Things That Affect Taste That Aren’t Taste

Alex Van Buren
Food Features Editor
March 6, 2014

Credit: TLC

A recent article in Popular Science got us thinking about all the things that influence the way food tastes that aren’t, you know, taste. 

It seems to us that sheer volume, as Cookie Monster is experiencing above, can almost make something seem tastier: What’s cooler than seeing a huge pork shoulder set out to enjoy family-style, or a big turkey on Thanksgiving? But there’s no real science there. Here are taste-influencers the facts actually back up: 

Peer Pressure

Author Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic, whose book “Suffering Succotash: A Picky Eater’s Quest to Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate” chronicles her quest to become a more open-minded eater, did some research and learned that it really does matter what other kids bring to school (and personally remembers a cool kid named Angela making both string cheese and pomegranates popular). She cites a 2008 article in the scientific journal “Appetite” to back it all up.  


The Monell Center in Philadelphia is solely devoted to “understanding the mechanisms and functions of taste and smell and define the broad significance of these senses in human health and disease.” They’ve “located 25 bitter taste-receptor genes,” for example, but aren’t quite sure yet what substances activate most of them. So there’s no knowing that you’re gonna hate parsley, for example, just by looking at your DNA through a microscope.


Flatware affects flavor. One study revealed that spoons made from zinc or copper intensified the flavoring of a cream sample, whether it was sweet, sour, bitter, salty or “plain” (the spoons also, less deliciously, transferred some of their slight metallic taste). 


Supertasters actually have more tastebuds on their tongues than most of the population, and tend to be extra-sensitive to both sweet and bitter tastes. To them, a lovely plate of mustard greens can taste like the world is ending. (This writer knows from experience.)


Ever had a warm beer and noticed that it was not only flat and awful, it was also bitter? Yep, that’s science


Who hasn’t found herself preferring the pricier glass of wine once she knew it was more expensive? Even the pros are susceptible to such thinking, as PopSci reports: “After sampling, French sommeliers liked wine poured from a high-priced bottle over the same wine poured from a cheap one.”

Miracle Berries

As the Buzzfeed video below so aptly illustrates, miracle berries can transform a hot taste to not-hot, sour to sweet, and Guinness into a glass of chocolate milk! (Maybe watch this video before you wolf down a plate of chili peppers.)