While savoring a fine meal, all five senses play a key role in the dining experience: Presentation gives us eye candy, aromas draw us in, textures and temperatures seduce the palate, and sounds like sizzling and chewing enhance the gustatory pleasures. But ultimately, flavor trumps all. Everyone has their favorite flavors and those they shun. Here’s a primer to help you appreciate your sense of taste, and understand what your preferences say about your personality.
Our Best Buds
Taste buds are actually taste receptors clustered on papillae on the tongue, palate, pharynx and esophagus. Each tiny taste bud has more than 100 cells, while the number of buds ranges from 9,000 (average adult) to 10,000 (average for children). The more buds, the more taste nuances the person can identify.
As we age, our taste abilities, which is a chemical sense, diminish. In addition, smoking (along with colds and allergies) tend to deaden taste buds. We taste sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami or savory flavors, while spicy foods like chilis trigger pain receptors not taste buds.
The tip of the tongue best detects sweet tastes, salty around the edges, acidic flavors on the dorsal region, and bitter at the base.
Some foods require multiple exposures to appreciate their fine qualities.This is known as an “acquired” taste. Stinky cheeses, coffee, alcoholic beverages (particularly beer), bitter teas, caviar, escargot and black olives are the most common foods that “grow on you” after several tastings.
Researchers have found that your food tastes are molded in childhood. If you were not introduced to certain foods growing up, you will probably shy away from them later on. So if your mom was repulsed by lamb and didn’t offer it to the family, you most likely will not be a lamb fan either.
Leaves a Bad Taste in your Mouth
A good or bad food memory will also model your tastes. If you developed the flu, had food poisoning or another negative experience after eating a certain dish, you will probably associate that food with the bad episode and steer clear of it. On the other hand, if a food was associated with a promotion, milestone or other delightful event, you will probably relish the dish.
Researchers have associated food preferences with personality traits, discovering sweet tooths as amiable, helpful and cooperative types; spicy food lovers as more likely to be risk-takers, while mild-mannered taste buds translate to those with cautious behavior. Those with cravings for bitter foods tend to be judgmental or harsh decision makers. Better swap out the tonic water, lemon spritzers, black coffee and beer for sweeter choices like honey tea, lemonade and apple juice, so you can view the world through rose-colored glasses.
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