Ever wonder why cilantro makes you gag while your mom can’t imagine her favorite guacamole without it? Or why you adore mushrooms while your best friend refers to them as “fungi” and crinkles her nose at them?
These eats—and many more—are all considered polarizing foods. So what makes us hate a particular food with a passion while another person can’t understand what all the fuss is about?
Chalk it up to your genes, which control your taste buds and sense of smell, and to powerful life experiences. “People differ tremendously in the sensitivity of their sense of smell,” explains psychologist Marcia Pelchat, Ph.D., an associate member of the Monell Chemical Senses Center, a nonprofit research institute studying taste and smell. “Some people are more sensitive to certain bitter compounds than others.
But we find that culture and individual experiences can override many of these individual differences. Think about hard liquor, chili peppers or hoppy beer—who likes that at first? But people learn to like it. And even people who are very sensitive to bitter can learn to like Brussels sprouts.”
Yes, even you. Here’s a look at nine of the most popular polarizing foods.