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TheHidden

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PHOTOGRAPHS BY TUUKKA

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SonrcoJ'the .foulest edibles ora thc hest .for qou.Laern to lorc them.

BY TREVOR CORSON

MagicalBeansManypeoplewould callnattodisgusting.Researcherscailit oneofthehealthiesr'ooosyou caneat

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Name a food you hate. Brusselssprouts?Mustard

gleens?Pickledherring, kimchi, fish sauce,bluecheese?Forme, it's natto, a Japanesefermented soybeandish with all the charm of snot-coveredpeas.Wordslike "sweatyfeet,""vomit," and "unwashed genitals" havebeenemployedto describeit. But evidenceis mounting that natto, like many foodswith intense flavors, bubblesoverwith nutritional magic. In 2or;, an intrepid biologist named Toshirou

MensHealth.com/ May 2017 65

> FOOD

Nagai published a review of natto's health benefits, including immune systemresil- ience. Other research has shown that it

may strengthen your bonesand reduceyour risk of stroke. Meanwhile, brusselssprouts and mustard greensare packedwith dis- ease-fighting compounds. Pickled herring harbors heart-healthy omega-3fatty acids. Kimchi, like many other fermented foods, promotesbeneficialgut bacteria.

Sothe obvious: Why are some healthy foodssorepulsive?And is it possibleto learn to like them? Can we learn to love natto?

WHYYOUHATEWHATYOURBODYLOVES

Mother Naturehasawarpedsenseofhumor. Manybitter-tasting compoundsthat in large

quantities couid sicken or kil1 you are very

goodfor you in tiny amounts, saysPaui Bres- lin, eh.n.,aprofessorofnutritional sciencesat RutgersUniversity. Takeisothiocyanates,the chemical weap- onsplants useto ward offpests and hungry animals. Thesecompoundsarefound in bit- ter vegetables.Ifyou swallowtrace amounts from, say,acabbageleaf,they can counteract DNA-damaging free radicals. It's the dose that makes the poison. Your tongue'staste

receptors for bitterness are far more numer- ousand sensitivethan thosefor othertastes. Scientiststhink this is becausethe human tonguehasevolvedinto apoisondetector.

Bacteria,like thosefound in bluecheese

and natto, offend us for a different reason:

66

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1. MeetchefRichardMcCormick,yourVirgil intotheworidoffunky-tastingfoods.

2. astehismi^d-slifringb uecheesef g toast

3. Don'rworryabouralthatmod. t'sactualy pretty darngoodforyou.

odor. Strong foods like kimchi and sauer- kraut undergo fermentation- essentiallya controlled decay.Our nasal passageshave evoivedalarmbells for stink asawayto detect living bacteria,saysBreslin.As with toxins, bacteriacanbedangerousor evenlethal.But

someshouldbe accepted."Sincewe don't Iive in a sterile universe," Breslin says,"it's goodto havefriendlybacteriato fight offthe unfriendly ones."

In thepastr 5 yearsor so,modernscience hasbegun to recognizethe benefits ofgood slrl.bactel'ia.The rerm "nrobiotics"is com-

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mon now, and it's becomeclear that adiverse "microbiome" of bacteria in your intestinal

 

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tract plays an integral role in maintaining good health. A zot4 review concludedthat

probiotics in your gut help fight off patho- gens,refresh intestinal ce1ls,and generate healthy fatty acids. A few strains offood- borne gut bugs have alsobeen shown to help boost immunity, calm inflammation, and help you maintain a healthy body weight.

Ultimately, our flavor choicescomedown to a risk-reward calculation. Despite the risk of death,we actually comeout aheadif we'reopento certain quantitiesofbitterness

and certain types of stench. Somefoods- including kimchi and my nemesis,natto- are memorable cuiinary symphonies of both bitternessand stink, and that's what makes them especiallypotent. "Why don't peoplewant to eat food that

smellslike old gym socks?"Breslin asks."I think that hasto dowithwhat you'reexposed

to." Perhapsmy problem with natto wasn't natto. Maybethe problemwasme.

