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That’s Disgusting: Are You Going to Eat It?

crackers with foods surveyed for objectionable texture

Foods tested, clockwise from top left: raw tomato, cottage cheese, okra, rice pudding, graham cracker soaked in skim milk, overripe banana, chunky peanut butter, mayonnaise (Photo: Jeff Watts)

Eeeww.

For whatever reason, the thought of eating some foods makes us cringe. It’s been scientifically proven that certain animal parts — kidneys, livers — tend to be unappealing to many palates. But what about overripe bananas, cottage cheese, raw tomatoes? Do people find those icky too?

That’s the question clinical psychology PhD candidate Laura Kushner set out to answer in her dissertation, “Food for Thought: The Role of Texture and the Disgust Response.”

“I have always been a foodie,” Kushner says. So, “I wanted to do something for my dissertation that revolved around food. The previous literature said we’re only grossed out by animal stuff. It reminds us of our animal origins. I thought that might be true, but I also thought it might be textures.”

Kushner surveyed 100 people to identify some of the most objectionable foods, then fed 50 subjects (primarily AU students) eight different samples:

  • okra
  • overripe bananas
  • cottage cheese
  • raw tomatoes
  • mayonnaise
  • graham crackers soaked in skim milk
  • chunky peanut butter
  • rice pudding

She put each food sample on a cracker, then removed the sample and recorded whether the eater would devour the “tainted”cracker or push it away. With the overripe bananas 10 percent of the subjects wouldn’t even eat a portion of the cracker untouched by a brown banana, 30 percent rejected the part of the cracker with the banana’s “wet spot,” and the rest chowed down.

Her takeaway: nonanimal foods can elicit disgust, a finding not seen in prior research.