.
posted by komara at 7:37 AM on July 20, 2010

I hate cilantro AND licorice.

I'm a freak.

and fresh tomatoes.
posted by Sallyfur at 12:33 AM on July 21, 2010

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