4 Fascinating Facts About Taste
The sense of taste has been a driving force behind human and societal development for thousands of years. From the discovery of salt to the chefs developing new recipes using molecular gastronomy, the drive to please taste receptors has given rise to a global industry expected to be worth $7 trillion or more by this year. Everything from complicated food processors to wooden spoons have been developed in the pursuit of making it easier to make food taste better. The sense of taste has been the subject of study since the second or third century B.C., and is still being studied extensively. Let's look at some of the most interesting discoveries made recently!
1. What You Expect Affects How Things Taste
Picture the stereotypical toddler turning up its nose at the vegetables on their plate. They've never tasted them before, but are certain that they taste nasty. When they do attempt to eat them, their preconceptions seem confirmed, but research suggests it could partially be their own minds tricking them. In 2006, the University of Wisconsin did a small study involving 30 volunteers, glasses of water, sugar, quinine, symbols, and an fMRI machine. That sounds like a terrible party, lets be real here.
“I was told there were mixed drinks here” - kid in the Superman shirt
They started by having the volunteers start associating tastes with symbols on the glasses. When that was accomplished they switched the symbols and types of water around, and chucked the volunteers into the fMRI machine. I hope the subjects were in the machine one at a time, because while I've never seen an fMRI machine, I don't think 30 people would fit in there at once, and these people were college age so even if they'd fit, they'd obviously find a way to start boning in there...but I digress.
The subjects were subjected to 8 tastings while in the fMRI machine, and the results were surprising. For example, when given the most bitter water and shown the symbol denoting that it was not so bitter, the areas of the brain that responds to bitterness (the same ones that fire in the presence of your mother) fired but not as strongly as if the bitter drink had been expected. It wasn't that the bitterness was gone, just slightly subdued.
Much like the protests at Tienanmen Square protests, but not really.
2. What You Listen To Affects How Things Taste
You're at the store, feeling a little more lonely than usual. Somehow, you find yourself in the wine section, and begin browsing. Your grocery store plays a very strange Pandora station as an ambiance creator, and “99 Luftballoons” comes on in the midst of your loneliness quencher hunt. Research suggests that you'd be more likely to pick up a German wine simply because Nena is singing in her native tongue. Also, I've never had German wine, but it sounds like it would pair well with German food which is the best comfort food. So really, it's the best choice to cure your loneliness, you poor soul.
It's almost like it's happy to be eaten!
An Oxford study in 2011 involved participants eating pieces of toffee while music played in the background. Half of the toffee pieces were eaten with high pitched piano music in the background, the other half was eaten with lower pitched brass music floating around the auditory riverbeds that were the volunteers' ear canals. Heh. Riverbeds. Canals. Once again, I digress. The study found that while the piano music played, the volunteers reported that the toffee tasted sweet, while during the brass music the toffee was reported as bitter.
Restaurants have taken this into consideration when choosing the soundtrack for their dining rooms. Starbucks has received assistance from one of the researchers involved in the aforementioned study to develop a soundtrack for their numerous stores. Maybe your favorite restaurant doesn't actually have the best food, but the best soundtrack. It's a conspiracy!
These guys are obviously behind it.
3. You Tasted The Amniotic Fluid You Developed In
Ever wonder what the inside of a uterus tastes like? No? Well, let's play hypotheticals and pretend you totally have (side note: that game can get you kissed if you play it right). Turns out, you probably knew what it tastes like, you just forgot it along with all the other memories from being born. Like if you remembered how your mom's uterus tastes, you'd probably remember looking back at her vagina and wishing you were still in there.
“Man, I miss that place!”
A 1996 study by researchers at Dresden University Of Technology (no word on why a tech school has an anatomy department) suggested that the development of taste was triggered when nerves reached the lingual epithelium (a fancy way of saying tongue surface) in the 8th week of gestation, with taste buds fully developing in the 15th week. But more recent research seems to suggest that the process doesn't have to do with nerves, but rather molecular and cellular mechanisms. Everyone agrees that the sense of taste isn't fully developed until you've been in the world for about four months, so maybe your mom's uterus doesn't taste absolutely the same now than it did when you were tasting it constantly.
“I guess boobs are pretty awesome though.”
4. You Have Taste Receptors In Your Nose That Help You Fight Infection
In 2009, scientists at the University of Iowa concluded that the taste receptors found in the nose weren't actually involved in tasting or smelling food, which puzzled many. In 2012, Dr. Noam Cohen found that those bitter taste receptors also responded to the chemicals bacteria use to communicate and triggered defensive measures, including the release of nitric oxide (which kills bacteria).
If bacteria were...you know what, I'm not going to finish this analogy. Even I have standards.
Dr. Cohen further postulates that supertasters (who make up about 25% of humanity) may be less susceptible to sinus infections because their nose tasters are more sensitive than normal or nontasters. I take it even further and postulate that if you feel a sinus infection coming on, you should shove lemon wedges up your nose to make those suckers do their job.
“Why would you do that to us? That's nasty!” - the somehow cognizant lemon wedges
If you want a summary of this article and how to apply it to your life, I offer this: when making a meal for someone, make sure to tell them it tastes amazing and to play higher pitched music in the background. If they complain about it, tell them it probably tastes better than the amniotic fluid in their mom's uterus, and they should be grateful. When they threaten to kill you for having such low morals as to insult their mother and her uterus, remind them that the taste receptors in their nostrils initiate chemical warfare on unsuspecting bacteria, much like Saddam Hussein did to his own people. I would then recommend deleting their number from your phone because any sort of relationship you had is now over.
You just can't impress everyone.
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