Get this out of my salad, NOW
July 15, 2007 11:34 PM   Subscribe

This link on today's front page reminded me of my mother-in-law's extreme aversion to cucumber and melons. I remember hearing or reading that this was an actual physiological condition and that people with this aversion actually taste these foods differently than the rest of us. Have you heard of this and, if so, could you point me to any studies on it?
posted by alltomorrowsparties to Food & Drink (27 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You might be looking for (dun dun dunn daaa) Supertaster!

just a guess, though.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 11:52 PM on July 15, 2007

Some people - myself included - have a minor oral allergic reaction to certain foods (including melons).
Other pollen-food allergic syndromes include Grass pollen allergic rhinitics who have oral allergy to Melon, Orange. Tomato and wheat. Ragweed allergic people may react to Melon and Banana, While Mugwort allergic react to Apple, Carrot, Celery and Melon. People who are sensitised to natural latex in rubber gloves, catheters etc may react in a similar way to Avocado, Banana, Chestnut and Kiwi fruit and may even develop anaphylaxis to these foods.
posted by Guy Smiley at 12:28 AM on July 16, 2007

See also.
posted by Guy Smiley at 12:32 AM on July 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

This is very interesting because I also dislike cucumber and melon for a specific reason: They taste too fresh. The actual taste I probably wouldn't mind, if I could get over the weird kind of "air" taste sensation they have.

Fresh raspberries are the same. There are a handful of other fruits that are similar. Often, when they're cooked, I'm fine.

Does your grandmother experience similar?
posted by humblepigeon at 1:15 AM on July 16, 2007

Sorry, that should be your mother-in-law.

I also get this with bean sprouts. They're the worst offenders.
posted by humblepigeon at 1:16 AM on July 16, 2007

I'm sure I've seen something, somewhere, to the effect that people who like to eat cucumber (of which I am one, yum!) actually aren't tasting something icky in the cucumber which cucumber-haters can taste. And they're not tasting it because of their own genetic mix. Also, I was under the impression that the ability to taste the ick is more commonplace in people of italian heritage. I thought it was a bit like the whole asparagus-pee thing.

Having said that, now that I've looked I'm finding very little to back it up, so maybe it's a myth.
posted by tiny crocodile at 2:07 AM on July 16, 2007

Supertasters may find cucumber and other foods repellent. There's a test here.

Steven CDB - nil desperandum. By comparing what things taste the same to different people we can establish that in some sense they taste more or less the same to all of us - if something makes the 'bitter' flag pop up in my brain, we can predict it will make the 'bitter' flag in your brain pop up too. We cannot, of course, tell whether people experience the same taste qualia, but for scientific purposes we don't need to.

Differences in personal taste experience such as those experienced by supertasters can therefore be safely identified by proper comparisons. Even the possibility that someone is deluded or systematically lying can be eliminated by carefully-designed blind tests.

The philosophical issue remains, but that is a whole 'nother kettle of stinking fish, of no relevance to practical science.
posted by Phanx at 2:53 AM on July 16, 2007

Moreover, perception of bitterness is highly variable for genetic reasons, which might have something to do with it.
posted by Phanx at 3:17 AM on July 16, 2007

Sorry, to clarify my question, I had heard that there was a strong taste to this particular group of foods that most people do not taste (I think it may have been metallic). My mother-in-law is NOT a supertaster (enjoys cabbage, coffee and other strong tasting foods) but can not even stand to have cucumber or any kind of melon around during mealtime, even if it's not on her plate. I have googled around, but like tiny crocodile, I'm beginning to think the ick factor may be a myth.
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 3:29 AM on July 16, 2007

It seems like if cucumbers taste like anything at all to her that would be unusual. And is there any real relationship between cucumbers and melons? I always thought that was just marketing gimmicks to sell lotion and smelly girly stuff, in which case this is really unlikely to be a recognized condition.
posted by dagnyscott at 4:05 AM on July 16, 2007

Similar AskMeFi discussion about coriander/cilantro, which it seems provokes equally extreme aversion in some and not others.
posted by penguin pie at 4:07 AM on July 16, 2007

I despise cucumbers and melons and have only eaten either a handful of times, and usually because I'm trying to be polite. They don't taste bitter to me (I like bitter foods) but they do taste metallic, like sucking on a penny. The horrible texture doesn't help but I don't know whether I despise the texture because fo the taste, or vice versa. Honestly, I'd rather eat kangaroo testicle. Pickled forms of both taste fine though.
posted by methylsalicylate at 4:18 AM on July 16, 2007

