Food occupies an unusual place in our lives. It’s a basic human necessity, of course, but there’s so much more to it. Some of us don’t have enough, some of us have an abundance. Some don’t care either way. We have turned food into art, into an expression of wealth or creativity, and have made it entertainment. People experiment with new flavors and ingredients constantly to make the next big thing.
If you reel it all in and ignore all the frills you’re left with how your, as a human, experience food. Beyond the look and smell and feel it often just comes down to taste. So what do you know about how you even taste things?
10. You Can Taste Dimethyl Sulfoxide Just By Touching It
Most of us don’t play with medical grade solvents but you may come across dimethyl sulfoxide in a hospital and, if you do, don’t be surprised by the taste. Now, you may think you won’t need to worry about the taste because you have no intention of tasting dimethyl sulfoxide for any reason. Unfortunately, that may not matter.
The compound is used to dissolve medications to make them easier to administer sometimes, and that’s because DMSO, as it’s also known, has a remarkable ability to travel easily across membranes. So easily that you can just handle it and it will pass through your skin and potentially produce a noticeable garlic taste in your mouth. It can even pass through rubber gloves to do this.
Weirdly enough, it’s a by-product of paper manufacturing and comes from wood pulp.
9. Babies Have Three Times as Many Taste Buds as Adults
Human babies are pretty helpless in every way. They have little going for them in terms of impressive skills, at least compared to the babies of other species which can be up and running in a matter of hours. But they do have one ability that even adults lack and that’s hardcore taste sensation.
Babies have about three times as many taste buds as an adult, meaning they are enjoying a far more flavorful world, at least for a little while. This also explains why tastes change as you age. Many people hate certain vegetables as children but grow to like them as adults and this can account for why. Kids are being fussy little jerks if they hate broccoli or peas, it’s just that they legitimately taste bad because the kids may pick up on more bitter notes, for instance.
Babies’ mouths are more receptive to sweet and fatty flavors. Salty doesn’t register well, nor does sour and bitter is extremely offensive to a baby’s taste buds.
8. Toothpaste Blocks Sweet Receptors, Which is Why Food Tastes Bad After Brushing
Nearly all of us have had that terrible experience of grabbing a glass of juice in the morning right after brushing our teeth and discovering it tastes terrible. But why does it taste terrible? The answer is in the toothpaste, but just part of it. It’s not the flavor, it’s what it does to your tongue.
Toothpaste has a foaming agent in it, something like sodium laureth sulfate. Its only purpose is to make it foaming. But the chemical also temporarily blocks the sweet receptors in our mouths. If you drink something after, and orange juice is very effective at this, you will not taste the sweetness, but you will get the sour and bitter notes. Orange juice without sweetness, as many of us learn, tastes terrible.
7. You Can Trick Your Taste Buds With Smells
Taste and smell are closely linked. Obviously something that smells good is more enticing and will get your mouth watering but you can actually alter taste with smell, that’s how closely tied the senses are.
There are easy home experiments you can do to trick your brain into tasting things based on different smells. The way our brain interprets taste involves the sense of taste but also the texture and the smell of the food you’re eating. It’s estimated 70% to 75% of what our brain tells us is taste is influenced by smell.
Experiments regarding how this works have shown that by adding the aroma of something like ham can make people taste more salt even though none is there. The same product, with no ham smell, will taste less salty.
6. Supertasters Can Taste More Intensely Than 75% of People
Of all the superpowers a person could dream of, being a supertaster is rarely on the list. But you may actually be a supertaster, so it’s at least worth looking into what that means. About 25% of people qualify as supertasters while an exceedingly small percentage may even be super-supertasters. But let’s focus on the regular kind.
As the name implies, a supertaster is better at tasting than other people. For them, flavors are more powerful and rich. Different flavors may be more amplified and powerful, which is not always a good thing. Imagine something that tastes too sweet or bitter to you. To a supertaster it may be unbearable. Likewise, a dish you consider perfect could be too salty or too sour to a supertaster because their taste perception is more attuned to those tastes.
Women tend to be supertasters more often and men and, as we’ll look at later, it’s also affected by ethnicity. There’s a test to determine if someone is a supertaster since taste is very subjective. A chemical called 6-n-propylthiouracil can be added to something being tasted. About 25% to 30% of people can’t taste this at all, and those are non-tasters. The average taster will notice a faint bitter flavor in the food. But a supertaster will be completely grossed out by the bitterness when they taste it.
