Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Food, Flavor and Preference

Ahhhh yes- here is the post you all have been waiting for. Food. Delicious, yummy, satisfying food. Hmmmmmm.

Right now my meal obsession is fried eggs served on fried tomatoes. SO GOOD!

Do you have a sweet tooth? Do you tend to go towards the salty variety? I would eat bags and bags of sweets when I was in highschool, now I have to have salty or savory often to feel satisfied. I also have to have some sort of "salad" which in Maega terms is something of the veggie variety, usually involving tomatoes (as of late). DH gets sick of hearing that “I need salad!!!"

Nature, Nurture and Taste?

The real question is why do we have food/taste preferences? There is a lot behind the answer- and it does have to do with nature and nurture.

Genes and environment lend themselves to the reasons why we like what we like.

"Recent research has demonstrated that our genes help to determine how we detect the basic tastes by influencing the configuration of taste receptors," says Stein. "Part of why you might like broccoli while your best friend finds it bitter is because you have different genes, which code for different bitter receptors."

"Experience is also an important determinant of food preferences," says Stein. "For example, infants and young children need to learn what foods are safe to eat. Even before birth, information about specific flavors of mothers' diets passes to infants through amniotic fluid" (The Science Behind How We Taste, Heather Hatfield).

Sweet vs. Salty

Apparently we are all predisposed to liking some degree of sweet- as humans that is. As for the salty preference, it seems that there are more questions that haven’t been answered. “Bernstein, who co-authored the study, which was published in Appetite, says researchers found that the loss of electrolytes and sodium during morning sickness has an impact on the offspring's salt preference” (The Science Behind How We Taste, Heather Hatfield). So if we really like salty food it may be because when we were in-utero our mom had morning sickness! Hmm, makes me less hungry- poor mom!


That is not an insult to your mommy. Umami refers to a flavor, a savory, meat, broth-y flavor to be specific. It is a Japanese term that directly translates to “wonderful taste.” We sense this flavor in a completely different way than sweet and salty. In fact, I'm surprised we don't find snacks out there that are "Sweet! Salty & Umami!" I happen to love umami flavors- bring on the umami!

Training Your Taste

You know those slimy mushrooms you used to hate but now love- maybe you hated the taste of broccoli and now you love it- well, tastes can change and you can inspire them to change.

"Repeated exposure can increase relative liking for a food but may not be able to change a disliked food into one that is liked. In other words, exposure may make a disliked food less disliked. While repeat exposure to a food can decrease dislike, it can also increase liking. " (The Science Behind How We Taste, Heather Hatfield).

We also know of “acquired tastes” like beer, tea, wine (what is on my brain right now??) caviar etc. Social situations can inspire us to start liking something. Just like being conditioned to want popcorn while watching a movie.

Taste Over Time

Have you heard that your ears and nose get bigger as you get older? Well- your tastes change too. Your body creates less and less taste buds as you age, so you aren’t able to taste as well. SAD! So, if you are one of “those” who likes hot food you will just have to increase the intensity of the hotness as you get older- how exciting!

Super Tasters Unite!

Did you know there are people amongst us with super tasting powers?!? Maybe you are one of them… We are on to you! “Among humans, there is substantial difference in taste sensitivity. Roughly one in four people is a "supertaster" that is several times more sensitive to bitter and other tastes than those that taste poorly. Such differences are heritable and reflect differences in the number of taste buds on the tongue” (Physiology of Taste, R. Bowen.)

So! Go out, taste away- and if you don’t like something- give it another try in a fun happy environment.

Happy tasting!


A. said...

So weird. I'm reading the latest issue of MnMo and what is one column about? Taste buds. And he mentions umami, and I'm like, Where did I just read about umami? Maega's blog!

Here's the shortened direct link (or else find it at

A. said...

Also, really stupidly, I meant to comment how "umami" reminds me of the Friends episode where Ross incorrectly uses the word "unagi" to talk about a mental awareness...