Tastebuds are fickle and mystifying little things. Some foods, we just plan hate. Others, we used to hate but now love. Have you gone from despising Brussels sprouts to eating them as often as possible? Taste is a complicated thing, one many of us disagree on, which begs the question: is it possible to change your tastebuds? In general, our taste preferences are defined in evolutionary terms. We are programmed to prefer sweet over bitter, for example. Sweet, ripe fruit provides us with a nutritious energy boost while bitter flavours are often found in plant toxins we are better off not consuming. We are also more likely to enjoy fatty foods that would provide us with the necessary energy to hunt our next meal. Only in today's world, this script has been flipped a little. Bitter veggies, like kale, have reached insane levels of popularity and kids clamour for sour candies. So, clearly, something else is at play! Environmental factors can impact the way things taste. When you eat, food molecules hit your taste cells and send a message to your brain resulting in one of five sensations: sweetness, saltiness, bitterness, sourness or savoury (umami). If these taste cells and messages get confused by an outside factor, you will notice. Think about how terrible orange juice tastes after you have brushed your teeth. This is because there is a detergent in toothpaste called, sodium lauryl sulphate, that interferes with your taste cells, reducing your ability to taste sweetness and increasing the bitterness of the juice's acidity. Scientists say there is no reason we should dislike any food so our aversion goes beyond genetic and environmental factors and lands in the realm of learned behaviour. Several U.S. studies have found that our taste preference are influenced in utero by our mother's diets and continue to form until we are about 2 years old. After age 2, we become neophobic, meaning we have an aversion to new food. Expectation also plays a role in the foods we like and dislike. If something doesn't taste they way it looks or smells, or has a strange quality to it (the texture of mushrooms is a great example), we are likely to interpret this aversion to a personal dislike. [bctt tweet="Is It Possible To Retune Your Tastebuds?"] So, if there is no physical reason why we don't like certain foods, is it possible to change our tastes and enjoy the things that once made us gag? The answer is yes! But you have to be persistent. 10-15 exposures to a new food should be enough take the 'newness' out of it and turn it into something you like. Here are some tips to make the process a whole lot easier:
- Cut the food up into pieces small enough to be swallowed with minimal chewing.
- Build a preference through association. One study found that kids were more likely to eat broccoli with a pinch of sugar. After 6 exposures, the kids were all too happy to eat the broccoli without the sugar.
- Save a few bites of something you do like on your plate. After you eat the 'offensive' food, eat those few bites. This will help you battle aftertaste and create a positive association with the unpleasant flavour.
- Try preparing the food you don't like in a different way. If peas make your think of boring family dinners, look for a fun and creative way to prepare them.
- Buy the best quality food items you can. Eating the 'real' food makes a huge difference!