Medically reviewed by Kristin Ricklefs-Johnson, Ph.D., RD
What are Taste Preferences?
One of the things that makes a human being unique are our taste preferences. The foods that we prefer influence so much more than just our health. For many people, their favorite foods have strong associations with memory, and the sensory experience of eating.
Think back to a memorable experience of eating your favorite food. What is it about it that makes it so special? Was it the texture, the taste, or something else entirely?
Would you be surprised to learn that the sensory experience of eating is just one factor that influences our taste preferences? The foods we reach for regularly are influenced by much more than what they taste like. Many factors contribute to our food choices, including taste perceptions, which can be influenced by our unique genetic makeup.
Today, we’ll explore the concept of taste preferences, and explain how they (and consequently, our eating habits) are inextricably linked to our genetics.
What are Taste Preferences?
Taste preferences, often called taste perceptions or taste experiences, are the complicated set of inclinations that we’ve developed as a result of our sensory experiences with food.
According to one study published in the Annual Review of Nutrition, “sensory responses to the taste, smell, and texture of foods help determine food preferences and eating habits. However, sensory responses alone do not predict food consumption.”
This study references an important point – while our sensory experience with food does influence our taste preferences, it isn’t the only factor. Metabolic and physiological variables, as well as genetic factors, influence the food choices that we make in our day-to-day lives.
Are Taste Preferences Genetic?
Many genetic factors influence taste preferences, and researchers and scientists are learning more about this complex area of human behavior every day. In our new Eating Insights Report, we delve into the genetic variations that are responsible for our unique taste preferences.
Here are some of the most common genetic taste preferences you can learn more about in your personalized report.
There are some genetic variants that enhance an individual’s ability to detect bitter chemicals, such as the ones present in vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts. If you have these genetic variants, you may be less likely to enjoy these foods or avoid them entirely.
Caffeine Bitterness Detection
The caffeine molecules in coffee, tea, and dark chocolate can taste more bitter to certain individuals. Typically, that’s caused by a genetic variant that increases the individual’s ability to detect these molecules, making them more likely to abstain from these substances, or choose less bitter, adulterated versions like lattes or milk chocolate.
Certain genetic variants can enhance an individual’s capacity to detect the sweetness of basic sugars like sucrose. This means that these individuals usually find foods sweeter. This can lead to a preference for this sweet taste, or a dislike of foods that they feel are too sweet.
If you have this trait and are often tempted to indulge in sweet, unhealthy snacks, try to choose healthier snacking options like fruit instead of candy or cookies.
Even though salt is ubiquitous, there are still some genetic variants that make an individual more sensitive to it. This often makes an individual more likely to prefer salt, and reach for salty snacks like chips, crackers, or pretzels.
If you find yourself reaching for salty foods and are looking for a healthy homemade snack instead, try an option with more nutrients like kale chips, nuts, or boiled and lightly salted edamame.
The savory, or umami, taste is one of the five basic taste sensations. Most foods that we consider ‘savory’ contain properties from the amino acid glutamate, which gives them this irresistible flavor. The foods that are most associated with this savory flavor include anchovies, tomato paste, mushrooms, and soy sauce.
There are some genetic variants that increase an individual’s sensitivity to these glutamate-based compounds, which makes them more likely to enjoy them.