It’s A Texture Thing: How To Get Over Slimy, Spongy And Other Unfamiliar Food Textures

by | Mar 13, 2013

Photo by Sushicam

Taste is the sensation we usually associate with food, but picky eaters can be just as fixated on texture as flavor. Ask someone who doesn’t like mushrooms or eggplant what turns them off and they are just as likely (if not more likely) to say the food is “slimy” or “mushy” as they are to complain about the taste.

Of course texture is important. It is the essential difference between fresh and stale popcorn, and the springy crunch of a fresh grilled shrimp versus the rubbery give of an over-boiled one. But for most picky eaters, the issue is rarely a matter of cooking preference.

In the human mind, texture is easily associated with other non-edible, and often gross looking, sounding or smelling substances. A picky eater who doesn’t like a specific texture will often describe the food as feeling like brains, snot, rubber or other things most of us would agree are unappetizing. Once this association is made, the idea can overpower any pleasurable that might come from the food.

One way to address this is to form a new association. One reader I spoke with says he was able to overcome the “dead tongue” feeling of raw fish in sushi when a friend suggested he think of it like lunch meat instead. Though sushi and lunch meat have little in common, this small shift in perception was enough for him to become an avid sushi lover.

To implement this on your own, try to think of a food you enjoy with a similar texture as one you don’t like. For instance, instead of associating a tomato with snot (I lost track of the number of people who have told me this), try pudding, egg yolk or a fruit smoothie. If your brain can only come up with gross things, try asking a friend for help.

Another useful technique is to try the offending food in a new setting. An important part of the sushi story is that the person was on vacation in Mexico when he decided to try the raw fish again. When many things are unfamiliar, the strangeness of a particular food texture is less noticeable than it would be if it were the only new thing you were confronting. In another example, a mother cured her child of picky eating by taking him on a trip around the world. The new cultures and environments were enough for her 9-year old to feel comfortable stepping out of his normal habits and be more adventurous.

Indeed, embracing a sense of adventure is very important. Whenever the jet-setting child was nervous about a new food, his mother said she could hear him repeat to himself, “I just have to try it.” And no one forced him to eat anything. Repeated brief exposures to something new is sometimes enough for a person to get over the unfamiliar component, which is often the main reason for the aversion in the first place. If you’re persistent enough, almost everyone can learn to like something new.

A related approach is to try a food cooked in a new way. I’ve helped several people overcome aversions to eggplant that they had attributed to texture by roasting it without much oil. Pan sautéing can often make eggplant oily and slimy, but roasting gives it a more chewy texture. Once these people realize they enjoy the flavor of the food in this new format, the slimy version is suddenly not so bad.

To some extent, aversions to specific food textures is embedded in Western cultures. In contrast, the Chinese culture embraces food texture as a unique element in food, completely distinct from taste. In Chinese cuisine (the real stuff, not Panda Express), ingredients are frequently added solely for texture, such as jellyfish and sea cucumber. They have little flavor on their own but add a springy crunch to a dish that is considered a delicacy. Westerners can learn from this approach and develop a more open mind when trying new foods. When you focus on the texture in food not as something you are being subjected to but as a unique and interesting experience to be appreciated, it can break those unpleasant associations and help you enjoy what a less adventurous palate would struggle with.

If none of these work for you, there is always the bootcamp method. One reader explained how his son overcame his strong aversions to tomatoes and mushrooms in Marine Corps basic. After a day of intense training, the recruits were taken into the mess hall, given a plate of food and five minutes to eat it—the drill sergeant would sometimes count down the final seconds. No other food was available to the recruits, so anything you skipped meant less calories and energy for tomorrow. “The recruits ate what was put in front of them or went hungry,” so his son tried not to think about it and forced himself to choke down everything. It wasn’t until after he left basic that he realized he was over his food aversions.

While real, clinical food aversions do exist that can cause people and even babies to gag and vomit in response to certain food textures, most of us can get over texture issues if we want. Persistence, an adventurous spirit and a few psychological tricks can go a long way.

How did you get over your food texture aversions? 

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37 Responses to “It’s A Texture Thing: How To Get Over Slimy, Spongy And Other Unfamiliar Food Textures”

  1. I work with children with autism and “picky eating” is one of the most common symptoms. Often it has to be with their “OCD-like” tendencies (kids won’t eat anything crunchy, any yellow foods, anything too salty, anything too cold, etc), but I have had kids vomit just at the sight of certain foods (like tomatoes!). Anyway, we use a lot of graduated exposure techniques – breaking it down to baby steps and having the child become comfortable with each step. For example, for a week or two, you just have to deal with the tomato on the table (after which you are heavily reinforced). The next step is tomato on your placemat. Then plate. Then you have to touch it. Then smell it. Then lick it. Then bite it, etc.

