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How Do Food Tastes Develop?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012 - 11:06am

Culinary programs provide the nuts and bolts - or perhaps knives and forks - of proper food preparation and cooking techniques, kitchen safety and sanitation, and an in-depth knowledge of foods, ingredients, herbs, and spices.

At the same time, aspiring chefs are granted the opportunity to learn how flavors combine to create tantalizing dishes that keep food connoisseurs coming back for more. Down the road, that flavor/taste element can be the most fundamental component to your career as a Chef de Cuisine or an Executive Chef.

How Do Food Tastes Develop Anyway?
Food tastes vary across geography and cultures. They are a unique combination of personal taste, experiential tastes, and human anatomy and physiology.

You may be familiar with the "Tongue Map" theory. The idea was that taste buds were organized into five areas of the tongue: bitter towards the back, sour on the sides, salty in the middle, and sweet towards the tip. In fact, the tongue map theory was debunked back in 1974, although it still proliferates in some science classes and remains a widespread belief.

It turns out that taste bud receptors for the various flavors - salt, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami - are more evenly dispersed. There are even taste buds on your soft palate and further into the back of your throat.

One aspect of developing food tastes is dependent on the concentration of these taste buds in your mouth. A person with greater or fewer amounts of a certain type of receptor, or proteins which facilitate them, will be more or less sensitive to foods with certain flavors. These can change over time, which explains one way tastes evolve over time. Culinary programs strive to expose their students to all kinds of flavors in an effort to expand students' palates. However, many of your taste preferences begin much earlier in life than you might have thought.

Do You Like What Your Mother Likes?
Recent research on taste development indicates that your taste preferences probably have something to do with your mother's. A baby in utero gulps ounces of amniotic fluid all day long. Since the taste buds are developed by the 24th week of pregnancy, babies have the ability to taste the amniotic fluid they ingest. Scientists decided to examine the amniotic fluid of women who had eaten garlic capsules and those who took a sugar pill. Volunteers were asked to smell the samples and the results were very clear; women who swallowed garlic capsules had amniotic fluid that smelled like garlic.

To take this one step further, they had three control groups: one that drank carrot juice every morning, one that only drank it occasionally and one that couldn't have carrots at all. When the babies were old enough for solids, they recorded the babies eating cereal with pureed carrots. Babies exposed to carrot juice in utero were much more likely to prefer carrot flavored cereal.

Ultimately, our food tastes develop over time. Life experiences, whether you are smoke or not, and the foods you're the most accustomed to will have the greatest influences on your food likes and dislikes. Culinary programs provide the perfect opportunity to try things you have never heard of before, create interesting combinations you never would have thought of, and to create delicious dishes which will inspire the taste preferences of your future clientele.  

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