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Variables In Judge's Specific Taste Perceptions

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Posted by Don, Dueling Bubbas on April 29, 2011 at 11:06:06:

See below from link below; with some editing due to length, see original for the full boat.

Taste buds are just one reason why we love some foods and hate others

The world is full of polarizing flavors and foods, beloved by many, despised by just as many.

Taste vs. flavor

While we might say, “That tastes like strawberry,” scientists who study these things would disagree. Our tongues actually perceive only five basic tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and “umami,” the Japanese word for savory. To go from merely sweet to “Mmm, strawberry!” the nose has to get involved. The taste and olfactory senses, along with any chemical irritation a food creates in the throat (think mint, hot pepper or olive oil), all send the brain the information it needs to distinguish flavors.

“We as primates are born liking sweet and disliking bitter,” said Marcia Pelchat, who studies food preferences at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. The theory is that we’re hard-wired to like and dislike certain basic tastes so that the mouth can act as the body’s gatekeeper.

‘Coffee is too bitter’: The genetic component

Researchers have found only one major human gene that detects sweet tastes, but we all have it. By contrast, 25 or more bitter receptor genes may exist, but combinations vary by person. Some genetic connections are so strong that scientists can predict fairly accurately how people will react to certain bitter tastes by looking at their DNA. In addition, nearly everyone has at least one “specific anosmia,” meaning you can’t detect a particular odor despite having an otherwise normal sense of smell. A great example is androstenone, the chemical that gives truffles their scent. To many people, it’s offensive, like body odor. Others find it earthy and pleasant, like sandalwood. A quarter of people can’t smell it at all.

‘Mom’s pot roast is the best’: The experience component

Research has shown that we are predisposed to like flavors of foods our mothers ate while pregnant. These flavors are passed through amniotic fluids and later through breast milk, possibly signaling to the baby that if Mom ate it, it must be readily available and safe.

‘Jalapenos rock!’: The cultural component

You simply can’t teach a rat or dog to like spicy food; scientists have tried. But in humans, it’s easy. Culture often overrides our genes and takes over the mouth’s role as the body’s gatekeeper. Few people immediately like bitter beverages or extreme spices, but many learn to love them through repeated exposure. We often learn to like what people around us like.

‘I need chocolate!’: The sex component

Cliched but true, researchers have found a clear sex difference in food cravings. Women are more likely to crave sweets, by a 60 percent to 40 percent margin. By the same margin, men are more likely to crave salty foods.

‘Oysters are gross’: The texture wild card

Some people can’t stand slimy, gritty or creamy foods, regardless of the flavor. Science cannot fully explain where texture issues come from, but a study released last fall by the Monell Chemical Senses Center offers a clue: People with more of a certain enzyme in their bodies tolerated the feel of thick, starchy foods better. In addition, texture can affect flavor by altering the release of aroma molecules in the mouth. Manufacturers pay special attention to this when trying to make a low-fat substitute taste and feel like a high-fat food.

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