No wonder the distaste for mystery meat -- that indistinguishable slab served in cafeterias and mess halls nationwide. Conversely, no wonder the appeal of trendy entrees such as Swordfish with Tomato Butter and Lovage or Grilled Squab with Sage and Raspberry Sauce.
According to the results of a study done by the U.S. Army's Food Research and Development Center in Natick, Mass., the more information we have about a new food, the more apt we are to like it.
The food scientists didn't use mystery meat or squab to prove their point, but they did perform taste tests with tofu, squid, kumquats, grits, black-eyed peas, beef-and-soy burgers, military rations and dental liquids (special foods for jaw-fractured patients).
One test involved preparing tofu and squid in two different ways. Tofu was steamed in chicken broth or fried in vegetable oil and served with a chicken-broth sauce. Squid was cooked whole in water, lemon juice and salt, or deep-fried as rings.
The first group of tasters was told that the squid and tofu were "oriental tidbits." Another group received only the correct name of the foods. And a final group was told about the cost, taste, smell, nutritional information and suggested uses of each.
The last group was the most enthusiastic about the foods, demonstrating a willingness for repeat tastes and to cook it at home. Those who knew what they were eating enjoyed the food more than those who did not know.
In another tasting designed to test name acceptance and serving method, the Army researchers gave participants cream of mushroom soup as well as dental fluids -- pure'ed chicken cacciatore and beef stroganoff -- labeled as "soup." They varied the serving styles: both were served in a glass with a straw or in a bowl with a spoon.
The cream of mushroom soup in the bowl was clearly preferred in this test; the label led the tasters to expect soup. Yet when the dental fluid was correctly identified, tasters preferred it to either the soup in the bowl or glass. The researchers concluded that since the tasters did not expect soup, they were more prepared for and accepting of the heavier, spicier flavor of the dental liquid.
In keeping with the scientists' conclusions to "tell all" about an unfamiliar food, the following recipe contains tofu, a white cake of pressed curds made from soybean milk, much the same way that cheese is made from cow's milk. A low-calorie, low cost and no-cholesterol source of protein (and a pretty good source of calcium, too), tofu is available either soft (a good substitute for cheese, eggs or cream) or firm (a good substitute for meat when chopped into cubes for stir-fries, casseroles or stews). It has a rather innocuous taste and can easily be camouflaged or overshadowed by accompanying foods.
And in keeping with the researchers' findings to properly identify and describe dishes, the name of this dish, adapted from "Tofu: Not Just for the Health of It," by Jana Heischman Crutchfield (JANA, $6.95), has been changed to the following more detailed title. As for serving methods, it's a dinner pie, so your tasters will expect a plate, knife and fork -- no straws here.
All you'll need is pepper and margarine or butter on your shelf before heading to the store.
EXPRESS LANE LIST: onion, whole wheat crackers, walnuts, apples, soft tofu, sharp cheddar cheese, milk, nutmeg APPLE-CHEDDAR-TOFU PIE WITH WHOLE WHEAT-WALNUT CRUST (6 servings)
1 tablespoon chopped onion
4 tablespoons margarine or butter
1 cup whole wheat crackers, finely crushed
1/4 cup walnuts, finely chopped
4 large tart apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1 cup soft tofu
1/4 cup lowfat or skim milk
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
Nutmeg for garnish
In a saucepan, saute' onion in margarine or butter. Stir in crackers and nuts. Press mixture onto the bottom (not sides) of a 9-inch pie plate; bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees.
In a small saucepan, slowly cook the apples in 3 tablespoons of water for 5 minutes. Drain and place in pie shell. Blend together the tofu, milk and pepper. Fold in cheese. Pour into pie shell, sprinkle with nutmeg and bake at 325 degrees for 50 minutes.