But I Don’t WANT to Give Up TASTE!

Taste preferences are NOT simply
what you are used to eating!

©Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
Sweet Tooth/Self-Health Series
(click HERE for the prior article)


see production details on onegrainmore.com


Clicking the graphic above will take you to YouTube for what is being touted as the funniest nutrition video ever made — One Grain More.

  • Admittedly, you wouldn’t have to go far to win that particular award – few nutrition videos are known for what you might consider entertainment value – and humor is practically always in short supply when nutrition and health are discussed.
  • I have to agree that this nutrition video, a parody set to the music of Les Miserables, IS pretty darned clever.
  • It puts it right out there – our secret thoughts and deepest fears about eliminating gluten and sugar from our diets, even if we have to pay for our taste preferences with allergic reactions – and it’s very well done! (It will open in a new tab or window – depending on your browser’s settings).

It’s short as well as an amusing beginning for this article – so go take a look, then close that window and come back here for an introductory explanation of WHY we like what we like — and why we crave certain foods.

When you reach the end, you will understand more about what is behind our preferences and cravings — and it will be a whole lot easier to figure out how to sneak some good ole’ fashioned TASTE appeal back into food that’s good for your health.

Remember – links on this site are dark grey to reduce distraction potential
while you’re reading. They turn red on mouseover.
Hover before clicking for a box with more info

What makes food taste really good?

JunkFoodBookFoodies, top chefs and food scientists agree that certain characteristics combine in ways that MOST human beings respond to positively.

Certain combinations create the kind of cravings and rave reviews that lead advertisers to couple products with strong statements like, “Nobody can eat just one” and “Even Mikey likes it – and he hates everything,” and “Take the _____ challenge.”

The fact that MOST of you could tell me the names of at least TWO of the products that make the above claims might serve to back up the “most human beings respond positively” lead in.

After all, IF the products tasted just so-so for most of us, the ads would never have aired long enough to become part of the culture.

I’ll bet you’ll be able to win “Name that Food” too.
(as you work your way through this article, keep your eyes open for a total of twelve,
food and drink references, then check your answers below)

So what makes us love ’em?

While there are a great many items, categories and subcategories that combine to explain the human being “Um-mm GOOD!” response, food scientist Steven A. Witherly, PhD, has been looking closely at why we like to eat what we like to eat for over twenty years now. He has summarized a great deal of what he discovered in an interesting book with a compelling title, Why Humans Like Junk Food.

(Click his name in the paragraph above to pop over to his website for a free pdf download of the book.)

Witherly chunks our relatively common and predictable taste preferences into six arenas.  Since this is his system of categorizing, I’ll use his terms for what he calls THE BIG SIX.

 1. Taste Hedonics (“hedonics” referring to the basic pleasure doctrine)

For us to LOVE it, it seems that what we put into our mouths must contain salt, sugar, flavor-active compounds, and umami (the fifth taste, a savory glutamate-based substance that imparts a meaty flavor and is common in Chinese food, following the much earlier identification of the first four tastes: sweet, sour, salty and bitter.)

The junk food that drives us wild enough that the food producers make a mint selling them to us usually contain ALL of these substances – and in a specific ratio.

HANG with me on the monosodium glutamate for a minute, OK?

Yes, this frequently demonized umami additive has caused problems, but monosodium glutamate also occurs naturally, so don’t freak out and run away before you’ve exposed yourself to the rest of what Witherly has to say.

  • There’s a REASON this stuff gets added to foods – and sometimes sneaked into dishes, even by accomplished chefs who turn out consistently successful and award winning, flavor-intense dishes.
  • Refusing to identify with the years of bad press for MSG, proudly waving the umami flag, restaurants like David Chang‘s Momofuku or Adam Fleischman’s LA-based Umami Burger, unabashedly extol the virtues of this fifth taste, because it works to enhance taste perception – not because it’s good or bad for us!!

Some of the Related Content links below might bring a bit of balance to the
conversation and help you make your decision about umami/msg.
In a future article I will take on the topic here on ADDandSoMuchMore.com — so stay tuned.

