Taste is a very subjective thing. Some people love pineapple on pizza, some hate it. Some folks are happy to eat a vegan diet, others are practically full-time carnivores. But what accounts for those foods that can change their taste over time. Is that you and your personal tastes changing over time, or is the food itself different? Turns out that, sometimes, things really don’t taste the way you remember and for some very interesting reasons.
10. Some Authentic Chinese and Indian Dishes Taste Different (in the US) Because Of Oil That Can’t Be Used in America
Most of us are aware that there is a distinct difference between Chinese food in China and Chinese restaurant food that you’ll find in America. When it comes to Szechuan Chinese, one of the reasons for a difference in taste goes a little beyond the predictable however and has to do with not just what is being cooked but how. In this case, it’s the oil.
In America, most food is cooked with things like vegetable oil, canola oil, even peanut oil. But in China, most Szechuan food is cooked with things like mustard seed oil or Caiziyou oil which you can almost never find in the US.
Mustard seed oil has a spicy aroma and gives food a little kick. You’ve probably never seen it for sale at your supermarket, however. Expressed mustard oil is banned by the FDA. That’s because the oil has a high erucic acid content. In the ’70s, experiments found that erucic acid caused heart and kidney disease in rats. The oil was therefore banned, but later studies showed that effect didn’t really carry over to humans and, in fact, the oil may be beneficial to us. But science is slow sometimes and red tape is slower, so the ban never got lifted.
The oil has a very high smoke point and imparts great flavor, especially in spicy dishes, so it’s favored for things using chiles. If you want to eat foods you first discovered in parts of China and Northern India, they’ll likely never taste the same in America unless you use the oil which, legally, is very hard to do.
9. Brussels Sprouts Really Did Taste Worse Back in the Day
The humble Brussels sprout. Bane of children everywhere. But as an adult, have you found you kind of like the taste now? Even though your childhood memories were of a bitter, unpleasant little cabbage? You probably just thought your taste buds matured, and maybe they did, but that’s not the whole story. Brussels sprouts really do taste better.
The fact is, kids weren’t wrong back in the day. The sprouts were bitter and unpleasant. So, in the 1990s, Dutch scientists and farmers worked together to isolate the bitter tasting compounds in the sprouts. Once identified, they put in the effort to begin breeding strains that naturally had the least amounts of those bitter compounds.
Once they managed to create the tastiest new hybrids, those were farmed and eventually they replaced the old, bitter strains of the veggie and, since the 1990s, Brussels sprouts really have tasted better.
8. Banana Candy Tastes Like Banana, Just Not The Bananas We Eat
Is any candy flavor more of a perplexing let down than banana? It tastes nothing like banana and yet every banana candy tastes the same. How did that happen? This all dates back to a time before Americans even ate bananas.
Fake banana flavor comes from a fruit ester called isoamyl acetate. You can find it in a lot of fruits and it was introduced before most Americans had ever tasted banana back in the 1860s. But when the Gros Michel banana became a real thing people could buy about a decade later, there was a distinct similarity. Gros Michel contained a reasonable amount of isoamyl acetate. But then, as you may know, the Gros Michel fell victim to a serious banana plague and was wiped out. In the 1960s, the Cavendish banana replaced it and we still eat those today.
The Cavendish has some isoamyl acetate in it but not nearly as much as the Gros Michel did. So it and “fake” banana taste almost nothing alike. But once upon a time that flavor was much closer to banana.
7. American Purple Skittles Taste Different From Purple Skittles Everywhere Else
Speaking of candy, do you think you could identify every flavor of Skittle in a blind taste test? It would be much harder than you think if you were using international Skittles because, as it happens, purple Skittles don’t taste the same around the world. Or, more specifically, the US government has ensured American Skittles aren’t the same as everyone else’s.
In most countries, purple Skittles are flavored with the delicious black currant. Not so in America where that flavor wasn’t legal for ages. Many years ago, black currant was outlawed in America because the plants carried a disease called white pine blister. In time the ban was lifted but by then the black currant had missed its opportunity. Few people wanted to start growing it and the flavor was not part of the American experience so it never caught on.
6. Coca-Cola Tastes Different From Country to Country
One of the most important things for a product that’s enjoyed all over the world is consistency. For something like Coca-Cola that has to be extremely important, or you’d think so anyway. And even though the company claims on their own websites that it’s the same everywhere, that’s not 100% true.
The formula for Coca-Cola is the same the world over, so the syrup will always be the exact same in any country. But there’s more than syrup in Coke. The product is always bottled locally, and each country uses their own water sources and sometimes their own sweeteners as well. This is why Mexican Coke is a thing, because they use cane sugar as a sweetener which gives it a different taste than the high-fructose corn syrup of American coke.
