Why you can actually argue about taste

Warum sich über Geschmack tatsächlich streiten lässt
The truth of the saying "You can argue about taste" is regularly confirmed in our chocolate tastings . On the one hand, the flavors that are tasted often differ from person to person: Where some taste aromatic meadow herbs, others taste bitter espresso notes. On the other hand, of course, the different preferences become clear. Some taste the 70 percent single origin chocolate from Peru, others fall in love with the 80 percent chocolate with cocoa beans from Uganda. But why is it like that? Why is there a dispute about taste? And why don't we all just taste and like the same thing?
In this article we want to talk about pretty much everything covered by the term taste. It is of course about the sensory impression of tasting, but also about which factors shape our personal taste. Are you curious? Then read on!

dimensions of taste

Before we jump headfirst into the subject, it is important to briefly define the different dimensions of the concept of taste. On the one hand, taste means the sense of taste, i.e. the physiological process. But the sensory impression itself is also called taste, i.e. what we taste through the sense of taste. And then, of course, taste also describes one's own preferences and preferences in a cultural, aesthetic and social sense. Taste thus also denotes a subjective value judgement , what we like and don't like.

A small organic digression: where and how we taste

The main place where tasting takes place is our tongue. In this context, many will certainly remember the depiction of the surface of the tongue from biology class, which was divided up like a map according to taste areas. This idea is now considered outdated, because today we know that basically all taste qualities can be tasted on the whole tongue. But not only the tongue is responsible for the taste in the mouth. The taste buds required for this are also located on the palate and the epiglottis.

A lamp shaped like the most important organ for tasting, the tongue

Using the taste buds just mentioned, we can then taste and differentiate the five tastes, sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. Incidentally, the latter taste, umami, has only been known for some time and describes the typical "meaty-hearty" taste of protein-rich foods.
And how does tasting work on a physiological level now? To put it simply: the respective taste stimulates the sensory cells of the taste buds in a special way. This creates an electrical impulse inside the cell, which is passed on to the cerebral cortex. The messenger substances there then take on an important role: they evoke certain patterns of arousal, which in turn determine whether the taste is perceived as pleasant, unpleasant or even disgusting.

What we smell, we also taste

In addition to the mouth and the taste buds it contains, another sensory organ is essential for the perception of taste: the nose. And when we say essential, we also mean essential, because 80 percent of what we taste is actually smell.
But why do we need another organ to taste than the taste buds located in the mouth? Basically, the human sense of taste is structured rather simply compared to our other senses. And it is precisely for this reason that the nose jumps in with its fine olfactory receptors and thus helps us to have a better taste experience. And it works like this: If we have a certain taste in our mouth, many small components of food also migrate from behind towards the nose. The olfactory receptors located there, like the taste buds in the mouth, are irritated and thus enhance the taste.
To illustrate the important role of smell in tasting, there is a great trick that we also like to usein our tastings : Hold your nose tightly and then put a piece of chocolate in your mouth. Let it melt a bit, roll it around in your mouth with your tongue and try to taste something while still holding your nose. Then let go of your nose, take a deep breath (also suck in the air gently through your mouth if you like) and compare. A huge difference, right?

How our sense of taste changes

Incidentally, we do not taste the same intensively in the course of our lives. Because the number of taste buds decreases over the course of life. Infants still have about twice as many taste buds as adults, who have between 2,000 and 5,000. This is why spicy dishes are often too intense for children and are therefore despised by them. And not only age, but also diet affects our taste buds. For example, if a lot of ready meals and the flavorings they contain are consumed, the taste buds atrophy and you taste less. Natural flavors can then no longer be tasted as well, so they no longer taste good.
And as the day progresses, our ability to taste diminishes. Basically, we taste the best and most intense in the morning, right after getting up. Because with every coffee, every chewing gum and in general everything that our taste buds taste during the day, they become more and more tired. The best moment to taste chocolate, for example, is right after getting up. And yes, we mean that absolutely seriously! Chocolate for breakfast! 🍫☀️

Why do we like what we like?

Speaking of not tasting. Sooner or later we learn to categorize tastes into "I like", "I don't like" or even "I think it's really gross". And this subjective sense of taste is shaped by very different factors:

The influence of genes

Genes are an important factor in the development of one's own taste. Israeli scientists have discovered that as many as 50 different genes influence the sense of taste. What is exciting is that only some of the genes are active and their activation is random. This means that there is an almost infinite number of possible combinations that can determine how the individual sense of taste develops. And even if we have a relatively similar genetic composition, for example with our siblings, that does not necessarily mean that we also share the same taste.

