Why do we like what we eat?

In our evolutionary history the pleasure of food has been central and of primary importance. The simple fact that we like to eat is in effect an evolutionary advantage that has ensured our survival!

We like a food for many integrated factors: genetics, maternal diet during pregnancy, education, cognitive and learning faculties, culture, environment in which we live.

These factors manifest and “materialize” in sensory perceptions that give us the measure of our taste, each one different.

Interindividual diversity determines our food preferences and therefore our personal “diet”.

Why do we like what we eat?

Tastes for certain foods can be:

  • Innate, like that for the sweet taste
  • The result of a more complex process such as the awareness that a given food provides energy and nutrients that promote our well-being.

Food experiences before birth (in the womb) and in the first months of life (breastfeeding and weaning) will influence each of us’s food choices and preferences throughout life!

The senses that determine the taste

When we bite into a fruit, an apple for example, we begin a real experience that involves more than one sense, not just taste, but also touch, smell, sight and hearing.

Before starting to eat, the sight and smell of a food create expectations regarding the taste of a food and also its satiating power.


Food smells are volatile (gaseous) chemical compounds and their whole is perceived by the olfactory receptors located in the upper and back part of the nose. This information center tells us: “you are eating an apple”!

Yes, there is no apple flavour, there is an “apple scent”.

There are six basic smells: floral (rose), musky (moss), essential (pear), camphorated (eucalyptus), putrid (rotten egg), pungent (vinegar).

But how many smells can we “smell”? Infiniti, thanks to the ability to combine different olfactory notes in different perfumes from time to time.

Touch and hearing

Touch at the table is a sense that gives us more sensations than we imagine: think of the sensation of spiciness of chilli peppers, the sensation of irritation that causes us to cut an onion, the sensation of heat from hot food or cold if we eat an ice cream .

We like or dislike a food because of its texture… again a tactile sensation. For example, the oyster is slippery, technically it is said to be “viscous”. The fact that it slips down the throat could make all the difference in our food preferences !

It’s still …

The crunchiness of a pear or potato chips are the result of stimulation of the tactile nerves of the tongue and the pressure sensors located in the jaw.

Some foods, then , can be “astringent”, that is, they cause us that feeling of not being able to lubricate the food and the mouth due to substances such as the tannins contained in wine or grapes.

The sound that a food makes when we bite and chew gives us information about the freshness of a food.


…but let’s go back to our apple! When we chew, the smells travel to the olfactory centers, the crunchiness stimulates the tactile sensations of the tongue and jaw, the sound tells us it is fresh, and the tartness rather than sweetness stimulates the taste buds found on the surface and sides of the chewing. language.

There are only five tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami (savoury taste of some savory foods). Flavors don’t mix to give rise to new tastes, but they mix in order to make one more perceived than the other.


Would you ever eat a grayish ham or a pink mozzarella? I do not believe! What saves us is the sight that alarms us about the quality or correct conservation of a given food.

Even the shape influences the perception we have of a certain food: a round food will seem sweeter than a rectangular one.

(The cake molds are usually round).

Nutrition as sensory integration

By “eating” an apple , the taste, smell, touch and sound are the sensations which, together with the appearance of the food, integrate and combine to give us back the “flavour” which is characteristic of that food. Changing even one of these aspects can change the ability to appreciate or recognize a food. No less important is the experience we have had in our life of a certain food, the associations between positive or negative sensations make us say that we like a food or not.

We eat with our eyes, we taste with our nose, we like a food because a good memory is associated with that food.

Eating is a multi-sensory experience that involves us at 360 degrees, it’s not just a matter of “taste”!