This specific ratio, according to Witherly, represents the “physiologically correct” proportions that tempt the human palate to return to the table again and again, smacking our lips in anticipation as our brains clang the dinner bell that inspires us to believe that something yummy for the tummy awaits:

salt at 1.0 to 1.5 percent,
umami at 0.15 percent, and
5’-nucleotidesat 0.02 percent (those “flavor-active compounds”)

For the sweet stuff, he claims that it is well-known in food-service circles that adding salt will always improve the overall taste hedonics; and that 0.25 percent salt is usually about right in those instances.

But WAIT – there’s more . . .

Taste will always be a major player, but it seems that taste alone accounts for less than 10 percent of the sensation cues from mouth to brain.

To be recalled as a GREAT taste treat, food must also excite other receptors – many, but not ALL in the mouth, throat and tongue

  • thermal receptors (hot and cold)
  • tactile receptors (touch)
  • texture receptors (“mouth-feel” and crunch)
  • fatty acid receptors (adding to “mouth-feel” in ways we’re not generally aware of consciously), and
  • pain receptors (recognizing the “heat” of chili peppers — also part of the flavor profiles of some foods and spices we don’t normally think of as hot, like cinnamon or ginger).

There are other receptors involved as well, but these are the ones we know of NOW that seem to matter the most.  We don’t ALL like to be aware of each of them to the same degree, but we tire quickly of foods that lack them, setting ourselves up to start the cravings for those foods that involve the receptors that matter most to us (more about THAT in future articles in this series, too).

It also seems that, as a general rule, men have a different set of top food preferences than woman and children — and sensory defensive individuals of all types have preferences and aversions that differ still more.

2. Dynamic Contrast


click graphic for source

While black and white thinking is not very positive for our brains, black and white FOODS make them very happy. In other words, the “tastiest” foods also contain texture and/or flavor contrasts, according to Witherly.

“The more the merrier,” he claims “rapid food meltdown with snap, crackle, and pop.”

Following TASTE hedonics, contrast seems to be the second most important predictor of food pleasure — and visual contrast seems to be as important to our sense of “taste” as whatever our taste buds are reflecting back to us.

“Good looking” food is perceived as tasting better, according to most food-panel ratings.

Since almost 40 percent of our brain’s cortex is dedicated to visual processing, to apply  contrast hedonics in a manner that most of us start salivating at even the idea of a particular food when we’re hungry, a food must usually tickle at least a few visual-receptor elements too (color, shape, size, etc.) – keeping in mind the importance of visual contrast.

Now you know why top rated restaurants are picky about how they plate the food, and why they almost always add GARNISHES!

The texture contrast concept helps to explain why a great many of our favorite mushy/creamy comfort food casseroles are topped with crushed cornflakes or buttered, toasted breadcrumbs.

And don’t forget that ubiquitious mushroom soup-sauced vegetable dish that is marketed as a much-beloved staple for many Thanksgiving buffet tables and family reunion potlucks, topped by canned onion rings.

It’s no accident that most of us tend not trot it out much otherwise, because those canned veggies don’t ever really TASTE as terrific as we seem to remember they do (even with a high-contrast crunchy topping) – primarily a factor of the next item on Witherly’s Big Six List.

3. Evoked Qualities (we salivate when we remember and extrapolate)

Humans no longer eat simply to survive, and have not for a very long time, genetically speaking.

For better or for worse, our brains appear to be designed to record the entire feeding experience into their long-term storage tanks, right along with the other qualities of the foods we eat — including the emotions triggered in response to the occasion.

VanillaExtractThe foods we tend to crave bring forth previously conditioned pleasure memories that become “attached” to the memories of the foods themselves, even when we have no conscious memory of the original link.

Contrast aside, a popular theory about the almost universal appeal of the vanilla creme inside that best-selling black and white sandwich cookie, along with the popularity of vanilla-scented candles, perfumes with subtle vanilla notes, and other faintly vanilla-scented products (statistically), is supposedly because breast milk contains those flavor notes.

So, the theory goes, most of us have been subconsciously primed to associate the pleasant memories of full tummies and feelings of warmth and safety – our earliest awakenings of what will become feelings of love – with the particular taste and the smell of vanilla.

Babies LOVE a subtle taste of vanilla and go right for it, so it seems.  Infant formula takes advantage of that theory too, by the way, and most of them contain vanilla notes.  It would appear that it is unusual for most human beings to lose that positive association as we age.

It has been also been reported that mothers who increase their intake of vanilla during and immediately following pregnancy will have fewer problems with nursing-resistant infants and that their babies will have lower “failure to thrive” statistics.