A strand of DNA

How we were socialized

In addition to genetics, there are many other factors that set the course for our own taste buds. Individual socialization plays a major role in this.
Basically, children are often much more impartial than adults when it comes to their taste preferences. And many things that many people are wild about later in their lives are even totally "disgusting" for the little ones in our society. A good example of this is coffee, which mostly leaves children quite cold, but for many adults it is the first thing they eat in the morning. This means that at some point these adults must have come to the point where they suddenly liked coffee. And that our upbringing and socialization influence our sense of taste in a significant way.
This can happen in negative and positive ways. Many of you probably had a similar experience in your childhood: You sat in front of a plate full of things that you absolutely didn't like. If the parents then insisted on emptying the plate anyway, the experience took hold and established a taste aversion that you sometimes can't get rid of for the rest of your life. But this also works in the other direction. If you keep getting served something, you start liking it. Coffee is a good example of this. Also because it is an "adult drink", a nice ritual that shows you that you are now one of the "big ones". If at first you drink it more out of a desire to belong, at some point it even tastes good.
Incidentally, getting used to special flavors begins in infancy. Recent research has come to the conclusion that babies who have been fed bitter-tasting milk, even at an advanced age, are not as bothered by the rather unpopular taste as babies who have only been fed breast milk.

How gender affects individual tastes

Many other factors play a role in the development of individual taste preferences. For example gender. For example, women eat less, tend to be healthier, more vegetables, and are more often vegan or vegetarian. Anorexia is also more common among women than men (hello to all those unhealthy and unrealistic female body images!). Men, on the other hand, put taste before health, eat significantly more and more heartily. Meat is still considered the epitome of men's food, which became particularly clear in the VW currywurst debate . The car company planned to ban meat from its canteens, which led to a real scandal, after all, you can't take the hard-working skilled workers' energy bars!

Income factor: "You are what you eat"?

In addition to gender, income also plays an important role. This connection was already clearly evident in the past class society. Back then, workers resorted to foods that tended to be high in calories, fat, and carbohydrates. The middle class, on the other hand, preferred smaller, lighter meals with a lower calorie density.
And even today there are different eating habits and tastes, depending on the respective income class. Because ready meals are cheaper than freshly cooked meals and save time. Two important points in low-income households, for single parents or poorer and large families. This means that ready meals often end up on the dinner table in lower-income families, unlike in families where time and money are not always limited resources. And you already know what impact finished products overloaded with flavor enhancers have on our taste buds.

Cultural differences in taste

Of course, tastes also differ depending on cultural background. It's no secret that people eat differently in India, Syria, Afghanistan, China... than in Germany. For many people who no longer live in their home country, taste can also mean a kind of coming home. Many immigrants who have been living in Germany for years still cook according to their traditional cuisine and have included little or no German dishes in their repertoire. Why is that?
Just like smells, tastes also transport feelings. Anyone who associates a dish with their childhood, a loved one or a specific time can certainly understand that. Because such dishes have the superpower to catapult you back to that time at full speed every time you eat them. It is thus a kind of sure-fire remedy for severe homesickness. And it can give immigrants a sense of belonging, even if they are hundreds or thousands of miles from home.

How fashions affect our tastes

Then of course there are fashions that influence tastes. Who would have thought 50 years ago that we German potatoes would one day develop such an enthusiasm for "exotic" dishes from Japan such as sushi or ramen. In today's world, one can find recipes from all regions of the world with a click of a mouse or cellphone swipes. Social media as well as art and culture are spreading new ways of preparing food. Food and taste is more fluid, exciting and changeable than it was a few years ago. It is also exciting that such fashion naturally spreads at different speeds and that there is an enormous urban-rural divide.

Conclusion: You can argue about taste!

The individual taste is therefore dependent on numerous factors. There are physiological as well as cultural and social factors that determine what we taste and whether we like it.
So you can really argue about taste, but we hope that the article has made it clear: That makes little sense. Because we all have different preferences and possibilities. Instead of arguments, we advocate an exciting exchange about your taste observations.
If you feel like challenging your taste buds, join us for a tasting or check out our subscription . In any case, we wish you a good appetite! ;-)

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