7 Tips for Embracing New Flavors: ScienceAlert
You’re out to dinner with a group of friends, and someone orders a pizza with anchovies and olives to share, but you hate olives and anchovies! Do you go along with your favorite choice – Hawaii – or stay quiet?
This scene is repeated every day around the world. Some people are fiercely protective of their personal tastes. But many prefer to expand their palates, and not have to rock the boat the next time someone in their friend group orders pizza.
Is it possible to train your taste buds to enjoy foods you never enjoyed before, like training your muscles at the gym?
What defines “taste”?
Taste is a complex system that we have developed to help us navigate the environment. It helps us choose foods with nutritional value and reject anything that may be harmful.
Foods are composed of various compounds, including nutrients (such as proteins, sugars, and fats) and odors that are detected by sensors in the mouth and nose. These sensors create the flavor of food.
While taste is what the taste buds on your tongue pick up on, flavor is the combination of the smell and taste of something. Along with texture, appearance, and sound, these senses collectively influence your food preferences.
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There are many factors that influence food preferences, including age, genetics, and environment. We each live in our own sensory world and no two people will have the same experience while eating.
Food preferences also change with age. Research has found that young children have a natural preference for sweet and salty tastes and dislike bitter tastes. As they grow older, their ability to like bitter foods grows.
Emerging evidence shows that bacteria in saliva can also produce enzymes that affect the taste of foods. For example, saliva has been shown to cause the release of sulfurous odors in cauliflower. The more sulfur is produced, the less likely the child will enjoy the taste of cauliflower.
Nature against nature
Both genetics and environment play a crucial role in determining dietary preferences. Twin studies estimate that genetics has a moderate influence on food preferences (between 32 percent and 54 percent, depending on the type of food) in children, teens, and adults.
However, since our cultural environment and the foods we are exposed to also shape our preferences, these preferences are largely learned.
Much of this learning occurs during childhood, at home and in other places where we eat. This is not textbook learning. It’s learning through experience (eating), which usually leads to increased liking for food – or by watching what others do (modeling), which can lead to positive or negative associations.
Research has shown how environmental influences on food preferences change between childhood and adulthood.
For children, the main factor is the home environment, which makes sense because children are more likely to be affected by foods prepared and eaten at home. Environmental factors that affect adults and adolescents are more diverse.
The process of “acquiring” taste
Coffee and beer are good examples of bitter foods that people “acquire” a taste for as they grow older. The ability to overcome their hatred is largely due to:
- The social context in which they are consumed. For example, in many countries it may be linked to the passage into adulthood.
- Physiological effects of the compounds they contain – caffeine in coffee and alcohol in beer. Many people find these effects desirable.
But what about acquiring a taste for foods that don’t provide such desirable feelings, but are good for you, like cabbage or fatty fish? Is it possible to get admission for these people?
Here are some strategies that can help you learn how to enjoy foods you don’t currently enjoy:
- Eat, and keep eating. Only a small portion is needed to build up a desire for a particular taste over time. It may take 10 to 15 or more tries before you can say you “like” the food.
- Mask bitterness by eating it with foods or other ingredients that contain salt or sugar. For example, you can pair bitter arugula with a sweet salad dressing.
- Address it frequently in a positive context. This might mean taking it after playing your favorite sport or with people you love. Alternatively, you can take it with foods you already enjoy; If it’s a particular vegetable, try pairing it with your favorite protein.
- Eat it when you are hungry. When hungry, you will be more willing to accept a taste that you may not appreciate on a full stomach.
- Remind yourself why you want to enjoy this food. Maybe you’re changing your diet for health reasons, or because you’ve moved to other countries and are having difficulty getting to grips with the local cuisine. Your why will help motivate you.
- Start small (if possible). It is easier for children to learn to like new foods because their tastes are less ingrained.
- Remember: the more foods you love, the easier it is to learn how to love others.
A balanced and varied diet is essential for good health. Picky eating can become a problem if it leads to vitamin and mineral deficiencies — especially if you avoid entire food groups, such as vegetables.
Meanwhile, eating too many delicious but energy-dense foods can increase your risk of chronic diseases, including obesity.
Understanding how your food preferences are formed, and how they can evolve, is a first step toward getting on the path to healthy eating.
Nicholas Archer, Research Scientist, Sensory, Flavor and Consumer Sciences, CSIRO and Astrid Polman, Principal Researcher, Public Health and Wellbeing Group, CSIRO
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.