Is the Sense of Taste Inherited? Over time, people often approach their parents’ taste preferences and eating habits. But does that also mean that taste is inherited? is it the genetics?
The question of whether genes or environment are crucial for food preferences is not an easy one to answer. Because, our meals in childhood are largely determined by the same people who are responsible for our genetic makeup.
As is so often the case when it comes to the question “nature or nurture?” The answer is: the truth lies somewhere in between.
How do taste sensations come about?
In the mouth – mainly on the tongue – there are taste receptors that react to chemical stimuli. Humans have different levels of taste receptors, and their number decreases over the course of life. This changes the intensity of the taste.
The sensation of taste only comes about through interaction with the sense of smell. We don’t like what smells bad either. And when we have a cold, the food usually tastes boring.
How is taste controlled by genetics?
Now to the genes. A popular method in science to distinguish between the role of genes and environmental influences is twin studies. When examining the taste sensation, the focus is not only on monozygotic, but especially dizygotic twins.
Siblings, some of which have different genes, but are sitting at the same dining table. In fact, some studies suggest that the eating habits of identical twins are more similar than that of non-identical twins. This is an indication that genes also have an impact on children’s tastes.
However, our sense of taste is not very specific that one could say, for example, that one did not inherit taste receptors for spinach. According to current research, the taste buds in the mouth can only differentiate between bitter, sweet, salty, sour and savory.
These categories only provide rough coordinate axes for the taste experience. There are definitely people who – for genetic reasons – perceive bitter substances to a greater or lesser extent, or perhaps not at all.
Genetic differences in smell perceptions
While most people have similar genetic makeup that is responsible for developing taste receptors, there are greater differences in the sense of smell.
A variety of genetic combination options ensures that people have a much more individual smell perception. And here too there are indications that there are influences through inheritance when equipped with smell receptors.
But the same applies to both taste and smell: being able to perceive something is one thing, emotional evaluation of this perception is another. The connection of information with feelings only takes place in the brain in the course of life. Education plays a role here – for example through the role model function of the parents.
Cultural influences also come into play. Most children, for example, have an aversion to bitter substances, which means that they don’t like coffee, olives or Brussels sprouts, for example. As a rule, this aversion decreases over the course of life through new, positive experiences and habituation.
So when it comes to the formation of eating habits, parents cannot easily pass responsibility onto their genes. Parents can – as much of the research agrees – influence what their children like or don’t like. In Finland, even educators have been trained to improve taste training.