When someone asks us if we like a particular food or drink, we answer with certainty. But what if our likes and dislikes aren’t that straightforward? The taste of food is relatively direct. Our taste buds sense bitterness, saltiness, sourness, sweetness, and umami (savory). Flavor, on the other hand, involves all that we experience when eating that particular food and is the basis of our likes and dislikes.
Everything about food, from the smell to the packaging, and even the place or time we are eating, can influence how we perceive flavor. We can also be swayed by how food is described before we try it. Merely adding the label “very sweet” to a drink increases how sweet we believe it is, without any change to the drink itself. Add our genetics into the mix, and it is easy to see how flavor is about much more than just taste.
GIVE “HEALTHY” A CHANCE
One unfortunate example of taste vs. flavor is the myth that healthy food “tastes” bad. If you believe this stereotype, consider giving some healthy items another try with a clean slate. For a fun spin, try some foods through a blind taste test. You may be surprised by the results.
Our Registered Dietitian, Nicole, says “Everyone tastes differently. Sharing a meal with a friend, you may notice that you have different a perception of the meal. You may think it is overly salty and your friend may think it is flavorless. Everyone’s taste sensitivity is different. Many different things contribute to how things taste and how we perceive flavor. The number of taste buds and nerve endings a person has, the sensory capacities of those taste buds and nerve endings, and the response of the brain to signals from the taste buds and nerve endings all significantly affect taste abilities.”
With so many factors influencing flavor, it is worth giving foods a few tries before putting them on your dislike list. Vary the preparation and even the time or location and be open to the possibility of a new flavor.
Part of mindful eating is the awareness of the many factors that can impact how we perceive flavor. When you eat, reduce distraction and dedicate your focus to eating.
- Okamoto M, Dan I. Extrinsic information influences taste and flavor perception: A review from psychological and neuroimaging perspectives. Semin Cell Dev Biol (2012), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.semcdb.2012.11.001
- The Principles of Mindful Eating. The Center for Mindful Eating. http://www.tcme.org/principles/