Life is sweet at home

How Taste Works, Changes as We Age

Tasting food is a complex operation.

Tasting food is a complex operation.

I love food and I love to eat. Doesn’t everyone?

Well, according to research, not everyone loves to eat or can taste foods with equal fervor.

How we combine the five basic tastes (sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami – savory like meat and mushrooms) with smell is similar in everyone. But how we receive or perceive the combinations is a very personal affair. The brain puts all the sensations and information together for us.

Interestingly, too, studies show that a slew of factors greatly affect how we interpret flavor. And, in fact, as we get older most of us lose many taste buds. As a result, we tend to over-salt or season foods we would never have needed to enhance in our youth.

Factors that manipulate the palate

Up to 80 percent of the flavors we taste actually come from our sense of smell, which is why there’s a link between aroma and appetite, explains Dr. Christina Major at Crystal Holistic Health Consulting in Sunbury, Pennsylvania. However, a number of other factors do, indeed, affect how we experience foods.

Six Things that can Please or Put off the Palate

Kids tasting healthy food.

Kids tasting healthy food.

Color of Food

In a 2009 study, for instance, the participants in the study rated wine as tasting 50 percent sweeter if drunk under red light rather than under blue or white. Red because it signals ripeness, sweetness, and calories.

Color of Kitchenware

From our plates to our mugs, color can have a significant impact on how we perceive the taste of food. Study participants felt that a red, strawberry-flavored mousse presented on a white plate was sweeter and more flavorful than when it was presented on a black plate.


An attractive table setting makes a difference. Dr. Andrea Paul, a chief medical officer at told Medical Daily that food tastes different when “served with different colors or materials of utensils.”

Food Labels

A simple food label could influence how we perceive the taste and overall quality of that food. Research suggests health and diet labels can automatically have a negative effect on taste perception.


Blind tasting excludes visual stimuli from the equation.

Blind tasting excludes visual stimuli from the equation.

Abstract sound can actually turn our taste buds up or down like a remote control. This finding may point to sound one day replacing sugar in drinks and food.


Stress can alter the taste of food making it seem bitter and less sweet. Our perceptions of taste, it seems, may lie in everything but the food itself.

How Our Sense of Taste Changes as We Age

You dig sweets, too?

You dig sweets, too?

According to an article in Bon Appétit, taste starts to decline at about age 40. By 80 we can hardly smell. Yes, we do regenerate new taste buds throughout life but fewer and fewer as we age. Hence, we don’t taste flavors as well as we once did. That is why, too, we tend to salt or season our foods more to make them interesting.

What smells and flavors we lose appear to be very personalized. While one person might not be able to smell vanilla well anymore, for example, her husband might smell vanilla like a teenager—but be smell-blind to roses.

“Unfortunately for chefs, you can’t just put more herbs in for your middle-aged patrons,” said one researcher. “Some middle-aged people might get a huge hit of oregano, while others might not get much at all.”

One more factor to mix in the losing-flavor-stew – evidence suggests that which aromas we lose as we get older has to do with environmental exposure to pollutants or viruses. But what and why? No one knows anything for sure about that yet.