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Decoding: On the Genetics of Taste

Grandmother teaching a young boy to cookSome may say that food preferences can act as a fingerprint, as people have their unique culinary taste not present in others. You may like or even love the taste of cream soup base recipes and other similar ingredients, while some would prefer otherwise. This raises the possibility that culinary preferences might be genetic in nature. Here’s what science has to say.

Scientific Backing

There are theories that try to explain this phenomenon. Some suggest that food preferences become ingrained as early as infanthood. Flavors abound inside the womb (strange as it may seem), as well as breast milk. But perhaps the earliest discovery of individual taste preferences goes back to 1931.

  • Arthur Fox, a chemist, discovered that the powdered substance PTC (phenylthiocarbamide) tasted bitter to his colleague. Fox himself didn’t taste anything. Down the line, experts determined that TPC’s “taste” can be attributed to a single gene (TAS2R38) which comes in different variations. It explains why individual preferences for bitterness in food and drink exist.
  • A study by Italian researchers also proves a point. According to their observation of roughly 4,000 individuals from Europe to Central Asia, they identified seven genes associated with specific food preferences. It’s worth noting that artichokes and broccoli are associated with three preference genes; more than any other food tested in the study.
  • Another study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reveals an interesting tidbit. In it, both environmental factors and genetics shape individual food preference. While the former comprises a large chunk, genetics play a major role especially in the development of a preference for “healthy food.” This includes fruits and vegetables. What this means is that while healthy eating examples abound, genetics still play a major part.

In short, you prefer certain types of foods because someone in your family does. It might seem strange but it also underlines the diversity of human preferences. It’s what makes you unique.

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