The Evoked Quality dynamic offers an explanation for why entire families will sometimes have much beloved family-favorites that make other families cock their heads quizzically.

  • Sometimes we wonder what there is to LIKE about, for example that Noodle Pudding that one of our friends proudly brings to every pot luck dinner, even though it is rarely touched by the rest of our current crowd.
  • This Evoked Quality dynamic also explains how some life-long and intractable food aversions develop.  At a party during his freshman year in college, one of my clients became what he termed “commode-hugging-drunk” after over-indulging on a particular cocktail made with light rum, lime juice and grenadine.  Although he is now collecting Social Security benefits, even the smell of rum is aversive to him, to the point where he claims that there are times it makes him physically ill!
  • The Evoked Quality dynamic ALSO helps to explain why savvy pediatricians encourage parents NOT to make it a big deal when your kids won’t eat a certain food, by the way. Following repeated exposure in a pleasant environment where everybody ELSE seems to like the taste, most kids will eventually come around as their taste buds mature.

nm-broccoliLife-long vegetable haters like my brother Michael were often forced to eat their green beans (or their spinach, peas, or broccoli) or were sent immediately to bed if they would not eat them — justified because these foods were supposedly “GOOD for them.”

You’re risking a situation where the memories of the unpleasant taste and unhappy emotional tone intermingle, transfer and expand, frequently to an entire category of food (and sometimes to ALL “healthy” foods!)

From the time he left home until the day he died, my brother Michael wouldn’t eat much of ANYTHING green, even salads, which he once used to eat without complaint. He claimed they made him nauseous as vehemently as my former client insisted that, almost 40 years after the fact, he still couldn’t stomach even the smell of rum.

Michael grew up to be a confirmed fast-food fan who otherwise ate primarily chicken, meat and potatoes. Since he was diagnosed with Type-I diabetes at four, his extreme food aversions turned out to be a particularly unfortunate reaction — even though my parents had only the BEST intentions, attempting to create the exact opposite of what came afterwards.

4. The Food Pleasure Equation

Food Pleasure is a function of sensation along with what food science refers to as macronutrient stimulation. Foods ranked the tastiest by the greatest number of people are those that maximize both dimensions.

Food pleasure appears to be an equation made up of sensation PLUS caloric density,
believe it or not.

  • So if you want to reduce food calories or fat, to maintain a feeling of satisfaction acceptable to the garden-variety gourmand, you must bump up the pleasure in some other arena.
  • You need to add more sensations to the food to throw your brain a sort-of curve ball, or it will very quickly focus only on what’s missing and prefer the “forbidden” version — even if, objectively, very few people could initially “taste” the difference.
  • The food pleasure dynamic that results in focusing the brain on what’s missing is frequently put forward as an explanation for why artificial sweeteners will often increase or induce cravings for “the real thing.”
  • The food pleasure equation ALSO offers an explanation for why “imitation foods” are almost universally unsatisfying to most of us, even when the overt taste is remarkably similar – sometimes even rated identical by a majority of the initial taste-test panelists (like, for example, that vegan faux turkey that tends to show up around Thanksgiving).

VegEpicureVegetarians of any persuasion are far better off heightening the various other dynamics that vegetables bring to the table, rather than attempting to, essentially, fake-out their palates.

My favorite vegetarian cookbook, The Vegetarian Epicure, a classic from Anna Thomas, is my favorite for exactly that reason – recipes for simply great food, sans any flavor of apology for the fact that meat is missing.

(If you want to try a really GOOD Thanksgiving alternative this year, either to replace the turkey for your own celebration, or as an alternative to offer the vegetarians at your table, her stuffed pumpkin is truly an amazing show-stopper of an entree guaranteed to delight the palates of anyone at your table — start EARLY, you have to back up a few recipes if you don’t have her vegetarian cooking “staples” on hand)

In Witherly’s words, “To keep the pleasure levels equal, when calories [etc] are reduced in a food, we must increase the sensation—the snap, crackle, pop, spiciness, and the hedonic tastants of salt, sugar, and [umami]”

That advice applies particularly for food preparation for ANY diet that attempts to make changes in what one has long been accustomed to eating – especially for “gluten-free alternatives” or low-calorie (or fat) versions of old favorites, by the way (or you’ll end up – SPOILER ALERT – rushing the delivery guy right along with the characters in the musical parody that started off this post!).