HOWTOTOVEFOODSYOUHATE

While someof your taste preferencesmaybe genetically inherited or formed in utero (if

Mom loveskimchi, babyis more likelyto love

kimchi),youcan still acquireatastefor anew food asan adult. "Baby steps,"saysEmma Beckett,Ph.D.,apostdoctoralresearcheratthe University of NewcastleSchoolof Medicine and PublicHealth in Australia. "Youcan'tgo straight from a Big Mac diet to cruciferous vegetabies.But it's not impossible for anyone

to learn to like aparticular taste." At the German Institute of Human Nutrition, researchersinvestigatethe ways repulsedadults can acclimateto strong fla-

vors.A professorat the institute, Wolfgang Meyerhof,walked me through the cultural,

psychological,and biologicalvariablesthat can swayyou.As we movethrough life, "fla vors arepaired with 'post-ingestiveexperi-

ences,"'Meyerhofsays.

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1. Kimchireinforcestheflavorfulfoundationof

thispancake-style. egg-basedbreakfast.

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whole grains had healthier gut bacteria than those

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68 MensHealth.com/ MayzorT

> FOOD

Badexperiences(vomiting, punishment

by parents, horrible dates)can ruin a taste or smell. Good ones(not vomiting, encour-

agementby peers,amazing dates)can help

us develop a fondness for

found toobitter or stinky. The keyto success is to separate"hedonic assessment"from the "qualitative description ofwhat is in

your mouth," Meyerhof says.Setasidethat impulseto loveor hate.Instead,like ascien-

tist, try to acknowledgewhat the flavor is. For help with my own post-ingeslive

experiences, I sought out chef Richard McCormick.Raisedby missionaryparents. McCormick grew up devouring the food of Thailand,the Philippines,Japan,andKorea.

Now heruns an empireof Helsinki eateries. I threw down the gauntlet by sending

McCormick a list of bitter, stinky, healthy ingredients. His mission, through culinary wizardry, was to make me like everything on the list. First he made me a Caesarsalad of letluce, kale, and quinoa tossedwith dressing.Insteadofanchovies,hesnuckin a

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tablespoonoffinely choppedpickledherring. It was incredible.EvenSwedesand Finns, McCormick pointedout,mix their bigpieces

ofpickled herringwith saucesand otherside

dishesto balancethe intensity ofthe stink.

I later watched McCormick scatter a

handful ofkimchi acrossa hot skillet, saut6 it for 3o seconds,and pour in a frothybowl of beateneggs.Hethentoppeditwith thin slices ofavocado.Thecreaminessofthe eggscutthe

pungencyofthe kimchi, yet didn't negateit.

I alsodevouredcrostini that McCormick concocted.He mashedraspberriesin abowl

1,Ina smallbowl,mix

2. lnalargebowl,

togetnerthemayon-

addtheromaine,kale,

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McCormickslicesfreshlysmokedberring

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whichisthenfineydicedandmixedinto

akaeCaesarsalad.

and mixed in sa1t,pepper,and afewdropsof white wine vinegar. Then he layered slicesof fig and blue cheeseonto piecesoftoast. After

drtzzling the crostini with the raspberry sauce,he sprinkled them with a tablespoon

ofchopped mustard greens.The sweetness evenedout the bite.

After a few more dishes,we openedthe

natto. Trying to pull beans from the mass resultedin thin, mucus-likestrings.McCor- mick wrangled the strings with a spoon,

popped a few beans into his mouth, and

chewed."This one'sgotto bethe healthiest." He sighedand preparedhisfinal recipe.

I had to hand it to him. The dish McCor- mick haddevisedwasnatto refriedbeans.He

fried onion and garlic inbutterwith chili pow- der,cumin, and cinnamon, then turned off the heat and foldedin the natto beforeadding

manchegocheese.I ateit, and I didn't hate it.

I alsodidn't loyeit, yetrhal seemedokay.

we'regoing

to be strong, the sweetand the savoryhave to bebalancedby the bitter and the pungent.

Perhapswith food-as in life-if