Taste buds – Why does our taste change over time and why do we reject certain foods, even babies?


Sensory taste buds on the tongue

Our sense of taste is a chemical sense. Our few primary taste buds are: sour, sweet, bitter, salty, fat and umami (meat or savoury foods. Umami is believed to arise from the taste receptors of mono-sodium glutamate, which is usually naturally present in many foods, itis higher in fermented foods, and is added to other foods as well as some crisps, and Chinese food). Any other flavours that we taste is from the combination of our primary food taste.

Olfactory sense (from your nose) is much stronger than the taste buds, so smelling some of the foods can stimulates more receptors and hunger than the taste itself. Olfactory does have an impact on your taste buds more than the tasting itself. When you have hay-fever allergies or a cold, your taste buds are still ok, but the olfactory ones are not and therefore you cannot taste much because of the that.

On our tongue more than 10.000 taste buds are at a young age. Some taste buds are found also on the back of the tongue, the throat and epiglottis. The number of our taste buds does go down with age, that is probably why in elderly age, people can eat bland food and be ok with it.

Each taste buds contains about 50 gustatory receptor cells. Each gustatory receptor cell changes completely after 10 days. So, if you change your diet and reduce salt or sugar in your diet, your taste will change completely after about 10 days and if you carry on with the no sugar, no salt, you might feel that any salty or sugary food that was ok before, it is no longer tasty or want to eat it. I think that is amazing and empowering for anyone that wants to change their diet.

It is the same for fat taste and the umami taste which include eating lots of the food with high natural glutamate or mono-sodium Glutamate, such as crisps, fermented foods, etc.

Glutamate high food without the sodium is found naturally in seaweed, shitake mushroom, peas, tomatoes, corn and red grapes. In some people the mono-sodium glutamate in high consumption can have a negative effect on their concentration and energy, with other it I am theorizing that if they eat a lot of the food containing glutamate because they are vegetarian and they add a lot of salt on them, it could increase their mono-sodium glutamate and still cause a negative reaction, like they are eating a Chinese meal with high added MSG. Something to notice if that happens and you know that you cannot eat Chinese food because of the MSG that is added, it can be in your food as well!

How do the taste buds work?

When food enters our mouth, various chemical pathway will be activated according to what you are eating. Once particular receptors and pathway is activated and stimulated, the taste sensation goes to a part of the brain called Cerebral cortex which is the primary gustatory area.

All this via certain nerves calledcranial nerve, which include the facial nerve, the glossopharyngeal nerve andthe vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the nerve also that is essential for yourdigestions, your relaxation and sleeping as well. If you are under stress orthe stress hormones and pathway is stimulated then the vagus nerve for thedigestion and relaxation is not working as the two cannot be on together (readon the fight and flight blog for more explanation about this by clicking here).In a way the brain says if you are fighting or running you cannot stop andtaste food! That for me makes perfect sense!). The cranial nerves take thetaste of the food that you are eating to the part of the brain calledhypothalamus, thalamus and limbic system.

People who have an aversion towards a particular taste or food, might have a negative conscious connection to that food. For example, sweet foods can evoke reaction to pleasure or disgust, same as bitter food even in new born babies.

This mechanism is primitive mechanism due to the brain learning which food is good for the body and which one upset the digestive system. This mechanism has been in our human body since our creation, for survival. This is what kept humans alive for so long, and animal too, so that they can pass the genetic memory of food that can be eaten and food that cannot. Usually if you let your child decide what they want to eat and what they want to avoid, they will choose food that is good for them and avoid others that they feel upsets their digestive system, since an early age.

So in a nutshell, next time you taste something and you cannot stand it, start thinking if it is a negative memory from your childhood that has been created from your memory cell or you it is good for you to avoid that particular food because your body is telling you that is not good for your digestive system!

Most of all work with your body to make sure that you eat what is good for you in particular!


  1. Hartley I.E. et al (2019). Umami as an “Alimentary” Taste. A new Perspective on taste classification. Nutrients; Jan 16;11(1).
  2. Tortora G. J. & B. H. Derrickson (2009). Principle of Anatomy and Physiology (12th ed. Volume 1). John Wiley & Sons, Pte Ltd; Asia.

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