The best strategy, where continued taste bud satisfaction is desired, is to ADD not imitate.  We’ll explore more about what that means and WHY that’s so important in upcoming articles in this Series, so stay tuned.

5. Caloric Density


Phillip Martin – artist educator

The gut-brain axis senses caloric density, a factor in the food pleasure equation, and “ranks” it to help decide which foods it wants to “push” — the best foods to keep us alive
(0 is water’s score and pure fat is 9).

Unfortunately, the decisions of that gut-brain axis in response to that ranking scale seems to have been passed down genetically from our cave-ancestors, when food was periodically scarce to non-existent, winter was coming, and sabre-tooth tigers were plentiful.

Fortunately, few of us currently alive in industrialized countries have ever experienced protracted food scarcity, EVEN in the winter, and we rarely have times when we must quickly mobilize our resources to fight off large beasts or be metabolically prepared to run for our lives.

So we display the evidence of that caloric density preference as increasing rates of obesity, which puts us at risk for diabetes, heart disease and metabolic disorders.

  • Most of us resist taking the time and repeated exposure necessary to get our brains to hit the reset!  It seems so HARD to do because it IS so hard to do! We’re fighting our genetic programming.
  • Now you have another possible reason why, following a successful weight-loss diet, it’s so easy to gain all the weight BACK — even when you’ve fought like the dickens to lose it in the first place.  It seems that long after we’re fit and trim, we have to be hyper-vigilant to continue to ignore the siren song of the pleasures of caloric density, long enough to “retrain” our brains as well as our habits, appetites and taste buds.

A caloric density somewhere around 4 to 5 is still what our brains seem most to prefer, by the way — which is found in junk foods OFTEN and healthy, calorie-appropriate diets not so much (adjusting for what most of us need to remain alive and healthy in TODAY’s world).

Like metaphorical squirrels, it doesn’t seem to take much more than a momentary “cold-snap” for us to feel the urge to scurry about gathering metaphorical nuts to store for a “winter” that is probably never going to happen.

We all seem to be prisoners of sorts to our individual caloric-density set points.

Bring on the Treats!

KrispyKremeSignA fascinating exception to this caloric density preference rule, by the way, are foods with high volumes that melt down quickly in the mouth (what Witherly calls “vanishing caloric density”) – like popcorn, cheese puffs, cotton candy, shortbread cookies, whipped cream and mousses — or hot from the oven, melt-in-your-mouth Krispy Kreme glazed donuts!

Our brains LOVE those foods, rarely seem to reach the rapid satiation-point, and many of us (not all, by the way) seem primed to crave them following our very first exposure! Witherly says, “If something melts down quickly, your brain thinks that there’s no calories in it … you can just keep eating it forever.”

I don’t even LIKE most donuts, and have never particularly cared for the glazed version, even as a kid. YET, when I was a young actor on tour, the entire cast made the post-show run to the local Krispy Kreme at the time we learned the freshly made glazed donuts would be awaiting our arrival, very warm and VERY tasty.

I kept up with the other members of the cast, donut for donut, eating more of these delights than anybody would believe anybody would EVER eat — in my memory, it seems more like popping M&Ms than donuts!

I did, that is, right up to the moment they stopped melting in my mouth because they were no longer warm.

I never connected the stop-on-a-dime return of my former distaste to the disappearance of “vanishing caloric density” — I thought I was just sick of donuts because I had eaten far too many already, and attributed the onset of my sudden craving to the munchies.

Even SO, I eagerly accompanied the rest of the cast every night for the entire month we played Nashville. Thank GOODNESS the next stop on our tour didn’t have a Krispy Kreme close by, or they would have had to let out all the costumes!

I don’t think I’ve had a glazed donut since, by the way. I do, however, get the occasional hankering for those teensy powdered donuts.  At THIS point in the artlcle, I’ll bet most of you reading would have no trouble explaining why those guys might appeal!

6. Emulsion Theory

Our taste buds really react powerfully to Witherly’s final category of his Big Six — emulsions.

Emulsions are mixtures of two or more liquids that are not generally considered “blendable” — and we especially seem to adore those salt-fat or sugar-fat combinations.

