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An acquired taste often refers to an appreciation for a food or beverage that is unlikely to be enjoyed by a person who has not had substantial exposure to it, usually because of some unfamiliar aspect of the food or beverage, including a strong or strange odor (e.g. stinky tofu), taste (such as bitter teas or hot spices), or appearance. Acquired taste may also refer to aesthetic tastes, such as taste in music or other forms of art. The relationship between taste in food and taste in art is subject to much discussion. For more on non-gustatory taste, see the article taste (sociology).
The process of acquired taste looks very much like a form of adaptive preference formation (as described by Jon Elster). An individual deliberately changes preferences in order to make them more compatible with some situation. The famous example is of the fox who states that the grapes high on the vine are too sour for his taste because they are too high to be reached. By changing his taste, he feels better about the fact that he can not reach them. His distaste for sour grapes is an acquired one. In a similar fashion, acquired tastes can arise out of an internal conflict between a feeling of dissatisfaction and a belief about the aesthetic value of the dissatisfying object.
Intentionally changing one's preferences can be hard to accomplish. It usually requires a deliberate effort, such as acting as if one likes something in order to have the responses and feelings that will produce the desired taste. The risk in this acting is that it can lead to all sorts of excesses such as self-deception and pretentiousness. The challenge becomes one of distinguishing authentic or legitimate acquired tastes resulting from deeply considered preference changes from inauthentic ones motivated by, for example, status or conformism.
Some examples of tastes which normally need to be tried several times to 'learn to like' are olives and red wine. There has been quite a lot of debate on how this change in taste experience is accomplished, as many people report that without effort or intent they have learned to appreciate these flavors simply by repeated exposure. While evidence for this claim is lacking, it has been said that in order to like olives, you have to eat 20 of them at once no matter how bad one experiences the taste, or to eat 10 a day for three days. Wine is frequently treated with more respect, such that one can take a wine appreciation course. The attitude here is to learn to taste the differences between grapes and types of wine. Using the knowledge of the contents of the wine, the connoisseur starts to appreciate the differences between varieties and thereby the beverage itself. Similar systems exist in many cultures regarding many kinds of flavors that normally belong to the grown-ups or connoisseur. This shows that the idea of acquired taste is a well spread and accepted phenomenon.
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