Food Fights: Why We Love to Hate Certain Foods

Why do some foods elicit such strong reactions, both positive and negative? Some say it’s an evolutionary holdover from our caveman days; others think it’s related to issues of trust and fairness, or even fears of trauma and contamination. Whatever the reasons behind them, food fights can be surprisingly heated—or even downright comical—but whether we’re arguing about onions versus applesauce or cilantro versus parsley, at the end of the day, there’s one thing that everyone can agree on: The best way to fight over food is with food.

The Science behind the Polarized Opinions

The main explanation behind the polarizing effect of certain foods is that our taste buds are wired to detect bitterness and it turns out, not all of us are wired the same way. Many people have a gene called TAS2R38 which is responsible for detecting bitter flavors and these people tend to dislike anything that tastes sour or bitter. For example, studies show that about 25% of Caucasians have this gene while less than 5% of Africans do. This can explain why many people find cilantro disgusting but love olives because they contain both a sour and bitter flavor.

Examples of Polarizing Foods

Polarizing foods include garlic, cilantro, coffee, olives and mushrooms. Some people love them and some people can’t stand the smell of them. What is it about these foods that make them so polarizing? It’s all about your genetics. When you eat a food that is bad for you, your body identifies it as bad because it produces a chemical reaction in your stomach that makes you feel nauseous. This happens because there’s an enzyme in our mouth called amylase that breaks down carbohydrates into sugars. Those sugars are then transferred to our stomach where they’re converted into acids and bile salts by the liver and pancreas respectively. However, different people have different levels of these enzymes which means they react differently to different foods.

What Causes Our Strong Reactions?

Some people can’t get enough of cilantro, while others say it tastes like soap. There are some foods that we love and some that we hate. What’s the reason for this? Science has a few theories about why we have such polarized reactions. One theory is that our brains process certain flavors differently than others and when we taste something new, the brain releases chemicals called neurotransmitters which tell us whether or not we like it. Another theory is that our culture has influenced how much we like or dislike certain foods because from an early age, children are taught what foods they should and shouldn’t eat.

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How We Can Change Our Taste Buds

-Let’s start with the basics. What is taste? Taste buds are found on your tongue and are responsible for identifying sweet, salty, sour and bitter foods. They also help you identify whether food is hot or cold, which adds another layer of flavor perception.

-Each taste bud contains 50-100 taste cells and each cell has a receptor that reacts specifically to one type of taste. That means that the cells in your mouth react differently when they come in contact with different types of food (say tomato versus chocolate). -It may sound weird, but we actually have more than 10 times as many sensory neurons as we do taste cells on our tongues.

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