Broccoli on a fork

Sense of taste

How to learn to like broccoli and coriander

Yvonne Denoth tests food products for Migros. In the following interview, the sensory analyst explains how our sense of taste works and how you can learn to love healthy food.

From
Barbara Scherer
Date
Format
Interview

I don't like broccoli. Can I change that?

There is indeed, because our sense of taste can change. If you want to learn to like something, you should try it again and again – ideally prepared in different ways. You should also try the food in different contexts. The best way to try broccoli is over a cosy dinner with good friends. That way, you'll associate the taste with a positive experience. This can help you to enjoy the food.

Will this work for all foods that I don't like?

In theory, yes. However, we have a genetic predisposition for our sense of taste. For instance, some people taste bitter substances more intensely and thus find it almost impossible to eat bitter foods like asparagus. 

What does broccoli taste like to a trained sensory analyst such as you?

I perceive food with all my senses. So I experience what something looks like, what texture it has, what it smells of and how it tastes. Good broccoli has a mild flavour and is slightly sweet. If it is overripe, it becomes a little bitter. Fresh broccoli should be crunchy and the florets should have a fine structure.

Can anyone learn how to taste things more?

Yes, as long as they have no genetic defect. To do so, you should try as many different foods as possible over and over again. In this way, you familiarise yourself with different flavours and can train your sense of taste.

How exactly does our sense of taste work?

Our tongue is covered with what are known as taste buds. These perceive the five flavours sweetness, sourness, bitterness, saltiness and umami. We also have a nerve located between the brain and various regions in our head that recognises tingling and sharpness. However, we don't only taste with our tongue. Rather, we also use our nose. When we chew food, aromas are released that we smell with our nose.

So do all people actually taste the same things?

Yes. Everyone tastes the basic flavours on their tongue. Unless, as I said, he or she has a genetic defect or is ill. Nevertheless, we perceive tastes individually. That's why not everyone likes the same things. 

Ideally, parents should offer their children vegetables again and again and mix small amounts of them into their accustomed food.

Yvonne Denoth

What can impair our sense of taste?

Colds cause a temporary loss of taste, since aromas can no longer be perceived if our nose is blocked. Smoking and drinking coffee also have a short-term negative impact on our sense of taste. In addition, our taste buds lose energy with age, making food taste less intense. 

When does our sense of taste develop?

While we are an embryo in our mother's womb. Babies recognise what their mother eats through the amniotic fluid.

Does this mean that a mother can influence her baby's sense of taste? 

There are studies that suggest that if a mother eats lots of green vegetables, her baby will also enjoy eating them later on. Children also absorb certain flavours through breast milk. However, milk is rather sweet, which might explain why children prefer sweet foods from a very early age.

And many children don't like vegetables.

Children indeed taste bitter substances more strongly than adults. Children also aren't keen on certain consistencies, such as slimy mushrooms or floury beans.  However, it's a matter of habit. The more often children eat something, the more they get used to it. Ideally, parents should offer their children vegetables again and again and mix small amounts of them into their accustomed food.

What advice would you give to adults who would like to eat healthier, but aren't fans of the taste of fruit and vegetables?

It's best to try unloved vegetables in different national cuisines. Broccoli, for example, might taste better with a little soy sauce than it does with a heavy cream sauce. It can also help to combine healthy foods with your favourite meal. So next time you have a pizza, put some courgettes on top! I also recommend using fresh fruits and vegetables, which have a crunchier texture.

Should you like everything?

No, I don't think so. We're in the fortunate position of having enough choice when it comes to food. Of course, it makes sense to eat fruit and vegetables if you want to have a balanced diet.

What don't you really like?

Not much, really. However, I'm not a big fan of frozen creamed spinach. I find it too mushy and often don't particularly like the spices. But if I can make my own creamed spinach using fresh ingredients, I find it delicious.