Give me something that is both salty, sweet, hot and cold, and you have given me the perfect food. Yes, I will admit that am one of those people that dips French fries in Frosty’s. I am also someone that generally asks for the hoppiest beer on tap. This hasn’t always been the case. My taste in alcohol started off very sweet (think Mike’s Hard Raspberry Lemonade), transitioned to yellow fizz (oh the days of college and Keystone Light), and eventually became addicted to a variety of craft beer.
The average adult has between 2,000 and 10,000 taste buds that perceive sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and potentially a fifth savory taste called umami. Salty and sour detection is needed to control salt and acid balance. Bitter detection warns of foods containing poisons. Sweet provides a guide to calorie-rich foods. Taste buds in combination with smell discern flavor.
In 7 Things You Didn’t Know About Your Taste Buds, Dr. Bartoshuk states the normal life cycle for a taste bud is 10 to 14 days. You can kill taste buds, but they grow back immediately. This is why the ability to taste does not diminish with age. Taste preferences also fluctuate with hormones. For example, the ability to taste bitterness does decline in women when menopause begins. This may be because “the taste of bitter is hardwired to be a cue for poison, early in pregnancy your brain becomes sensitized to avoid it in order to guard your baby,” says Dr. Bartoshuk.
A Womanly Disposition
Ladies may have a step-up in choosing good beer. According to an interview conducted with Lettie Teague, The Wall Street Journal wine columnist, women are better at perceiving smells, more sensitive to bitter flavors, prefer sweet, and may notice more subtleties. This is confirmed by findings from a study conducted jointly by Danish Science Communication and food scientists from The Faculty of Life Sciences (LIFE) at University of Copenhagen on almost 9,000 children.
The Danish study showed that girls are generally better at recognizing concentrations of both sweet and sour tastes. According to Michael Bom Frøst, Associate Professor at the Department of Food Science at LIFE, the experiment showed that boys and girls have largely the same number of taste buds and it appeared that what makes the difference is the way in which boys and girls process taste impressions. The study indicated that boys need an average of approximately 10 per cent more sourness and approximately 20 per cent more sweetness to recognize the taste. The study additionally indicated that the ability to recognize tastes increases gradually with age, and the greatest shift is seen at 13-14 years when children become markedly more sensitive to sour tastes and love of very sweet flavors decreases.
A Matter of Training
I prefer bold flavors, so you will probably won’t overhear me say, “you can really taste the oak undertones and a slight taste of cherry in the background.” But, you can train your palate to like new food by bringing out its sweetness, or by adding something fatty.
People also are influenced by social cues, such as eating a certain food with someone else who really enjoys it, or with someone whom you admire and like. If your friends have good taste, then you also are encouraged to have good taste.
While women naturally may naturally be more sensitive to certain flavors, cultivating taste requires exposure. Nutrition experts advise parents to try expose their children to new flavors, and research shows that it can take as many as 10 to 15 tastes before a child will learn to appreciate a new flavor. These same theories can be applied to training your palate to drink certain beers.
So the more beer you taste, with a group of people you like, the better your palate is trained? Sounds like we have our work cut out for us, ladies.
Jane Bradbury, Taste Perception: Cracking the Code http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pbio.0020064 (March 16, 2004).
Amanda Greene, 7 Things You Didn’t Know About Your Taste Buds. Woman’s Day. (http://www.womansday.com/health-fitness/7-things-you-didnt-know-about-your-taste-buds-119709).
F. Martin Ramin interview with Lettie Teague, Do Men and Women Taste Wine Differently? http://live.wsj.com/video/do-men-and-women-taste-wine-differently/2F0A6CA2-36F7-4197-B417-4E9621D3BBCC.html#!2F0A6CA2-36F7-4197-B417-4E9621D3BBCC. (June 30, 2012)
Cynthia Sass, Retrain Your Tastebuds. http://www.eatingwell.com/nutrition_health/nutrition_news_information/retrain_your_taste_buds (Jan/Feb 2007).
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