Surprising things that affect how you perceive taste

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There are quite a few factors that influence the way we perceive the taste of our meals and drinks, and some of them are rather surprising. Below are some of these factors, many of which you may not have heard of!

Woman eating vegetables

Your age, caffeine intake, and even the temperature of your food can affect how you perceive taste (Photo: pixabay.com / rawpixel)

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The shape of your mug

According to a study published in the journal Food Quality and Preference, the size and narrowness of the mug can influence how you perceive the coffee served in it. The 300 volunteers participating in the study - from China, Columbia and the UK - had to rate their coffees regarding its aroma, taste, bitterness, temperature, sweetness, intensity, and its guessed caffeine content.

The volunteers from all three countries found coffee served in smaller, narrower cups to be more bitter, but also more intense in flavor and more aromatic. On the other hand, most volunteers found coffee served in a wide mug to be sweeter. This might be because we usually drink espresso from smaller cups, while we tend to get sweet lattes from larger, wider mugs, and our expectations actually influence the way we perceive the taste of our coffee.

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Caffeine

Your caffeine intake can also affect your ability to taste certain savors - especially when it comes to the sweetness of your food or drink. At least this is what a study - conducted by the researchers of the Cornell University and published in the Journal of Food Science - concluded. Half of the 107 participants got regular, the other half of them decaffeinated coffee, with the exact same amount of sugar in their beverages. Those who got the decaf coffee consistently rated their coffee as sweeter than the volunteers who got the "regular" coffee. Unfortunately, this might also mean that after drinking coffee or black tea, you may crave sweet foods more.

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Temperature

The temperature of your food can change how you perceive its taste, but rather surprisingly, it seems that food temperature has slightly different effects on us, varying from person to person. Most of us, however taste the food as slightly more sweet and less bitter or salty when it's hot, while we may perceive colder meals as more bitter and less sour. While several studies confirmed that temperature can influence taste perception, the mechanisms that underlie this correlation are all but unknown. It might be due to the temperature having a direct effect on our taste buds, but it's also possible that only our expectations make us perceive the taste differently - such as in the case of the mug's shape and the coffee's taste...

Pregnancy

According to surveys, almost two-thirds of women experience some changes in their taste perception during pregnancy. Beside some other changes, they typically experience finding salty foods less salty - which might be a way their body promotes salt intake during the pregnancy.

Age

When you evoke some of your favorite childhood treats, you may find that they would be just way too sweet to your currant taste. On the other hand, you might enjoy eating all those spicy or bitter foods you despised as a kid. And after 45 years of age, you may gradually start experiencing other significant changes too. As the taste buds begin to degenerate, there's a constant "loss" of taste, which means you will need more sugar than a younger adult to perceive your food sweet, or more salt, to find it salty. It's rather interesting though, that the perception of sour taste seems to be less affected by your age than that of other savors.

Hunger

You may have noticed that having a bite of white bread is a totally different experience when you're really hungry than when you're full. That's because the carbohydrates in bread are perceived as more sweet when you're hungry, while when you're full, your body is usually less sensitive to sweetness. Besides, hunger in general makes us more sensitive to salty and sweet tastes, while bitterness and sourness are less affected by this factor. And when you think about this effect for a minute, you may realize that diets that include "starving" are kind of risky, because becoming hungry will tempt you to choose less healthy foods with more sugar (and salt) in them. This also means that you'll more likely choose foods with higher calorie content when you're hungry.

Anita Diós

August 2018