    It sounds ridiculous but for kids iwth special needs, you might need to go that slow in order to get over an aversion. Just forcing a child to stick a tomato in their mouth may create a traumatizing situation, after which he is ten times worse around tomatoes!

    Anyway, just another example from my world! :)

  2. ps says:

    I can’t get over the feeling of cold rice in my mouth when eating sushi. Hence, I hate sushi. I’m South Asian, and to me, rice should be steaming hot, fragrant, and soaked in spiced yogurt or dhal/lentils. The coldness of sushi rice just isn’t appealing.

    I haven’t been able to get over it, but I think it’s culturally unacceptable nowadays to not like sushi. It signals you aren’t an adventurous eater (even though I love other Asian cuisines, and other Japanese foods). Any tips?

    • Cindy says:

      I don’t think sushi rice is meant to be eaten cold anyway. Much sushi nowadays are offered in ‘fast food’/convenience manner. Maybe try eating at a well-established Japanese resto that serves properly made sushi that isn’t stored and pulled out of the fridge.

  3. Rian says:

    I’ve been training myself to like mushrooms by repeated exposure using a variety of different cooking methods. I keep pairing the mushrooms in small quantities with foods that I already know that I like. It’s only been a couple of weeks and already I’m happy to add them to my usual dishes and don’t find them ‘slimy’ anymore.

  4. Nick says:

    I have recently acquired a taste for tomatoes beans. I never disliked the flavor of certain foods but some textures do often freak me out. For beans, I slowly started introducing them into meals by essentially diluting them in something crunchy (like lettuce). In the beginning I would find myself picking around them until I would inevitably eat one. Since then, I slowly introduced them into my diet more and more and have come to love them. They make me feel more full and can make a salad last twice as long without me feeling hungry, especially once I was able to add more to a salad. Now they’re my best friends! 

    Now tomatoes are a different monster! I still find myself picking them out of things, especially when they’re out of season. I conquored my fear of tomatoes by just thinking that it was the source of delicious marinara/pasta sacue. Till this day, I can really only eat them when they’re in season because when they ant, they have no flavor and they just feel soggy with a dull flavor. I also overcame this texture by mixing it with things I enjoy eating and have learned to enjoy the taste and color (and acid) tomatoes add to a dish.

  5. Tora says:

    These are such great ideas, thanks for sending this link to help me overcome my oyster aversion! I must admit, it was eating 6 at once on my first experience that’s put me off ever since…so maybe also one at a time to ‘build up’ my tolerance will help too!

  6. Nicole says:

    I’m one of those clinical cases when it comes to onions (specifically raw). If they aren’t cooked until mush, I can’t eat them. Their taste overwhelms any other flavor in the entire dish and their texture make me gag. I’ve ate them, sometimes without knowing they’re in whatever I’m eating, only to gag and shake and lose my entire appetite. I’ve been through this so often that I don’t vomit anymore, but I still can’t enjoy a meal with them. The real kicker is that I’ve always been TEASED for it, even from my own family. Yes, even as an adult around other adults I get comments like, “I learned how not to be picky, what can’t you?” Even if I ask for the onions to be minced or cooked throughly or just using onion powder, people tend to refuse because I can’t get over my “pickiness.” I realize that for less serious aversions (or ones that stem from never trying a food), you want to be positive with an “Anyone can do it!” attitude, but it seems like so many people just assume that this is the case with me and I’m not trying hard enough. I would be SO much happier if I liked onions since they’re in EVERYTHING and hardly ever cooked in a manner that I’m okay with (beyond caramelized, I’ve tried that). Thanks for giving people like me a shout out though, so that more people can know that there are different kinds/levels of taste aversion.

  7. Joseph says:

    Ive had an aversion to fish, i dont know why. Im looking to eat healthier sources of protein rather than raw meat. Possibly even Sushi (which i am kind of nervous to try).

    What helps me to be more open to it is that plenty of people eat it regularly and often. I loved the bit in the article about chinese textures and finding other ways to compare things

  8. Dee says:

    If I was picky with textures I might have been naturally skinny all my life…. I have that problem with my oldest daughter -she hates slimy, mushy….

  9. Amanda says:

    I like your advise on getting over food aversions by trying food cooked another way. I don’t like to eat okra because it is slimy but recently I learned that if you fry it and eat when it is fresh out of the grease it isn’t as slimy as usual and depending on the batter very tasty. Hence I know eat it more often that way.

  10. Kate says:

    I have a big problem with food that is too smooth (especially cold-smooth). I didn’t eat yogurt until I was 20ish years old, for example – until one day I just forced myself to eat it. I was having digestive & yeast problems and was ready to try just about anything. So every day, I would force myself to eat one container of yogurt, even if it took me an hour…and it did, in the beginning. Slowly, I started to like it! Now, several years later, I can even eat the plain varieties without minding (I started with the flavored kinds to help out)!