Bitter is the standard for testing since more people are not sensitive to bitterness, or at least nowhere near as sensitive as a supertaster. They really hate popular bitter things like beer, for instance. Supertasters seem to have far more taste receptors in their tongue than average which accounts for the increased sensitivity.
5. Your Taste Buds Only Live for About 10 Days
If you’ve ever eaten something hot and burned your tongue, you know it dulls your sense of taste. But, give it a bit of time, and the sense returns and everything is tasting normal again. This isn’t because your taste buds heal up and go back to work. It’s because they die and are replaced quickly. The average taste bud only lives between one and two weeks, or around 10 days.
Your taste buds are just a bundle of cells capable of sensing taste. Like most cells in your body they are constantly growing, dying, and being replaced. As you age, their ability to regenerate and keep tasting like they used to fails. Research has shown older people are slower to regenerate taste buds and their sense of taste wanes in time. Women start losing the sense of taste earlier, in their 50s, while men hold out to their 60s.
Some cells in your taste buds are very short-lived and may die off in a few days, while longer-lived cells maintain for up to three weeks.
4. You Only Taste About 20% of the Salt on a Potato Chip
Have you ever opened a bag of chips, eaten one and then winced at how salty it was? Some chips are so salty that there are brands that market reduced salt ones either for health or flavor reasons, depending on your motivation. But the reason some chips are so salty is that you taste little of the salt in the first place.
When you eat a chip, you taste about 20% of the salt present. In order to taste salt it has to dissolve in our saliva, just like any other food. If you eat food with a dry mouth, you can’t taste anything. Also, it would be hard to swallow so please don’t try it. But when you eat a chip normally, the process of chewing and swallowing happens so fast you can’t usually get more than 20%.
The way we eat chips is actually such an inefficient way to enjoy them that Lays developed an entirely new kind of salt crystal that allows it to dissolve more quickly so you can taste more while they use 25% less salt in the recipe. This makes a tastier and healthier chip, at least in terms of sodium intake.
3. Nothing Tastes Spicy Because Spice is Not a Taste
People love spicy food as witnessed by the proliferation of hotter and hotter hot sauces, spicy food challenges and, of course, Hot Ones. What some people don’t realize is that, love it or hot it, spicy is not a flavor but a pain response. We often list it alongside things like salty and sweet, but it’s not correct. You can’t taste spicy, not specifically.
Capsaicin, the chemical in peppers that triggers that heat response, is actually tricking your brain. The chemical compounds activate heat sensors and it makes them feel like they are hot when they actually aren’t. The more chemical in the pepper, the worse the sensation, and this is measured by Scoville units.
When you do taste something spicy in a sauce or pepper, it’s the other things that add flavor. So the actual taste of the pepper itself or flavorings added to a sauce like salt or tomato or vinegar.
2. Testicles Have Taste Receptors
Feel free to take a moment with the headline for this entry. Testicles do have taste receptors and, what’s more, the internet decided they are keyed to sweet or umami flavor, so that’s fun. When news of this first hit the internet, people apparently tried to make the most of it by dipping their testicles in soy sauce. Naturally this didn’t get them far because, if you recall how biology works, your testicles are on the inside and there’s a whole scrotum in the way to prevent any snacking below the equator.
The truth is that the testicles don’t have taste buds but they do have taste receptors. These cells exist throughout the body, but their function isn’t fully known. The internet’s belief that they can taste sweet or umami came from a Daily Mail article which took the original research and misunderstood it to state that taste buds in your testicles can taste different flavors.
You can’t rub food on your downstairs to sate your hunger but the science of taste receptors existing there is correct. They may help detect certain bacteria and be necessary for sperm production.
1. Gender and Ethnicity Affect Your Taste Perception
Few subjects are ever as touchy for most people as issues surrounding both gender and ethnicity. But the fact is there are some notable differences between genders and ethnicities and one of the most unexpected ones is the sense of taste.
According to research, people of Asian ethnicity have superior tasting abilities compared to Caucasians, or at least their taste perception seems to be more finely honed. Asians are more likely to be known as a supertaster, which we covered in that previous entry. Those of Asian ethnicity also seem more sensitive to metallic and sour tastes.
The same study that showed this determined that men are more likely to favor sweeter flavors than women.
Additional research shows that Hispanics and African Americans rated taste sensations higher than white participants. There’s long been a joke that “white people” food is rather bland, especially British food, and it’s possible this may account for some of that if a large portion of Caucasians simply don’t taste food intensely.