So, I did the test & it tells me I am a supertaster. I think the only thing this confirms for me is that most online tests are useless.
I enjoy coffee, but I am fussy about it. Cucumber is usually utterly flavourless for me, but if I think really hard, sometimes it might be bitter. I have put that down to old icky cucumber or cross-flavour from something else.
I LOVE spinach. Cabbage, meh. Brussels sprouts & grapefruit - NOT LIKE.
Melon covers a lot of territory. Watermelon is hugely innocuous, like an iceberg lettuce, absolutely inoffensive, innocent & full of water. Who could have problems with watermelon, unless it's to do with picking out the annoying seeds? I'm not fond of those seeds, but I'm a bit dubious about the seedless watermelons.
Cantelope (aka rockmelon) on the other extreme is the fruit of Satan. It tastes like vomit. It smells like vomit. It makes me want to vomit.
When I used to live in share houses, if someone else bought one of those monstrosities, and left it in the fridge, the smell would permeate through the entire contents. I remember opening the fridge door in the late 80s and feeling my stomach lurch. The offending fruit needn't even have still been there - it may have arrived, spent the night there and been scoffed all while I was not at home, but it sure left it's evil stench. In particular, any dairy that shared time in the fridge with cantelope was rendered inedible. Even having a splash of cantelope infected milk in a coffee would have me heaving.
Enough of my traumatic flashbacks, but I find this topic really interesting. The first time I ate cantelope (which I forced down out of sheer strength of manners - I must have been around 8 or 9 at the time) I remember being so absolutely confounded - everyone else really seemed to be enjoying their food - what did they taste, and why does it taste like vomit to me? Why don't they taste vomit?
posted by goshling at 5:35 AM on July 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh, and while other melons aren't as innocent as watermelon, they aren't as repulsive as cantelopes. Honeydew for instance - I have no deisre to go near one, but it doesn't fill me with the horror of a cantelope.
posted by goshling at 5:44 AM on July 16, 2007

Data point: I hate cantelope but I love cucumbers.
posted by footnote at 5:57 AM on July 16, 2007

I've always found that melons (except watermelon), especially canteloupe, smell a bit like vomit (pawpaw is far worse). So for me, canteloupe was an acquired taste.
posted by flabdablet at 6:01 AM on July 16, 2007

Cucumbers I can take or leave but cantelope-type melons make me gag uncontrollably.
posted by [@I][:+:][@I] at 6:46 AM on July 16, 2007

I'm also cucumber and melon averse. Melons (all types) have a taste that remind me of rotting flesh. Papaya also has a bit of this. And I agree with those who say that cucumbers have a metallic flavor. However, I'm not super crazy about it. I can pick melon out of a fruit salad and eat the rest. And I love pickles. I also hate celery.
posted by kimdog at 7:14 AM on July 16, 2007

Cucumbers and other Cucurbitaceae can cause burping due to certain compounds. Melon? I've never heard of it, but they are also Cucurbitaceae. The exact compounds are cucurbitacins, which are a natural pesticide that is concentrated in roots/stems/ and leaves. Some people get affected by the fruit though.

However, I believe many western melons have most cucurbitacins bred out of them. Bitter melons, which are popular in Asia, get their taste from them, but US melons are typically very sweet.
posted by melissam at 7:41 AM on July 16, 2007

I tried that BBC test listed above.

Given that it said I was both a supertaster and a non-taster I doubt how accurate a test it is.
posted by ShooBoo at 8:49 AM on July 16, 2007

That test is bizarre and utterly useless, except as a measure of what social aspects of dining out you may or may not enjoy. Really, whether I like restaurants with mirrors or those simple decor has absolutely nothing to do with whether I am better able to discern various components of flavor in foods. /rant

I think that the intersection of psychology, physiology, and whatever other disciplines make up the function of "taste" is an interesting area of study. That said, trying to definitively describe how anything "tastes" is like trying to definitively describe color. Comparisons get you in the ballpark, but there's no way to test for accuracy.

My feeling is that aside from those with oral allergies, all of these categories of food that "taste different" to groups of people are just foods that some people do not like, which is fine.
posted by desuetude at 9:22 AM on July 16, 2007

The smell of cucumbers and melons makes me need to belch. Cukes and watermelon are the least-burpy offenders and I will eat them, but cantelope and honeydew and the like make me feel as if something bad is going to happen to my esophagus.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:49 AM on July 16, 2007

derbs: Freud on a plate?
posted by flabdablet at 6:53 PM on July 16, 2007

I don't like wasabi/horseradish/dijon mustard. All three are practically the same--well, wasabi actually is horseradish, unless you buy the expensive stuff.

All three have a weird, chemical-type property I find really unappealing. All go straight to the sinuses in a really annoying way. It overpowers whatever flavor I might otherwise be enjoying.
posted by zardoz at 9:53 PM on July 16, 2007

I hate cucumber, but can eat and enjoy briny briny pickles.

I hate all melons and their hideous friend papaya. Fruit salad is dead to me because of these abominations.

I hate tomatoes, except when they're cooked into a sauce, mulched, salsified, or otherwise neutralized.

I hate olives.

I like all that other stuff. Except cilantro, which is the green stuff stuck to the devil's teeth.
posted by Sallyfur at 12:56 AM on July 17, 2007

Yeah, my least favorite food sucks too, but that's not really what alltomorrowsparties asked, right?

I'm having trouble wading through the research for relevant links for you -- I think I need better keywords. It's hard to find aversion studies on particular foods when those foods are also used in a lot of other areas of research.

But I did learn that Capuchin monkeys don't prefer cucumber.

Nevertheless, here are some articles found though PubMed that may be of interest or point you in the right direction:

* Types of food aversions: animal, vegetable, and texture.
* The receptors and coding logic for bitter taste.
* The relationship between susceptibility to nausea and vomiting and the possession of conditioned food aversions.
* Gender differences in factors affecting rejection of food in healthy young Swedish adults.
* Why should we study human food intake behaviour?
* Aversive sensation in the brain after eating unpalatable food.

There's a lot of articles if you search for "conditioned food aversions." As far as I find, there's no such much specific to melons or cucumber, though.
posted by desuetude at 8:42 AM on July 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

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