French chefs discovered centuries ago that many of our VERY favorite foods are in (or are covered in) liquid or solid phase emulsions.  Emulsion foods include items like butter, chocolate, ice cream, crème fraiche, hollandaise, mayo and salad dressings, and so on.

Emulsifying food concentrates the hedonic taste substances  – salt, sugar, and umami – into the water phase of the solution.

  • THAT, in turn, enhances the perception of those tastes (much in a manner similar to why a saltine cracker tastes saltier than the percentage of salt might indicate — or the satisfying saltiness of a popular baked bread product identified most often by it’s heart-shaped knot and frequently topped by mustard).  Whenever hedonic taste substances are on the “outside,” their effect is intensified.
  • Witherly adds THIS explanation of another emulsion food favorite: “Ice cream is a frozen emulsified ‘foam’ that concentrates the sugar (sucrose) in the water phase, enhancing the perception of sweetness.”

Think about the Witherly’s Big Six when you are trying to adjust recipes and eating plans for yourselves or for loved ones and friends with specific dietary needs – and be sure to stay tuned for the rest of the Sweet-tooth Series for more sweet-specific explanations and work-arounds.

There’s A LOT more involved in our impressions of what tastes good and what tastes we crave, and we’ll take a look at quite of few of them together in upcoming Series articles on this topic.

Name that Food
– the slogan/product/food references in this article were (in order of appearance above):

Lays Potato Chips, Life Cereal, Pepsi Cola, Campbell’s Soup, Kellogg’s Rice Krispies,
The Green Bean Casserole
, Oreo Cookies, The Bacardi Cocktail, Coke, Tofurkey,
pizza, and soft pretzels.

Congratulations! You win The Bonus Round if you can identify the brand on the pizza delivery guy’s box!

Did you win?
Check your processing style:

  • Did you locate them all?
  • How many did you pick up on while you were reading? 
    How many did you have to go back for (or hunt for)?
  • Did the additional tasks of Name That Food help or hinder
    your ability to enjoy, understand or recall the content of the article?
  • Did the names of the foods pop right up,
    or did it take a mental search, however brief?
  • Could you name every single one of the foods?
    Some of you are too young to recall the Barcardi Cocktail – but most of you will have been familiar with most of the rest of them. Did anybody stutter-step anyway?

Whatever your experience, don’t miss the upcoming articles on memory and modalities that might help you understand the way your mind works – learning how best to drive the very brain you were born with (even if it’s taken a few hits in the meantime.)™

© 2013, all rights reserved
Check bottom of Home/New to find out the “sharing rules”

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Want to work directly with me? If you’d like some coaching help with anything that came up while you were reading any of the articles in this Series (one-on-one couples or group), click HERE for Brain-based Coaching with mgh, with a contact form at its end (or click the E-me link on the menubar at the top of every page). Fill out the form, submit, and an email SOS is on its way to me; we’ll schedule a call to talk about what you need. I’ll get back to you ASAP (accent on the “P”ossible!)

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available right now – on this site and elsewhere.

For links in context: run your cursor over the article above and the dark grey links will turn dark red;
(subtle, so they don’t pull focus while you read, but you can find them to click when you’re ready for them)
— and check out the links to other Related Content in each of the articles themselves —

Related articles right here on ADDandSoMuchMore.com
(in case you missed them above or below)

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About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

9 Responses to But I Don’t WANT to Give Up TASTE!

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  8. Thanks for the link, Brian. I’m especially proud of this article, and never felt it got the readership it deserved when originally posted. I think people would be fascinated if they’d take the time to read it.

    I clicked to leave a thank you comment on YOUR site, but the link is from an entry on “Brian” in Wikipedia.

    I’ve never gotten a link from Wikipedia before, and am especially puzzled that it would be from an entry on the background of a person’s NAME. I’m not even sure why I’d be linked to “Brian,” so I can’t help but wonder if this is legit or some new kind of spammer ploy.

    If Wikipedia is linking to blogs now, mine is unusually info-dense and referenced, so I hope someone doing the linking will take a look at my articles in various other categories as well.

    If this ends up being a gateway to link-spam, rest assured it will be deleted. NOBODY hates spam more than I.

    Akismet is my spam filter – and the fact that over a quarter of a million tries have already been trapped, filtered away from my eyes or anybody else’s, is a good indication that spam gateways won’t be successful here.



  9. Pingback: Brian A Klumpe

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