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Taste Bud Tango

Much like our taste in art, books and music, our taste in food changes throughout our lives. As babies, our taste buds are sharply attuned to the taste of sweet, and that shifts once we stop nursing and start trying real food. Then we actually lose taste buds as time goes by, starting from around the age of 50.

But just how differently do we experience the five main tastes (sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami) from the time we have all 9,000 taste buds intact versus when we’ve, well, lost some? In celebration of Father’s Day we decided to gather a grandfather and his grandson and capture their reactions to the five flavors.


Thanks to nature, babies are drawn to sweet-tasting foods, and that starts on day one. Their grandfathers, however, typically no longer have a sweet tooth and may even find sugary foods disagreeable.

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Babies can tell the difference between sweet and sour foods when only nine weeks in the womb—based on what Mom eats! Our preferences change as we get older, however, due to both the insensitivity of our nerves and our reduced amount of taste buds.

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It turns out some small children are more agreeable to bitter foods for the same reason older people can be: Their taste buds are programmed to be less sensitive. We’re born naturally disinclined toward bitter foods because many poisonous plants are bitter.

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Salt is a flavor enhancer. But toddlers already have a flavor advantage with all those nerve endings and bountiful taste buds—it’s seniors who need to watch their urge to salt.

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Ah, the savory flavor of umami. What you’re tasting in umami-flavored foods like mushrooms, tomatoes and miso soup is the amino acid glutamate. Despite being a much-enjoyed taste, umami wasn’t named an official flavor until 1985!

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