Thoughts

Your Favorite Food is Nasty

January 7, 2021
Dwayne Walker

You don't like food because it tastes good. Do you ever wonder why some people enjoy food that you hate? It turns out that the deliciousness of food isn't solely based on the flavor of the food. Our biases filter our perception of food. Deliciousness is both ingrained and learned, and it is a product of all five senses interacting in unexpected ways.

When you put food in your mouth you start by trying to process the five basic tastes—bitter, sweet, sour, salt, and umami. As you take the food to your mouth your nose gets a whiff of it where scent receptors in the nasal cavity detect thousands of volatile chemicals that add up to complex flavors. The combination of both of these is required for taste. Try holding your nose the next time you eat something. You'll notice that your taste buds can tell your brain something about what you're eating—that it's sweet, for instance—but you won't be able to pick the exact flavor until you let go of your nose.

Our sense of taste doesn't end at the mouth. In recent years scientists have found taste receptors all over the body including the discovery that cells lining the small intestine also contain taste receptors. Another example is the nose's ability to sense bitter chemicals so if there's poison in the air, they reflexively stop you from pulling it into your lungs.

Physiologically, our flavor preferences take shape over a lifetime, beginning while we are still in the womb. Babies whose mothers consume garlic while pregnant are more likely to enjoy the flavor of garlic in breast milk. Pregnant women who drink carrot juice are more likely to have kids who like carrots.

The visual and auditory triggers are trippy, too. Potato chips taste crisper if you hear a crunch over headphones. White wine with a drop of red food coloring tastes like red wine—even to experienced wine tasters. Red velvet cake and chocolate cake are the exact same thing, yet some people prefer one over the other. People will eat less food off a red plate. A block of cheese with sharp edges tastes sharper than one with round corners.

So, the next time you eat your favorite food, remember that it's not because it tastes good. Its deliciousness comes from your mom, your childhood, the room you are eating in, and the plates you are eating on. It's just as mental as it is chemical. Ew.

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