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5 Reasons We Taste What We Taste

Daisy Chow | Chef's Blade

Taste is Personal

One person’s yum is another’s yuck. Taste is highly subjective and personal, influenced by myriad factors from within and without. Moreover, our sense of taste and smell is always changing, and it’s possible to learn to appreciate new foods or foods that were previously disliked.

As you sit before a meal, countless details influence your perception of the food. What does the dish look like? Does it have a funny name? Are there a variety of shapes and colors, pleasingly arranged? Is the platter nice? What’s around you? Is it noisy or quiet? Bright or dark? Are your dining companions people you like eating with? At a restaurant, does bad service quickly sour the experience while good service punches up ho-hum food? How much does the food cost? The list of contextual factors could go on and on, and many of these factors are completely subconscious.

Then there is the personal baggage you bring to your meal. Personal history, experience, prior knowledge, culture, habit, all these can trigger a positive or negative response to food and affect how you perceive it. Whether you associate broccoli with good memories or bad ones will affect how much you like it. Age and genetics play a role too. Children often don’t like the same foods as their parents but grow up to eat the same way their parents did. In addition, an estimated 25% of Americans are so-called super-tasters. Genetically programmed to be more sensitive to taste, super-tasters have far more tastebuds than average but tend to be picky eaters; these super tasters are also much more likely to become a chef or sommelier than any other part of the population.

Editor’s Note: As a chef, think of ways you can improve each of your diner’s experiences, realizing that their meal is not the only piece of the puzzle that keeps ’em coming back for more.

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