It is not a proud day when a grown woman has to admit defeat to a fungus. But that's where I find myself after a solid month of trying to overcome an aversion to mushrooms. Despite the protestations of friends and family who swear that mushrooms are culinary treasures, the mere thought of spores still makes me shiver with what I believe is clinically termed "the heebie jeebies."
Mushrooms have posed the biggest challenge yet in my quest to expand my palate because the root of my dislike is threefold. Food aversions that are a matter of flavor can often be overcome simply by finding fresher ingredients, trying different varieties of the food, or incorporating it into a favorite dish. Similarly, there are straightforward approaches to dealing with texture. Preparation can be key—peas with bite replace green goo, thinly-sliced beets retain little grittiness.
With mushrooms, flavor and texture are joined by a more complicated problem that I can only identify as conceptual distaste. What does that mean? Consider this: for most of my freshman year of college, I happily—if obliviously—ate mushrooms in the beef stroganoff served weekly in our dining hall. They lent a vaguely savory element to the dish (in fact, many food experts now consider umami, the complex flavor typified by mushrooms, to be the fifth taste, along with sweet, salty, bitter, and sour). And their sliminess was so well masked by the viscous industrial gravy that for six months I mistook the mushroom slices for tiny pieces of beef. It was only when a friend pointed out that the piece of beef on the fork headed toward my mouth was actually a mushroom that I became unable to eat beef stroganoff.