Have you ever wondered why food tastes different when you’re sick? Or why fancy restaurants play relaxing background music? The answer to both these questions comes down to taste. Taste is a very interesting and complicated sense. While researchers are still trying to fully understand how this sense operates, we do know a decent amount about the sense.
The average person has about 10,000 taste buds on the tongue. Taste buds are sensory organs with very sensitive microscopic hairs called microvilli. These microvilli send information to the brain about how something tastes. It is important to note that your sense of taste does not act alone. In fact, taste as a sense is made up of sight, smell, and touch, all of which can impact how we perceive the taste of food! With so many factors involved, it is clear to see how our perception of taste can be easily affected. Listed below are 5 surprising things that can affect taste.
- Color: Many people associate color with taste. For example, when shopping for apples in a grocery store, people tend to sift through the bunch, choosing the brightest, reddest apples. Since these apples are the most visually appealing, they generally and unconsciously, are considered to be of better quality. Studies have shown that brighter, more intensely colored foods seem to taste better to study participants than less vibrant, duller colored foods, even when the flavor compounds were exactly the same.
- The Common Cold: When you’re stuffed up food just doesn’t seem to taste the same, and sometimes it doesn’t have any taste at all. This is because when you eat, chemicals from the food are released and travel up into your nose. These chemicals trigger receptors inside the nose allowing you to taste different flavors. But when you have the sniffles that pathway is blocked, altering the way you taste foods.
- Temperature: The temperature at which we eat food can greatly affect taste. Studies have shown the perception of taste decreases when the temperature rises above 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The hotter the temperature of the food, the more likely taste buds are impaired from the heat.
- Stress: Stress affects the entire body, taste being no exception. Anxiety can trigger acid reflux symptoms, pushing stomach acids up into the throat. These acids can mix with foods, affecting taste. Additionally, stress-activated hormones called glucocorticoids have been connected to our taste buds’ reaction to sugar. This might be one reason we love those sweet treats during exam time!
- Background Noise: Researchers believe a high level of noise in restaurants inhibits the ability to recognize how sweet or salty food is. Furthermore, studies have shown when background music is set at a volume comparable to normal human conversation, people claimed their food tasted better when compared to the same exact food served to louder background music.
Ashley Russo is a first year graduate student at Syracuse University working on a master’s degree in nutrition science and dietetics. She plans to become a registered dietitian specializing in oncology nutrition.
Photo Credit: Belen Rediet, Dollar Photo