    Sushi (with fish) was another texture problem, which I am still trying to get over. Again, I just force myself to try at least one piece every time I go, and try to combine it with something I love (like avacado). I even found myself thinking about how good it was the other night!

  11. Cindy says:

    I really like the points you made on Chinese cuisine. As you point out, texture is in fact a very much revered part of Chinese dining. When describing the meal/food, texture is just as important as taste and flavour. Which is why mushrooms are such an important element in Chinese cooking. Certain types of mushrooms offer a pleasant chew when bitten into, while others are enjoyed for its slippery texture. Every dish prepared has both a taste and texture element to it.

  12. Cactus Wren says:

    My only texture issue is one I don’t think I’ve heard anyone else mention, here or elsewhere: I have trouble with raw veggies and even crisp fruits. Chewing up a raw carrot, or a broccoli sprig, turns it into a mass of particles in my mouth which I physically can’t swallow unless I wash it down. Lightly steamed, yes; raw, no.

    • Natasha says:

      I’m so glad you brought this up! I actually have the same problem, particularly with carrots and celery. I like the taste of both well enough and do especially well if I am dipping them in guacamole or something that helps mask the texture. But sometimes I still wind up chewing forever and ever and never finding that I feel comfortable swallowing. It’s a texture thing. I have to spit it out or get water and wash it down. As a result I almost always steam or roast my veggies. But I like the on the go convenience of raw so I really wish I could get over this!

      Unrelated, I also have a texture issue with certain fruits – fuzzy ones like mango or peaches and stringy ones like oranges. Love the taste though!

      • Amy says:

        Girlfriend, mango shouldn’t be fuzzy! Not if you get it off the peel, anyway.

        If you have an issue with fresh mango, try cutting up a really ripe fresh mango (it HAS to be totally ripe!) and freezing the chunks. It’s great on froyo or just as a snack, and the texture is completely different. I bet it’d be amazing on lemon sorbet.

  13. Jordan says:

    I am a teenager and would consider myself a very picky eater. Not because I don’t like the taste, but because I don’t like the textures of them. I partly blame this on my mom as she only fed me the food I would eat, instead of making me try different things.

    Now I am trying to eat healthier for my sake, and I can’t figure out a way to get use to the food.

    Any tips/help? Maybe substitutes for food that I like, with something “healthy” of the same texture?

  14. liz says:

    I have issues with a crunchy watery texture that lettuce, celery, and onions have. I would love to just eat a salad, but I gag when I put lettuce in my mouth. I can even spot it if 1 small piece is in my food and I don’t see it. I can feel it- after that my food seems to be ruined. Any suggestions on how I can get rid of that gag reflex?

    • Amy says:

      Can you handle wraps? What about greens that are only partly-cooked, so they have some of the crunch still in them? If you can handle wraps right now, then that might be a great gateway to getting over lettuce. Just make your wraps with increasing ratio of salad to everything else. Maybe it’ll help?

  15. wandering soul says:

    i cant stand the sight of certain textured foods such as blackberries, raspberries, polka dots and anything with scales. the moment i see them, i’ll have this feeling as if thousands of ants are crawling all over my cheeks. if i were to accidentally touch them, the feeling gets worse and spreads all over my face.

  16. wandering soul says:

    anything that can help me to overcome this? been having this problem for more den 20 years now..

  17. Sally Bee says:

    I work to help someone that does not like foods that do not have to be chewed a lot with the texture of meat. i also work with special needs teachers who work with kids who have social communication needs. I agree that it is baby steps and much of the dislike can come from a fear of different from their normal routine. I also try to play on the types of foods they do like and intermix with a tiny bit of what is not liked.

  18. Michelle says:

    I am 29 & still have STRONG aversions to many foods. One is cucumbers. I love the smell, Ill lick them but cannot bite them. I thought i was insane until I talked to a girlfriend whose son has ACD. Irealized thst my texture aversion & smell aversion arent only mine.

  19. jessica says:

    I have problems with tomatoes, eggplant, bananas, and recently, sushi. Yesterday I decided to buy a meal of sushi for myself just because I wanted to try it. It came with mostly sashimi and a california roll. I started out with the california roll and I thought it was horrible. But I forced myself to eat 2 more and each tasted better as I went on. Now moving on to the sashimi, I had a HUGE problem. I don’t even eat fish regularly so that was a big thing holding me back, but also, it just looked disgusting. Slimy and thick and I didn’t even know what most of it was made out of. I ended up really liking it, but it still took me over 2 hours to eat because I couldn’t get over the look or the texture. I ended up closing my eyes every time I ate a piece.
    Oh well. Maybe I’ll do better next time.

