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Why Food Tastes So Delicious?

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Human’s sense of taste can be instinctive or acquired, can be individual or collective. It is a comprehensive feeling coming from the five senses and delivering to the brain.

In the past decade, we saw the myriad and complex relationships between food and consciousness. We also saw that our personal biases could filter the taste experience. All these knowledge helps us understand the essence of taste.

Most of human’s taste buds locate on the bump structures at the surface of tongue and these bump structures are known to be papillae. Each papilla houses onion like structures of 50 to 100 taste cells folded together like the petals of a young flower just about to bloom—which is why they are called taste buds. The cells have chemical receptors attuned to the five basic tastes—sour, sweet, bitter, salt and umami (the last is a word borrow from Japanese that is used to describe the savory flavors of roast meat or soy sauce).

These five tastes are sufficient to help us determine if the thing we just put in our mouths should go any further—if it is bitter and potentially poisonous while if it is sweet or savory and therefore a probable source of nutrients. However, they are not even close to communicating the complexity of the flavors that we sense.

That is why we turn to our noses. As we take in a piece of food, a little air is forced up passageways at the back of the mouth, where scent receptors in the nasal cavity detect thousands of volatile chemicals that add up to complex flavors. Such retronasal olfaction has nothing to do physiologically with the act of sniffing the food. Our brain knows where our smell signals come from—through the nostrils or from our mouth. In the latter case, it ropes them together with the signals from the taste buds. A completely unique sense is produced by the retronasal olfaction—neither taste nor smell alone but a hybrid that we call flavor. This is a transformative and irreversible process—imagine turning fuel and oxygen into flame.

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Our sense of taste doesn’t end at the mouth.

Recently, scientists have discovered that taste receptors are all over the body and the discovery solved some long-standing mysteries. For 50 years researchers had been trying to figure out why eating glucose produces a much sharper insulin release comparing with injecting the same amount of glucose directly into the bloodstream. In the year of 2007, they found that cells lining the small intestine also have taste receptors. As soon as these intestinal sweet sensors detect sugar, they would trigger a cascade of hormones that eventually ends with a squirt of extra insulin into the bloodstream.

Our sense of taste is not just limited to the gut. For instance, our nose is lined with cells that sense bitter chemicals. When there is poison in the air, they reflexively stop you from pulling it into our lungs. If the poison gets to the throat, bitter detectors in the trachea trigger cilia to assist clear the airway.

Devote our life to seek

Our flavor preferences take shape over a lifetime, starting while we are still in the womb. If mothers consume garlic while pregnant, their babies are more likely to enjoy the garlic flavor in breast milk. Similarly, if pregnant women drink a lot of carrot juice, their babies are more likely to like carrots.

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Babies usually have similar flavor preference with their moms and the evolutionary justification is simple enough: if mom ate it, it’s safe.

As a matter of fact, we use our friends and loved ones in much the same way the medieval monarchs used food tasters. We are always cautious about unfamiliar foods and are not willing to try until the foods are proved to be safe by others. The principle holds all the way down the food chain. We know that rats hate the taste of cocoa, but some enterprising researchers recently separated a rat from its brood and coaxed it to have some anyway. Then the rat returned to its group. When others smelled the cocoa on its breath, they altered their minds and suddenly couldn’t get enough cocoa.

On the contrary, children are harder to convince—they have to try an unfamiliar food about nine times on average before they begin to like the taste. Numerous parents can testify that children’s eventual enjoyment on a certain food rests on how well mom and dad sell it. In addition, the same holds true for adults, ad decades of increasingly sophisticated food marketing campaigns have demonstrated.

The environment sends many cues on how food should taste. In an experiment, researchers connected volunteers’ tongues to a low-voltage electrical device, showed them images of foods and then sent a mild shock across their taste buds—a sensation like licking a battery. The shock was supposed to impart a neutral taste. Then they were asked to rate how pleasurable the shock was. The volunteers who saw pictures of sweet or fatty foods rated the stimulus far more pleasurable than those who saw photographs of low-calorie food.

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Dipping a drop of red food coloring into white wine makes it taste like red wine—even to experienced wine tasters.

What’s more, the visual and auditory triggers can be so apparently comical. Potato chips taste crisper when you hear a crunch over headphones. People will eat less food off of a red plate. A block of cheese with sharp edges tastes sharper than one with round corners.

Our taste experience is not all from our mouth, or at the back of our nose, and taste cells in the intestine. Deliciousness comes from our mother, our childhood, the room where we eat, the plates we eat on and the friends we eat with. It is not only a material experience, but also a mental enjoyment.

SourceScientific American

 

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