Hate certain vegetables? Here's how taste buds work

Mark Calaminici demonstrates how to turn your vegetables into something that picky kids and adults will love to eat

If you grew up hating the taste of a vegetable like broccoli, two things may have happened in adulthood.

Either your dislike for the green vegetable remains or your taste buds have developed, allowing you to finally enjoy the texture and taste.

Registered dietitian Abbey Sharp of Abbey’s Kitchen, based in Toronto, told Global News the average person is born with roughly 10,000 taste buds.

READ MORE: Research suggests pressuring kids to eat food they don’t like doesn’t stop picky eating

“These taste buds die every two weeks and are replaced by new taste buds,” she continued. “As you grow older, the replacement of these taste buds slow down and they don’t all get replaced.”

As a result, this can affect the way people like (or dislike) certain flavours.

“This change in number makes flavours less intense which is often why we need to season our food more aggressively for our older family members.”

How do taste buds actually work?

According to the Australian Academy of Science, the average adult has between 2,000 and 8,000 taste buds.

“Despite what we may have learned in school, it’s not actually true there are certain areas of the tongue responsible for particular taste sensations,” the site noted. “However, there are different types of taste receptors that are each activated by a different suite of chemicals to elicit the various taste sensations we perceive.”

The academy added receptors for bitter, sweet, sour and umami tastes are actually proteins and are found on the top of taste bud cells.

READ MORE: Got a picky eater on your hands? Here’s how parents can deal

The National Center for Biotechnology Information in the U.S. adds each taste bud has 10 to 50 sensory cells and they are not just located on the tongue.

“There are also cells that detect taste elsewhere inside the oral cavity: in the back of the throat, epiglottis, the nasal cavity, and even in the upper part of the esophagus,” the site continued.

“Infants and young children also have sensory cells on their hard palate, in the middle of their tongue as well as in the mucous membranes of their lips and cheeks.”

Why we don’t like some foods

But regardless of age, some people just don’t like the taste of certain foods or flavours. For some it can be genetic. Previous reports in Huffpost found cilantro, for some, can taste like soap. 

Others, like David A. Levitsky, a professor of nutrition and psychology at Cornell University, previously told Well And Good humans are born with specific food perferences. 

“There are some clearly defined genetic determinants of taste, but mostly they define our reactions of very bitter tastes,” he told the site. “Bitter taste usually signals a potentially dangerous substance. That prevents children from eating potentially dangerous items in the environment.”

This is why it is common for children to be picky eaters.

READ MORE: Wary babies tend to be picky eaters too: child development study

“As we get older we become more curious and try new foods, some of which we may like.” Levitsky argued you can “train” yourself to like certain foods by eating them over and over again — this is why some people acquire the taste of wines, for example.

Sharp says some studies have shown the average person starts enjoying “intense-flavoured” food at the age of 22.

“Exposure to certain foods while you’re young is also a big factor in whether you enjoy them later in life,” she continued. “Translation? Don’t wait until full-blown adulthood to try new foods, get adventurous when you’re young.”

She added one 2017 study found exposing children to a variety of flavours at a young age meant they had a healthy relationship with that food later in life.

“When you’re expecting and breastfeeding, eat a variety of foods, and offer the same when your children start solids and transition into toddlerhood.”

Cutting out flavours

Sometimes, it’s about accepting new tastes; other times, it’s about cutting back. Sharp said because our taste buds are changing overtime, it can become hard for some people to completely cut out certain flavours.

“If I see someone who needs to limit their salt intake or sugar intake, we don’t recommend cutting it out altogether, cold-turkey,” she explained. “I would recommend slowly reducing the amount in their diet until they become more sensitive to smaller amounts.”

She added for starters, three shakes of salt could become two, and then if you were to try three again, it would be offensively salty.

“This is why soup companies, for example, have been very slowly adjusting their sodium levels over time — so that people’s palates can adjust,” she continued.

The same can be said for sugar.

“If you’re used to having three sugars in your coffee, you can cut back to two for a while, then get down to one and then none. If you ever accidentally have a drink with a lot of added sugar, you’ll quickly be surprised you were ever able to tolerate that sweetness load every day.”

arti.patel@globalnews.ca

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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