Culture and food

Published: 2021-07-08 16:05:04
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Category: Spain Culture

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Everyday around the world people in different cultures eat different foods, but what makes people able to taste all these different flavors, and why does the perception of what “tastes good” change based on where people live? The human tongue can only actually taste four different tastes, salty, sweet, bitter and sour. The combination and the intensity of these four separate tastes is what gives food the flavor that we know. Then when you add temperature, texture, and smell you can get an almost unlimited amount of flavors.
The idea of a “taste map” on the tongue is false, if the tongue could really only taste one taste in each section of the tongue then you wouldn’t be able to taste sugar on the back of your tongue. In reality the sides of the tongue are more sensitive than the middle, with each taste varying slightly in where the taste is most received. Certain tastes can be more concentrated in some spots, like how the bitter taste is mostly concentrated toward the back. The cause for bitter to be toward the back is so that we can detect poisons and spoiled food before it travels through the body1.
The taste of sweet is caused by sugars, any kind of sugar can cause the taste of sweetness, from the sugars in fruit to sugar derivatives such as fructose and lactose. Sour is caused by acidic foods, the taste is caused by hydrogen ions that have split off by an acid in a watery solution1. Salty foods are mainly from table salt but other minerals can cause a salty flavor such as potassium and magnesium. Bitter tastes are some of the most easily recognizable because there are so many protein receptors designed to detect these tastes, mostly for an evolutionary reason since many poisonous plants taste bitter.
The tongue has 8,000 taste buds that allow us to recognize the four tastes. Each taste bud is replaced about every two weeks, taste buds are not the bumps that we see on our tongue but they are actually under the bump and each taste bud is shaped like a flower bud. These taste buds contain many small taste hairs that that pick up dissolved chemicals from food and then transfers the signals to the nervous system2 where the brain can perceive the taste and we can decide if we enjoy that taste or not.
People can all taste food the same way, we all have the same ability to taste the exact same flavors, but not all people will believe that the same food will taste good. Many cultures will eat different foods, some cultures enjoy spicier food while other might be a little blander. Photographer Peter Menzel did an amazing job of portraying how different countries shop for food by publishing an article of pictures of families around the world sitting with all of the food they will consume in a week3.
In the article you can easily see that some countries will eat a diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables like in India, Guatemala, and Mexico. While other countries like Japan had a diet that was filled with seafood and different types of fish and Italy had the most amount of bread in their diet. Out of all of the countries not a single one had as many processed foods as the picture from the United States. Just from these pictures alone you can see that different cultures will be drawn toward different food, it can be from what’s more available but some places just have a different taste for what is good to them.
Where people grow up will effect there perception of what tastes good. A study was conducted on children from different areas of the world, before the study the scientific community had largely thought that children would be drawn to food that would have large amounts of fat and sugar in them4. The study included 1,700 children between the ages of six and nine from Estonia, Cyprus, Belgium, Sweden, Germany, Hungary, and Spain. The results showed that not all the children from these European countries chose the food with the added fat or sugar.
Over 70% of the German children chose the biscuits that had added fat, while only 35% of children from Cyprus chose the same biscuit. While German children chose plain apple juice, the children from Sweden, Italy and Hungary preferred the apple juice with added sugar. The researchers looked to see if many other factors would influence the child’s choice in food such as, gender, parent’s level of education, and feeding patterns among a few others. The researchers found that the only factor that changed the child’s taste preferences was the country that they came from.
What the child was exposed to is what they were drawn to, proving that taste changes depending on culture. I remember when I moved out of my house and into a dorm room for the first time I got to experience first-hand how different cultures enjoy different food. I had a couple of Indian friends who enjoyed extremely spicy and hot foods, even though these people were born and raised in the United States my Indian friends were still raised on spicy food and therefore they were able to enjoy foods that to me were horrible and made me sweat.
My roommate was a full blooded Italian, and instead of having turkey on Thanksgiving night her family served pasta and meatballs. Even though personal preference for what tastes good can be determined at an early age does not mean that it cannot change over time. Once I moved to college I realized that my personal taste for food was very bland but that’s because that is what I was raised on. After spending a few years around people who liked different types of food I learned to love the taste of many different types of food I had never even heard of growing up.

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