  20. Fruitophobe says:

    yes, as you can see from my name I have an issue with fruit. I have had a strong aversion since I was a kid which I now find embarassing and shameful, esepecially as I have my own children. I would be devastated if they grew up with my foibles. Thankfully it looks like they are ok for now.

    So fruit. Imagine a lovely juicy pear… when I think of a pear, I picture it all rotten and with wasps crawling on it… like if you see a pear that someone has discarded on a summer’s day.

    I found out from my mum a couple of years ago that she might have prevented me from eatying fruits after I vomited severely after eating banana (she has a phobia about being sick). Thinking about eating most fruit makes me gag, with exception of tomato which is more like a veg in my view. The sad truth is I haven’t tried most of these fruits which I tell people I don’t like. Shameful really.

    The good news is I am changing things ? How ? Basically, I am eating a new fruit each week and it’s going really well. Already this year, have eaten banana, avocado and today…raisins, which are way up the top of my gross list. It is actually getting easier.

    Motivation for this as follows

    1. be a good example to my kids
    2. be able to enjoy a wide range of foods
    3. not offend people at dinner parties by not trying their food
    4. improve my health

  21. EAST says:

    I cannot eat anything that has a runny, slimy texture. For instance, okra, runny eggs, scrambled soft eggs. The thought of eating any of those makes me gag. I have not idea how, if I can ever be able to eat them!

  22. Nikki says:

    For me I have an issue with raw vegetables, salad and fruits. Its funny because I like the taste of most of these but the texture makes me gag and the noise of the crunching raw veg, grates on my nerves. I often wonder if its linked to my sensitive hearing. I also don’t like slimy things like tomatoes, jelly, grapes etc those textures just make me gag. Any tips?

  23. amanda says:

    I have a texture phobia. I know that it’s 95% in my head, like you mentioned about associating the texture with other gross things. However, I do gag when eating certain things like cooked onions, or anything that has a similar texture or a bitter taste. I have tried many times to overcome that emotional/mental block that keeps me from being able to eat these things, but it’s nearly impossible for me. I wish I could, but I think I’d have to be starving to be able to eat that stuff. It really makes eating healthfully a lot more difficult though.

  24. Dale Fritts says:

    I have a problem with some foods, tomatoes is the worst. I have never, until recently eaten a salad. I now eat spinach salads but I do not eat tomatoes. I like tomato sauce, and ketchup but not whole or cut up tomatoes. I have not even tried to eat one; I’m working up to it as I purchased one tomato today and will try it soon. I will not eat things with tomatoes in it unless they are put in the blender first. My wife is quite upset with me because of my limited diet.

    • Darya Rose says:

      Hi, Dale. The first step is having an open mind. It often takes 10-12 tries to overcome a food aversion. It also really helps to get the best version of whatever it is you are trying. For instance, tomatoes are sweeter and tastiest in the late summer, especially when from a garden or farmers market. Grocery store tomatoes have very limited flavor for most of the year, so you might not want to start there.

      Good luck!

  25. The Writer says:

    I came across this great article and all these wonderful comments because my life partner is driving me up the wall with her food aversions, which I really believe are partially linked to her OCD.

    Today was supposed to be a celebratory lunch as I had just finished writing my 11th book. But, she scolded the waitress because her burger had pickles on the plate. This embarrassed me and her son, and her over-the-top reaction was difficult to understand. I don’t like pickles either, but I just deal with it.

    Lately, she has been hiding my condiments, etc. It’s getting so bad! Is there a book she can get that might help? She really needs to do something!

    Kudos to all you brave ones out there who are working to better your food aversion behaviors!

  26. Jami says:

    Another thing I have found that helps me with texture issues is to eat those foods with a piece of toast until I get used to them. I have issues eating tofu, but if I eat a bite of crunchy toast with it, the mushy texture is gone. This also helped me get over my fear of tomatoes.

  27. Apagan says:

    I am 30 years old and have always been a “picky eater”. If it’s not crunchy I probably won’t eat it. I just learned of the term texture aversion from a friend whose son is autistic and has similar issues. It is easier for me to list the things I will eat instead of the things I won’t. I remember my mom telling me that my parents nearly got a divorce over me and my eating habits (my father would force food on me and my mom would sneak me food and if my dad found out it was an ugly argument). The problem now is that my husband told me that if he knew how picky I was before we married we probably wouldn’t have gotten married because he is an extreme foodie. We constantly fight over food and my diet and I really want to change it because I can count on one hand the number of healthy things I will eat. So does anyone know how I can start? I really want to be able to eat healthier and go to any restaurant in town without worrying about what is on the menu. I would like to lose some weight and do it by eating healthy foods but I really don’t like any of it other than apples carrots and lettuce if it’s cold and crisp. I can sometimes stomach strawberries and bananas but only if I put it into a shake which has to be small and cold so I can plug my nose and chug it in one or two gulps. I don’t know where to start. Any advice? Or other resources to help?

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