Why your kids like candy and other taste bud tales

From the moment a piece of food enters your mouth, your taste buds are working to classify it as one of the five main tastes. Share this article

Have you ever wondered why your kids seem to be on a mission to find the candy stashed in your house? How about why one person tries and loves kale and the other can't stand it? These kitchen-related questions have led skeptics to uncover scientific roots, and it all starts with the first bite. 

From the moment a piece of food travels from the plate to your mouth, your taste buds are fast at work. The BBC suggested that humans have about 10,000 of them all over the tongue that aid with distinguishing flavors from one another, but they also play a deeper role in your health than you might think.

Instinctual before pleasurable
The taste buds protect the body from harmful agents and food items that aren't safe for consumption. If you've ever shoveled a large piece of food into your mouth and spit it right out, it could be that your taste buds were detecting an issue with the morsel. As the BBC put it, many fruits, veggies and meats that are rotten typically smell and taste revolting.

Your taste buds basically tell your body that something isn't safe to ingest. The U.S. National Library of Medicine stated that foods that are going bad typically taste bitter or sour, while ones that are nutritional tend to be sweet and salty. It's a method that dates back to evolution, asserted the source. Your taste buds are able to distinguish at least five separate flavors, including sweet, salty, acidic, sour and savory. 

This identification happens when your taste buds send a message to your brain, which then deciphers the sensation. The first four of the aforementioned flavors were discovered around the same time, which spans back to the days of Plato and Aristotle, according to NPR. It wasn't until much later that people learned about and acknowledged savory, often referred to as umami, as a sensation.

The story of umami
As NPR told the story, it all started with a chef and a chemist. Chef Auguste Escoffier laid the groundwork for the fifth taste while he was cooking up new dishes in Paris. It was Escoffier who had stumbled upon it when he invented veal stock, according to the source. He realized that it was unlike anything he'd ever tasted but he couldn't quite put his finger on what it was exactly.

Meanwhile, chemist Kikunae Ikeda, based in Japan, was eating some dashi – seaweed soup – when he noticed that it was different from other flavors. Like Escoffier, he wasn't able to identify it at first, but then he did some exploring in his lab and ultimately came to the conclusion that the additional sensation was glutamic acid. He called it umami, but it wasn't until about 100 years later that scientists came to accept it as a taste, NPR confirmed. Much later, people discovered that taste buds develop with age and that some people can have more than others.

In general, as people get older they lose their sense of taste – not only because their taste buds diminish but also because their sense of smell isn't as sharp, explained the New York Times. The nose and mouth are so closely connected that a food can seem like it has less flavor simply from a change in your nasal cavity. Curiously enough, the nose doesn't have a lot to do with why kids react to certain foods.  

Explains kids' sweet tooth
A small child's taste buds are different than a grown up's, which is why a 5-year-old might make a funny face when you try to feed him spinach. The reason behind this relates to how children's bodies perceive the food that they eat. According to the Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care journal, sugar is often recognized by children's bodies as a carbohydrate – something that's crucial to growth.

If you're wondering, it's not necessarily the television commercials and advertisements that drive your kids toward candy – it's just evolution. Kids' taste buds are more sensitive to sweet-tasting food because their bodies are telling them they're essential for growth. This finding is common in children all over the world, according to the source. So then what about adults who can't stand certain foods? That's another story.  

Are you a super taster?
Some people are more sensitive to flavors because it's built into their DNA, explained The Wall Street Journal. This group, dubbed super tasters, is comprised of 25 percent of the world's population and is made up of more women than men. This group of eaters is more sensitive to the way food tastes, which could cause them to have an adverse reaction when they take a bite of something bitter. These people have more papillae – spaces that contain taste buds – on their tongues. Some of these people have found their niches in the culinary world because they can distinguish flavors exceptionally well. 

Can you like foods you hate?
Taste buds tend to change drastically until people are adolescents, but then that change tapers off unless the person is a smoker, according to Bon Appetite. Although your taste buds might tell you that you don't like a particular food, you can get over it with time. Continued exposure to that fruit or veggie can make it less aversive to you. If you've always wanted to like kale and you're not a super taster, there's still hope. 


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