It’s common knowledge that as we grow older, our taste buds mature and we begin to enjoy tastes that previously were a no-go. We can probably all remember the first time our parents let us have a sip of their wine or beer and we likely pulled a face similar to this…
As well as taste buds changing naturally as we mature, I wouldn’t be surprised if the vast majority of people reading this also pull a similar face when asked to drink the same alcoholic drink that made them violently ill when they were 16 years old (oh hi sambuca and bacardi…).
And for those who don’t drink, ever found yourself turning your nose up at a meal you previously loved and then realised the last time you ate it, you were ill shortly after?
So it’s safe to say that our taste buds can change as we grow from infants to adults as well as through classical conditioning (where a stimulus generates a reaction as a result of past experience). But can our taste buds change simply by us changing our diets?
This is something I decided to do further research into as a result of a recent experience. It’s no secret that I have always had a bit of a sweet tooth and milk chocolate was always my go to ‘fix’ after a savoury dinner (so much so that I actually wrote a post about the moment I realised I could no longer eat it). However, since cutting out dairy in April 2017 due to medical reasons, not one piece of milk chocolate has touched my lips…until about a week ago.
My other half supports me in everything, no scratch that…in most things I do, but hiding dairy milk chocolate from me is not one of them. In fact, it’s almost like he purposefully puts a sharing bag of dairy milk buttons in the fridge, opens it up wide and ensures that every time I open the fridge door, I get a good strong waft of delicious chocolate aroma to make sure I’m reminded what I’m missing (yea, I’m onto you…).
So as I was saying, my willpower since April has been stronger than I ever imagined it could be (ignoring the fact that I’ve scoured the land to find the best dairy free chocolate alternatives) but last week, I decided to give in. This wasn’t just on a whim, I have been talking about reintroducing dairy for a while but admittedly I had had a couple of drinks and the waft of dairy milk goodness just got me.
I reached into the purple packet with vigour and selected my unsuspecting victim. There was no time for anticipation, the perfectly round dairy milk button was in my mouth before I even knew what I was doing. I waited for the oh so familiar taste and texture to come rushing back to me as the chocolate began to melt on my tongue….
Eughhhhh! That is horrible I squealed as I ran to the bin to spit out, what I used to consider as a little drop of heaven, into the bin.
What has happened to me?! All this time I thought I had been missing out on the most delicious chocolate in existence but in actual fact, I don’t even like it anymore! To me, it tasted far too sweet and creamy, not at all like how I remembered it.
So why have my taste buds changed?
From my research, I’ve learnt that it’s important to start at the beginning to understand the concept of ‘taste’ and ‘flavour’. You may never have thought that there was a difference between the two but in actual fact, we experience them differently. Taste is experienced through gustatory receptors (more commonly known as the taste buds) whereas flavour is actually experienced through the olfactory (or smell) receptors. This actually makes a lot of sense because if you think about when you have a cold and your sense of smell is diminished, you will know that you can’t taste the flavour in your food.
We all have around 10,000 taste buds in our mouth and throat, each one containing around 50 – 80 specialised cells. These taste buds help our body to understand whether or not we should swallow something, as well as sending signals to our digestive system to help our body use the nutrients effectively.
So it’s the ‘taste’ aspect of the chocolate that has become less desirable to me than the actual ‘flavour’ when makes sense considering it was the smell that made me want to eat it.
But what has actually happened to make my taste buds change?
I can use the results from studies on low fat diets and high salt diets to hypothesise about this. Studies into low fat diets have shown that, those who consume a low fat diet consistently actually find that, after a few weeks, they prefer the taste of low fat food more than high fat. The research shows that, those who eat a low fat diet become more sensitive to fat and can actually taste it – in the same way we taste sweet, sour and salty. The more sensitive to a certain taste we are, the less likely we are to want to eat it.
The same happened in a study looking at the intake of salt. When participants who were asked to cut salt out of their diets and given soup with varying levels of salt in on a weekly basis, the results showed that they began to like the soup with no salt in more and more, and the soup with salt in less and less. In addition, when they came off the experiment and were allowed to put as much salt in their food as they wanted, they put half as much salt in their food as previously. The taste buds actually change meaning that tastes become more acceptable.
So coming back to me (…if you insist), over the past six months or so, I have been eating dark chocolate which, if you are used to eating milk chocolate, probably tastes rather bitter to you. It probably tasted bitter to me at first too but, drawing on the other studies, the likelihood is that my taste buds have simply changed meaning that now, I am much more sensitive to the sugar and milk in dairy milk chocolate which makes it offputting to me.
So there you have it, I never thought it possible but I actually don’t like dairy milk chocolate any more! Although, everything deserves a second chance…right?!
Have you cut anything out of your diet for a period of time and then found when reintroducing it, it just doesn’t taste that good anymore? Share your story in the comments below!