Taste is also learned


Our food preferences are largely determined by our very first sensory experiences, from our mother’s womb to our first meals.


The first days of a person’s existence influence the rest of their life.

This is equally true in terms of taste, as the work of professor Luc Pénicaud from the Center for Taste and Feeding Behavior (CSGA) appears to attest. According to him, the most opportune period to learn to like a new food is between the ages of 4 months and 2 years. Even better, in this time period we also learn to regulate our eating objectively. The child remembers the effects of absorbing a given food and adapts his behavior accordingly, and this for a long time. This would explain a very old béarnaise tradition that consists of rubbing a clove of garlic on the lips of newborns to instill in them the penchant for the odorous cloves.

From his first meals at the age of around 6 months, the young individual explores a whole range of flavors

From his first meals at the age of around 6 months, the young individual, who until then had only known breast milk, explores a whole range of flavors. But what flavor did this breast milk have? The flavor of what the mother ingested, of course. Hence the importance of the mother sticking to a varied and balanced diet. And this from before the birth of the child because even the amniotic fluid transmits to the fetus information on the flavor of food.

This information varies in nature and does not all address the same receptors. There are around 10 million olfactory cells in humans and several hundred receptors located on the tongue, in the nose and almost everywhere in the mouth up to the back of the palate. The sensory experience that results from absorbing a given food is therefore very difficult to decipher. The information according to which a food is bitter does not follow the same circuit as if it is deemed savory, for example. A sour dish does not stimulate the same parts of the brain as a sweet food. But each flavor is the result of the summary of this information.

The source of his preferences can be found in the social and cultural aspects of the meal.

In addition to flavor and biological factors, the context in which a child takes his meals also influences his eating habits. The source of his preferences can be found in the social and cultural aspects of the meal. The child remembers his experiences with food, listens to his body to know if he is hungry, trusts his senses to know what to think of the dish, but he also listens to the people around him and follows their example. In the same way, if a food is presented to him repeatedly, he eventually becomes accustomed to it. However, if he likes sugar the first time, it is not by sweetening all of his meals that he will eat them more willingly. The child also takes in the fact that more substantial foods are liable to fill him up more effectively.  Dietary habits are therefore formed very early through experience. It appears to be something that is learned rather than innate. Epigenetics rather than genetics. The result of the CSGA’s scientific studies seem to support the parents who lecture their children along the lines of « You can’t say you don’t like it until you’ve tried it ».

Reblogged from The Nutrijournal

Photos © Smolina Marianna – Shutterstock

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