Do humans have a genetically inherited preference for taste?
Blame your genes if you're a bit too obsessed with bacon or can't stand sprouts.
We do. Thanks to studies monitoring identical twins, and surveys of gene data from personal genomic companies, we know that there are genes that affect our sense of taste, our sense of smell, and even the reward centres in the brain. For instance, our likelihood of thinking that coriander tastes soapy is thanks to the variant of the odour receptor gene OR6AS that you inherit.
Genes can influence whether you can taste the bitter compound phenylthiocarbamide or not (about 30 per cent of Europeans have the variation of the taste receptor gene TAS2R38 that makes them ‘taste blind’ to this cabbage flavour). Even the extent to which your brain’s reward centres respond to bacon could come down to DNA (blame your variant of CNTN5 if you’re addicted to this meaty treat).
But our food preferences don’t just come from our genes. We know that babies in the uterus will ‘breathe’ amniotic fluid – and that newborns prefer the taste and smell of compounds that their mothers ate a lot of in pregnancy.
And even though we’re all genetically predisposed to be suspicious of bitter compounds – they’re usually toxic to humans – most of us learn to tolerate, or even love, bitter things like coffee, chocolate or alcohol once we’ve discovered their fringe benefits. So your genes may have a lot of influence but they’re far from the whole story.
- Why does coriander taste like soap to some people?
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- I’m pregnant. Why does my mouth taste like metal?
- Are talents genetic or learnt?
Asked by: Kamila Magmedova, aged 14
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Emma is an artificial intelligence researcher, science broadcaster and author or How To Build A Human: What Science Knows About Childhood.