• Question: Why do we like different taists, are our taistbuds different, or is it a mental prefence?

    Asked by barney to Iain, Jo, Leo, Mariam on 25 Jun 2010 in Categories: .
    • Photo: Joanna Watson

      Joanna Watson answered on 24 Jun 2010:

      I know there are some tastebuds – the ones that can taste really bitter substances – that some people have and others don’t, but I don’t know how much of what we like is because of our tastebuds and how much is because of our brains.

    • Photo: Iain Moal

      Iain Moal answered on 24 Jun 2010:

      There are differences between peoples taste buds. For example, some people can’t taste aniseed. I think a lot of the reasons we like different things is psychological though. Psychology is very important for our appreciation of food or drink.

      Take the never-ending debate: Coke or Pepsi, which is better? Well, if people don’t know which is which, then more people prefer the taste of pepsi than coke. However, if they know which one is which, then more people prefer coke.

    • Photo: Leo Garcia

      Leo Garcia answered on 25 Jun 2010:

      I know that some types of taste are ‘acquired’ – so the person only enjoys a particular taste because they have been regularly exposed to it, and they have made a deliberate effort to enjoy it. This is true for particularly bitter or strong tasting substances like bitter beer or coffee.

      Genetic variations do affect people’s sense of taste:


      Other factors that can influence what you find tasty are:

      * How old you are
      * Problems with your vision (visual perception is an important part of tasting, as well as smell and the taste itself)
      * Hormones
      * If you are on drugs (!)
      * Brain tumours – which can cause ‘phantom tastes’:
      * Your sense of smell

      So our sense of taste is dependent on a number of factors, including both genetic variations between people and how we have conditioned our minds before we taste something.

      Personally, my least favourite food is brussels sprouts, and my favourite is pizza.

    • Photo: Mariam Orme

      Mariam Orme answered on 25 Jun 2010:

      You know what, that’s a fantastic question… it’s something I’ve never thought about, but now I really want to know the answer. So I’m hoping one of the other scientists has something to say about it!