If you have traveled around, you know for a fact water tastes different from country to country and even city to city sometimes. So the end product that Coca-Cola releases in some countries will absolutely taste differently.
5. Kit Kat Bars Taste Different Around the World
Every country has their own candy and treats but there are a handful of candies that transcend borders and are enjoyed the world over. One of the most popular has to be Kit Kat, which can be found all around the world in about 100 countries. That said, it’s not going to taste the same all around the world because, despite the name and familiar package, it’s not even made by the same company everywhere.
Kit Kat is huge in Japan, so much so that people in Japan actually think it’s a Japanese product, though it comes from the UK originally. In Britain, Kit Kat is a Nestle product but in America it’s made by Hershey. The US version has far more sugar while the UK version has a higher cocoa and fat content. In taste tests, most people agree the UK Kit Kat is far better. In Japan, it comes in dozens of varieties.
4. McDonald’s Fries Changed Four Times in 30 Years
One of the most popular items on the McDonald’s menu is the french fries which a lot of people seem to feel are the best among the fast food competition. But if you’re old enough, you may be wistful for an even more delicious fry that McDonald’s used to sell because they really were different once upon a time. In fact, they’ve changed a number of times over the years.
For a very long time, McDonald’s fries were cooked in beef tallow which imparted a lot of flavor and made them hugely popular. But it was also big on saturated fat and cholesterol. Over the years, campaigns against unhealthy eating took their toll and McDonald’s finally relented. Vegetable oil replaced the beef tallow in 1990. People were largely unimpressed and stock prices dropped.
McDonald’s tried to add beef flavor to the fries to compensate, but that led to lawsuits from vegetarians and Hindus who didn’t know they were eating beef.
By 2002 the oil changed again because the vegetable oil’s trans fats became a concern. In 2007 another oil change happened. So that’s four different oils in 30 years, each one altering the overall french fry flavor.
3. Tomatoes Have Lost Their Flavor Because We Bred Them That Way
Try to imagine a world without tomatoes. All those delicious sauces we’d be missing out on from ketchup to pizza to marinara. It’s harrowing. But even more harrowing is the fact that tomatoes are legitimately becoming less tasty. If you’ve ever picked up a tomato at the store to slice up for a burger or a salad and thought it was bland and tasteless, it wasn’t just an unlucky pick. We’re doing it on purpose.
Scientists sought to answer why tomatoes don’t taste as good and compared hundreds of varieties around the world. They determined that there are 13 compounds which chiefly contribute to the taste of a tomato and as we seek to breed bigger tomatoes that are more resistant to pests and bad weather, we’re sacrificing those compounds.
Less popular or artisanal varieties of tomatoes still pack a flavor punch because these ones have not been bred to death, as it were. But the most popular tomatoes only became the most popular because we stripped away everything we liked about them in the first place.
You can still find a tasty tomato now and then, but you’re not wrong if you think they used to taste better. You’re also not wrong if you think they’re going to keep getting worse.
2. Apples Used to be Tastier and Crisper
Apples are one of the most popular fruits in the world. America alone grows 2,500 different varieties and there are over 7,500 in the world. And if you’re feeling like apples these days just aren’t as good as they once were, you’re not wrong. The humble apple is being bred into the ground.
Climate change has been contributing to a decline in flavor and crispness from apples which have a harder time adapting to environmental changes and are losing natural levels of malic acid as a result. Apples that are less sweet, less crisp and even mealy are the result. There are also diseases killing off a lot of apple varieties, leaving us with fewer to enjoy overall. And that’s not the only issue.
The Red Delicious apple is a standout in the world of, well, bad apples. The name is generally half accurate. Red? Check. Delicious? Not always. This is because the fruit has literally been bred, just like those tomatoes, towards looking better than it tastes. Growers have consistently tried to perfect that brilliant red color, eliminating any variations that lead to green or yellow, but sacrificing the deliciousness as a result. Nowadays Red Delicious are extremely unpopular in North America because they just don’t taste good anymore.
1. Airplane Food Tastes Bad Because of Where You’re Eating, Not What You’re Eating
Airplane food has been mocked for being tasteless, textureless and gross for years. And while it’s not always that bad, there’s definitely something weird about it sometimes and you’re not wrong for thinking so. There’s actual science behind why food just isn’t as good on an airplane.
First, the basics. Airplane cabins are dry. Literally desert dry. Cabin pressure and this lack of humidity play havoc with your taste buds, dulling them terribly. You lose as much as 30% of your ability to taste salty and sweet at altitude. Your mucous membranes also swell, affecting your sense of smell which also dulls flavor.
Surprisingly, there’s also a little more going on. Even the sound on a plane makes the food taste worse. The sound of airplane engines become a distraction to your already taxed senses and make it even harder to perceive any decent flavor from the food.