How Your Genes Influence Your Taste

And how scientists may become able to alter our perception of taste in the future

Katrina Paulson

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Photo by Jarritos Mexican Soda on Unsplash

My brother is the pickiest eater I’ve ever known. Most of my family thought his palette would expand as he got older, but his preferences as an adult haven’t changed much. I can describe his diet in two words: bland and repetitive. I don’t judge him for it; people like what they like, but I do find it curious because I enjoy many food types and flavors. So it makes me wonder, how much of our food preferences are genetic?

Luckily, experts are already finding out. In fact, recent studies focusing on the relationship between genes and diet discovered nearly 500 genes that seem to influence which foods we eat. As research continues, scientists could use a person’s genetics to design individualized nutrition plans to help prevent diseases and improve health outcomes.

Why We Like the Foods We Like

On the surface, our food preferences aren’t a big deal — we either like something, or we don’t, or maybe we like something but only under certain conditions. But really, whether you do or don’t enjoy the flavors of food is influenced by more than your tastebuds. Okay, so flavor is the top driver determining food choice, but it’s not the only factor.

Joanne Cole, a geneticist and an assistant professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, and lead researcher in the studies I’ll tell you about next, explains:

“The foods we choose to eat are largely influenced by environmental factors such as our culture, socioeconomic status, and food accessibility.”

The wide range of influences also makes it more challenging to pinpoint why we prefer some foods over others or fall into specific eating patterns. Let alone figure out what role, if any, our genes play in our preferences or dietary requirements.

Another hindrance is that we haven’t been technologically advanced enough to detect genetic influences amid the other factors. The good news is the technology now exists to attempt such a feat, and Cole wasted no time trying it out.

New Research

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Katrina Paulson

I wonder about humanity, questions with no answers, and new discoveries. Then I write about them here and on substack! https://curiousadventure.substack.com