It’s lumpy. You can’t handle the smell. It tastes too fishy. There’s an unfortunate association from your childhood (hello, lima beans). Whatever the reason, everyone has some “gross” foods they just can’t and won’t eat.
Food preferences are nothing new – we all have foods that aren’t the first thing we write on our shopping list. But there’s a case to be made for widening your culinary horizons and becoming less of a picky eater. Truth be told, there’s a grocery cart worth of items out there that don’t typically get much love, but that do offer up a nutritional treasure trove.
And, yes, you can learn to love stinky fish and cheese. One trick is to retrain your taste buds through something called flavor-flavor conditioning, a process that involves incorporating a food you don’t crave into a dish you do enjoy.
With this in mind, here are some of the top “gross” foods that may make you cringe now, but once you learn about their nutrition virtues and how to sneak them into everyday meals, you’ll be ready to become more of a kitchen daredevil.
1. Pickled Herring
It might not be as approachable as tilapia or fish sticks, but there’s a boatload of reasons why it’s time to welcome this Scandinavian lunch favorite into your kitchen. For starters, it’s awash in mega-healthy omega-3 fatty acids – ounce for ounce even more than wild salmon.
People may be more likely to age without health problems like heart disease when they have more omega-3 fatty acids in their blood, a recent study in the journal BMJ suggests. Herring is also one of the few reliable food sources of vitamin D for better bone health and helps you reel in plenty of vitamin B12, a nutrient we need for proper nervous system functioning. Further, the swimmer is lower in potentially toxic contaminants than many other seafood options and is easier on the wallet compared to more pricey catches like halibut and wild salmon.
Learn to like it: Take a cue from the Danes and try serving pickled herring as a smørrebrød, a traditional open-faced sandwich with ingredients that tame its fishy flavor. Stir together cream cheese, chopped fresh dill, drained capers, lemon zest and black pepper. Top slices of toasted dark rye bread or rye crackers like Wasa with cream cheese mixture, pieces of pickled herring, sliced cucumber and roasted red pepper.
2. Beef Heart
For every ribeye and sirloin, there’s a beef heart lying around on the butcher table too. And while many people get squeamish even at the thought of slicing into organ meat, savvy carnivores and omnivores see heart as an opportunity to nutritionally upgrade their diet on the cheap (low demand means low price).
The heart of a cow is a busy organ, and, for that reason, it’s constantly working out, which means that it’s pretty much pure muscle. Four ounces of beef heart delivers 20 grams of high-quality protein for a mere 127 calories and 1.5 grams of saturated fat. Other nutritional highlights include vitamin B12, energizing iron, immune-boosting zinc and selenium, an essential nutrient linked to a lower risk for suffering a stroke. Yes, you’ll likely have to ask your butcher to special order it, but its nutritional windfall and a chance to be part of nose-to-tail cookery make the extra effort worth it.
Learn to like it: You can take this to heart: this organ meat is not as strong-tasting as liver and is easy to work with. It has a taste and texture similar to more common cuts of steak. Preparing beef heart certainly doesn’t have to be a big event. Really, any recipe calling for steak will work with heart too. Grill and serve steak-style, tuck slices into tacos or cube for a stir-fry. Heart also takes well to various marinades. It’s best to slice off any connective tissue before preparing and, since it’s so lean, cook heart quickly over high heat to no more than medium-rare.
3. Cottage Cheese
Perhaps it’s the curdled milk chunks – or maybe it’s the association with 1980s diet food. There are a few reasons why most people aren’t clamoring for cottage cheese. It’s quite the polarizing snack. But in the spirit of #tbt there’s a nutritional argument to be made for once again spooning up this lumpy cheese.
With roughly 12 grams of protein in a half-cup serving, this low-carb dairy product is clearly a muscle-making protein powerhouse. The same serving of plain Greek yogurt contains about 10 grams of protein. Much of its protein is casein, a slow-digesting form that reduces hunger for longer periods. It’s also high in calcium and phosphorus, which are important for maintaining strong bones, as well as riboflavin, a B vitamin that helps your body metabolize the carbohydrates, proteins and fats you eat into energy.
Learn to like it: If eating cottage cheese on its own with sliced fruit doesn’t stimulate your appetite, you can try blitzing it into smoothies or work it into the batter for pancakes and baked goods like muffins. Also, use it as a creamy base for a heap of roasted veggies. Some modern-day brands like Good Culture are offering options with improved textures and tastes.
It can be a tough sell to try and convince people they should be eating pickled cabbage that’s left to ferment with fish sauce. But somehow, funky kimchi has a habit of growing on your taste buds.
And that can be good news for your gut. This fiery-sour Korean staple is laced with probiotics and therefore can help fertilize your microbiome with a greater array of beneficial microorganisms. A microbiome that’s more heavily populated by beneficial critters may play a role in everything from digestive to immune to mental health. A study in the journal Psychiatry Research found a link between a greater intake of fermented foods like kimchi with a lower risk of suffering from social anxiety suggesting a gut-brain relationship. There’s another reason to be an adventurous eater: The crunchy condiment is a good source of vitamin C, a nutrient which a recent investigation in Nutrition Reviews found is important in lowering incidences of bleeding gums.
Learn to like it: Instead of giving into table dares and forking kimchi straight-up, try using it more subtly as a topping for burgers, sandwiches, tacos and pizza. Or chop it up finely and mix it into scrambled eggs. You can also bury some in soups, stews and chili. If you’re going 100% plant-based, look for brands made without fish products.
Whether you’re already a fan of these traditionally “gross” foods or love their unique flavors, broadening your food horizons is always a good idea. You can try other less common ingredients – including some of those on this list! – in recipes like: