The Science Behind How We Taste
Everyone has a preference on taste, but why? Throw in a pinch of nature, a dash of nurture, and the senses of smell, sight, and sound, and that's the science behind taste.
Sweet or Salty?
Genetics and upbringing aside, it's not surprising that everyone has at
least a little bit of a sweet tooth.
"I would say that as a species, almost everyone has some degree of a
sweet preference," says Bernstein. "We are born having automatic
positive responses to sweetness."
When it comes to salt preference, an unlikely factor plays a role.
"Salt has a lot of variability in terms of preference, and I don't think
we know too much about it," says Bernstein. "But we did do this amazing
study some years ago that found one factor that contributes to salt preference
is whether or not a person's mother experienced severe to moderate morning
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
Training Your Taste
Training yourself to like something you despise seems odd, but whether it's
lower salt intake or more fruit and vegetables, sometimes a person needs to eat
foods that they may not be fond of. Unfortunately, it's not that easy.
"We can't change our genes, so some food likes or dislikes may be
difficult to alter drastically," says Stein. "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
While repeat exposure to a food can decrease dislike, it can also increase
liking. For instance, research done at the Monell Chemical Senses Center showed
that people who stick to a lower-sodium diet over time eventually prefer lower
levels of saltiness in their food, explains Stein.
And of course, there are acquired tastes, such as caviar.
"If you really hate something, having it over and over again may not
change it," says Bernstein. "But we know people develop tastes for
something -- in social settings you have to eat things you may not like but
eventually, you acquire a taste for it."